As a London documentary family photographer I often get asked how I get such lovely images of the children that I photograph. Kids are notoriously unwilling to play ball when you get the camera out as parents will know too well. As soon as the camera comes out they either hide or pull a silly face!
So the real answer is how I get such great photos is that 'they're not my kids!' Other people's kids always behave better than your own. But I do manage to get an occasional good photo even of my own two children. Obviously I also have 20 years of experience and training behind me and a wealth of technical knowledge which does help. But here are my top tips that anyone can follow:
1. A little bit of patience goes a long way. Some kids love the camera and will pose all day like true divas. Others will dive for the duvet. But most kids - and most adults for that matter - will need a little time to adjust to the camera being on them before they relax and be themselves. So don't rush to out the camera away immediately if your tiny model is a reluctant subject. Give them some time, let them feel comfortable, get involved in what they're doing, and then snap away once they've forgotten the camera is even there.
2. Be ready. Kids move. A lot. And they're really fast! You may not have time to compose everything the way you'd like it and you may have to run to keep up, but if you're using a DSLR then make sure you have a fast shutter speed, pop your ISO on auto to react to changing lighting conditions and use continuous shooting and tracking focus modes.
3. Be child-led. This is especially the case if your child is a little camera shy. Ask what they're interested in and let them invite you into their world. Don't pose, don't ask them to smile at the camera - just observe and press the shutter button when they're really engrossed or their enthusiasm spills over.
4. Get on their level. This can dramatically improve your photos of your kids and gives a great dynamic to images. Allowing kids to look the camera 'in the eye' puts them on an equal footing with the photographer. Get right down in the dirt, or the sandpit or the floor. Invite them to see their reflection in the camera lens for some great direct eye-contact images.
5. Get in close. Be part of the action with them. It will give you a great perspective and some great shots.
6. Hang back. When the kids have forgotten all about you and the camera is a good time to get some great candid images and catch them unawares simply playing, having fun, engrossed in a book. It's a good chance to include some of the environment in the picture to give some context.
7. Capture their expressions. Some of the best pictures of your kids won't be perfectly exposed or perfectly composed. But they will have great expressions that are 'just them'. Just a smile, a glance, an interaction with a sibling, a nuance.
8. Aim high! Shooting from an adult's perspective can make your subject appear small. Shooting way up high will emphasise just how tiny they are. Great for teeny tiny newborns and for bigger kids too to remind you just how small they really are.
9. Avoid background distractions. Crop out anything that isn't necessary to your image and minimise the background clutter. Use a wide aperture to blur the background as much as possible and focus on the eyes to draw the viewer in.
10. Book a professional! For some truly stunning lifestyle portraits of your family that you'll treasure for years to come, why not get a professional in. A professional will worry about all the technical stuff and you can just concentrate on having fun and planning where you're going to hang your amazing family portraits.