If you get it right photographing your children can produce pictures you'll want to treasure for years to come, whether it's snaps of their tenth birthday displayed in a professional coffee table book or the embarrassing shot of Timmy wearing his underpants on his head that you choose to keep lovingly displayed where all your visitors can see it. But it can be a frustrating process, children are rarely still for any length of time and as they get older often get either camera-shy or obsessed with making that face that involves rolling their eyes back into their head and sticking out their tongue.
If you've got little ones you want to photograph here are a few tips to help you avoid those blurry, monster-face shots being the only thing in your memory book.
1. Make it fun. This is the golden rule of photographing little ones. If you want to have photographs of your children having fun, smiling, looking happy and adorable then you will need to let them have fun while you're photographing them. Standing still for ages while you tell them how to pose is unlikely to appeal to them as fun. If you want posed shots make a game out of it, encourage your little one to dress up in different outfits and play model, let them make up some poses of their own too. If you don't want posed shots let them engage in their favourite activity while you photograph them. Make it easier for you to get good shots by setting up the activity outside in good light if possible. For example if your child is an avid finger painter set them up with their paint and paper outside on a sunny morning or evening (when the light is generally better for photography than the middle of the day).
2. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, especially several of them, you may have difficulty keeping them in one place. One option is to put them in a small space, for example a laundry basket:
It sounds ridiculous but the kids will view it as a game and you'll have them one spot for 5 minutes!
3. Get down to their level. If you photograph from your height chances are most of your shots will show not much more than the top of their heads and make them look really short. Get down on their level and photograph them there. Having said that, there is of course an exception to the rule. If you're photographing a small child standing directly above them and having them look up at you it can make a nice composition. Just make sure the eyes are in focus.
4. Take lots and lots of shots. Often what you think will be an outtake will be an instant favourite and what you think will be the best shot of the day will end up being deleted. If you have a digital camera there's no reason not to take a lot of photographs and have plenty to choose from, just make sure you do go through and delete some or your hard drive will soon be overflowing! And remember to be patient, the photo you're really hoping to get may be the 150th photo of the day not the first.
5. Focus on the details. Of course you're going to want whole body shots and close up face portraits of your child but as your little one grows to be not so little you may find that you appreciate shots of those little fingers and toes, eyes and ears. Get up close and personal and photograph the details of your little one.
6. For the camera shy child choose a location they are comfortable and familiar with so they won't be upset by their surroundings as well as the camera. Let them get into an activity before you start photographing and don't get too close. If you have a child who seems to be permanently camera-shy you may want to invest in a zoom lens so you can photograph them from a bit of a distance. Try and stay away from instructing camera-shy youngsters to "look at the camera!" or "smile!" Similarly if your child always pulls silly faces for the camera play down the cameras presence and try to photograph them when they're engaged in something else or from a slight distance.
7. When your subject is racing around wildly try putting your camera in sports or action mode, if you're using the automatic settings. If you're going manual turn on continuous shooting, choose a reasonably high ISO and a fast shutter speed. Make sure your batteries are charged, there's plenty of space on your memory card and you have the lens you want on the camera. You'll miss the action if you have to mess around changing batteries, memory cards, and lenses.
8. As your little one turns into a not so little one don't stop photographing! As your baby turns into a teenager they may be less enthusiastic about having their photo taken but chances are you'll both want some memories of this period of their life in ten years time. They're also now at an age where they can have fun modeling for you. Let them choose the location and spend an hour together taking some photos, encourage them to bring along some of their close friends - in a few years time they'll be trying to remember who their best friend was when they were 12.
9. Don't forget the everyday. Photograph in the places you visit everyday, record the moments that make up the routine of your day-to-day life. Think about the composition a little bit and you'll probably find that photographing the everyday from the right angle makes an artistic picture, and they'll be some of your favourite photos years from now when you've forgotten what life was like when Timmy was only two.
10. Look for inspiration. Look on Flickr, look at photos of your friends kids, look through photography books at the local library. There's nothing wrong with seeing a photo someone else has taken of a child and trying that pose/location/idea with your own child. Just don't take the credit for the idea yourself!
And if you have any tips for getting good photographs of children please share with the rest of us in the comments.