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How to Get Amazing Portraits of Your Kids with Your Own Camera

Updated on October 24, 2012
Rembrandt Lighting
Rembrandt Lighting | Source
In the photo the subject is turned slightly away from the light source.  In this case the sun coming onto a shady porch.
In the photo the subject is turned slightly away from the light source. In this case the sun coming onto a shady porch. | Source

If you are anything like me you have tons of snapshots of your children filling memory space on your computer or overflowing from photo albums but not all pictures are created equal. Random shots of your little one splashing in the tub or in the pool are perfect for bringing back special memories but not always what you would like to put in a frame or send to the grandparents. By paying attention to just a few factors you can take an amazing portrait that will stand the test of time

Lighting, lighting, lighting

One of the most notable differences between a snapshot and a professional looking picture is lighting. There are several standard lighting positions used in portrait photography. Some of those require lights that you can move and adjust but others are easily mimicked with lighting naturally available to you.

Single source lighting is one of the easiest types to create on your own. It can be done with a single lamp, bright window, or even candles. Where the light source is has a dramatic effect on how your subject looks. A classic position creates what is known as Rembrandt lighting. To light this way put the light source to one side of the subject. The subject needs to be turned slightly toward the light so that a small amount of the light falls on the cheek that is opposite the light source. You can also turn the subject slightly away from the light reducing light on the face for a softer look. This is easier than it sounds even with squirmy little ones. The key is to place yourself so that when your child looks at you the lighting is right.

You can also have the lighting coming from above or below. Placing a baby on a bed that is below a bright window or using candles from a birthday cake coming from below will also provide great shots. When lighting from above or below, make sure the light source is slightly in front of the subject.

Pay attention to the shadows cast on the face. If you see too much shadow you can use a white poster board held on the opposite side of the subject to reflect some light back onto the side that is too dark.

This is called butterfly lighting.  The light source in front and above the subject.  Notice the shadows that define the cheek bones and the slight shadow below the nose.
This is called butterfly lighting. The light source in front and above the subject. Notice the shadows that define the cheek bones and the slight shadow below the nose. | Source
Lighting from below casts different shadows for a different look.
Lighting from below casts different shadows for a different look. | Source

Get a tight shot and make sure it is in focus

If you are going for a portrait your goal is usually the face. Go ahead and get up close to your child so that their face fills the view finder. You do need to pay attention to focus. With any camera/lens there is usually a minimum distance that you can get to before the image will be forced out of focus. If you have a zoom feature, step back and then zoom into the face. You may also need to put your camera on a tripod or stationary spot to ensure a sharp picture. When you zoom in the small movements you make when breathing or even the pulse in your arm can shake the camera enough to cause blurring in the picture.

Go on location

Don't be afraid to go outside. Some children have a hard time realxing in front of a camera. Going to the beach or playground and catching some candid photos might just get you what you are looking for. You do need to avoid direct midday sun. It causes squinting and harsh shadows. There are 2 ways to solve this problem. One is to get in the shade and the other is to go early in the morning or in the evening. Early and late day sun photograph very well with warm tones in the indirect light. You still need to pay attention to how the light is falling on the face. Remember the trick to getting the right angle on the light is where you stand. When your subject looks at you the light should be right. Move around with your little one and try several angles to get the best image.

A child at play is relaxed and may give you what you are looking for.
A child at play is relaxed and may give you what you are looking for. | Source

Take lots of photos

When photography isn't your thing it is smart to take many shots to get the right one. With the advent of digital it is now possible to take 100 shots in one sitting without wasting film or developing fees. We can look through our work and eliminate disappointing shots with a simple click.

It doesn't have to be a face shot

Sometimes the purpose of a portrait is to capture a moment in time. You do not always have to have a face shot to make that happen. Using images where your subject is looking up, down or even away from the camera can end up being what you are looking for.

Try some editing

If you have a PC you probably have some ability to edit a photo. Some cameras also have built in editing features. Changing a picture to black and white or a sepia tone can change the mood of an image. It can also change simple head shots into art that is color coordinated to your interior design.

Original image
Original image | Source
This image was cropped to move the subject off center and given a slight sepia tone bringing it just barely out of a complete black and white.
This image was cropped to move the subject off center and given a slight sepia tone bringing it just barely out of a complete black and white. | Source

Keep in mind they're just kids

The only other advice I have is that when they are tired of getting their picture taken stop taking them. Grouchy kids don’t make for good photos. If one attempt was a wash let it go and try again later. Even my 5yo who not only knows how to pose but can also find his light gets bored of mommy with the camera. Be patient and plan several opportunities to get the right portrait.

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    • GClark profile image

      GClark 4 years ago from United States

      Helpful advice and beautiful photos! Voted Up. Thanks for sharing.

    • Brett.Tesol profile image

      Brett Caulton 4 years ago from Thailand

      Great advice, all parents treasure this childhood pics, so why not make them the best pics you can!!

      Sharing with followers, up and useful.

    • twentyfive profile image

      twentyfive 4 years ago

      Amazing! Great tips and excellent photos

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