“It’s my number one regret,” my 49-year-old friend with adult children confesses.
“It’s my biggest regret, my client says.
“I just didn’t think that I had the time back then,” another friend says. Her children too, are in their late teens, just a sliver away from evacuating home, leaving their parents in a state of nostalgia and sometimes fervency of the unknown, often vacillating between the two.
“I just didn’t take the time for quality portraits.”
“Mine were too staged. If only I had this for my children back then,” a client says, pointing to one of my candid child portraits.
As a parent, you understand what we all know but don’t take the time to create: that one quality portrait is worth a thousand scrappy, uncomposed images. Yes, I take those too! And yes, it doesn’t matter how many photos you take, but don’t be looking back in 20 years in regret because you didn’t take the time to catch a natural, quality portrait of your child.
And the good news is you don’t have to wait to go to the best photographer. You can do this today. If you own an SLR camera of any kind, you can accomplish this – no studio, no flash required! Below, is a short guide on photographing your child at different times of the day in different settings, at rest and play.
Photographing your child at:
Play:Blurry photos, at calculated times and depending on the subject and story you want to tell, can be moving and artistic. Most of the time though we want to avoid the blur. To create sharp images of your child at play, make your shutter speed number your priority, and most likely, you will have to increase it. (You will hear it open and shut quicker, resulting in sharper images.)
In the viewfinder, shutter speed is often simplified, so instead of displaying as 1/250 sec you may just see “250.” Play around with your shutter speed. Start with low numbers and then move your way up to higher numbers until your child is not blurry. (A generally good setting is at least 250 for sharp moving images).
If you’re not ready for full manual mode, set your camera to “Tv” mode. This is shutter priority mode, so the rest adjusts manually, but you want to control the shutter speed - the best mode for your child running around. If you’re shooting in low light, you may need to increase your ISO to around 800 to compliment a fast shutter speed of 250.
Rest:These are my favorite portraits and I haven’t taken enough of these! (My child is a light, cranky sleeper so it’s just not worth the chaos that I have to deal with afterwards if he wakes up to me creeping around and clicking in his room.)
Sleeping portraits of your child are all about intimate, close-ups with a sharp, focused eyes or face but a creamy, blurry background. This gives a dreamier, ethereal look. To do this, use manual mode or Av mode. (Av mode means you are controlling the aperture value – or how much you want in focus while the shutter speed automatically sets itself for you to compensate). For the best-looking portraits, especially intimate close-up ones of your child sleeping, you want more background blur, so you make the Av number smaller. Remember, smaller Av number = more blur. Bigger Av number = sharper image all over and less blur.
For resting portraits, I would go as low as your Av number allows you to, depending on your lens. I have a lens that goes as low as 1.2. I would at least go as low as 4. Check your screen to make sure nothing is blown out and too bright or too dark. You may have to adjust your ISO higher (to add more brightness to your image) or lower (to add more darkness to your image).
Indoors:My favorite place to photograph children indoors is near a window. The background is clean and attractive and the light falling any way is flattering and dramatic. Otherwise, look for uncluttered backgrounds with a lot of light and shoot close-up.
Outdoors:The best place to photograph your child outdoors is wherever your child feels the most comfortable and excited to be at. Remember, keep your background simple. The longer the lens or the smaller your aperture number, the better. Let your child run around and play and interact with you before you start shooting. I would suggest going completely candid for the majority of the shoot. If you are capturing close-up portraits with authentic smiles, they are a thousand times better than anything posed. Don’t think that your child has to be staring at the camera either. Some of the best portraits that I’ve taken of children were of them looking down or off in the distance.
The only time of day you should ever plan a high-quality portrait shoot:
The golden hour
What is the golden hour?
The golden hour is about one hour within the sun rising and setting. This time displays flattering orange and red tones that warm the skin and diffuse the background creating a soft, elegant images.
Morning:This is my favorite time of day to shoot. There are less people out and the light is soft and diffused. Since the sun is so low, the light travels through more of the planet’s atmosphere, creating a diffused effect from the moisture and dust particles in the air. As the sun is rising during the morning golden hour, it is at its warmest and most golden color.
Mid-Day:Just don’t do it. If you’re not going for quality portraits, that’s ok, just find some shade. Otherwise, save your planned perfect portraits for the golden hour. No matter what you do, mid-day outdoor shoots are a harsh, shadowy debacle at best. The one exception: heavily overcast days - hard to plan.
Evening:This is the most practical golden hour of the two for busy mothers with active children. For far away shots, I love silhouettes of your child at play, or holding hands with someone else. For close-up shots, I love using reflectors. If this sounds like a complicated pro tool, it’s not. You can use anything as a reflector to bounce the light back onto your child’s face. For example, grab the dashboard car reflector or a piece of white poster board. There is no special method either to finding the correct spot to reflect light onto your child’s face. If your child is standing in front of a setting sun (with the light behind him or her) or even slightly to the side of it, wiggle your homemade reflector until the light bounces back into your child’s face. This creates a luminous glow that cannot be mimicked with post-production software such as Photoshop. Personally, I love shooting with the light behind the child as it falls around their hair, creating a warm, angelic glow.