Beyond Point and Click: Tips from a Professional Photographer on How to Capture Life’s Little Moments

by Shannon Hembree on September 1, 2011

Have you ever tried to take that “perfect” family photo? In your mind, everyone is smiling and looking happy, and the light around them radiates joy and warmth. In reality, your kids in the family photo will be looking off in different directions, one of them will be wailing, and if you’re really having a bad day, one will be pulling the other’s hair. Rather than becoming your ever-elusive Facebook profile pic, it will wind up on a site like Awkward Family Photos.

To find out how to take photos that are worthy of public display, we sought the help of a professional photographer – Crystal Hardin – a self-described attorney turned photographer, wife and mother of a sweet baby girl (Lily B). She is the owner and photographer extraordinaire of lily B photography in Alexandria, VA.

Copyright lily B photography 2011

According to Crystal, “As a children’s photographer, I know that taking beautiful photos of children is no easy task. I regularly have clients tell me that I have a gift for working with children – that they find taking photos of their own child (and getting a shot they are satisfied with) close to impossible (and, in most cases, endlessly frustrating). Well, I have a secret, taking photos of other people’s children is far easier for me than taking photos of my own little girl! That is the simple truth. And, I am a professional! With this said, a bit of knowledge, preparation, patience, and, of course, luck can go a long way in taking your photos to the next level.”

Below are Crystal’s recommendations in four key areas for parents.

LIGHTING

“I cannot stress enough how important good lighting is to achieving a beautiful photo. Whether taking pictures indoors or out, you must seek out good light.”

Outdoors: “When taking pictures outdoors, try to stick to early morning or late afternoon when the sun is low in the sky. The light will be golden and diffused and just plain scrumptious. Avoid harsh, mid-day light. Harsh shadows and squinty eyes do nothing for a photo. If you do end up whipping out the camera mid-day, seek out ‘open shade’ – spots that provide nice, even light without being in the direct path of the sun.”

Indoors: “When taking photos indoors, try to stick to areas that are well-lit. Rooms with large windows or sliding glass doors are optimal. Think ahead. I often set up an activity next to a window (or other natural light source) so that when I am ready to start clicking away, my daughter is already in a well-lit spot. (In fact, I plan parties and other family events with photo-taking in mind – I want to make sure that there is good natural light in any spot where photo-worthy activity will be taking place!”)

ATTIRE

“For children, it’s pretty easy and boils down to four basic things: comfort, personality, simplicity, and color.”

Comfort: “It will show if a child is not comfortable in their clothing. In fact, it starts the entire photo-taking enterprise off on the wrong foot if you try to put a child in something that he or she is not comfortable in.”

Personality: “Photos are meant to capture the now – forever. The outfits that reflect a child’s personality are usually those they wear frequently…Focus on the child, their personality, who they are now, and you can’t go wrong.”

Simplicity: “Keep clothing simple. Too much bulk or too much fuss will take away from the subject of the photo – your child!”

Color: “Bold, plain colors work well. Busy patterns, characters, or writing can distract. When working with multiple children, I always suggest coordination without matching. Keep color choices within the same family, keep the styles similar, but still allow individual personalities to shine!”

TOOLS OF THE TRADE: DOES A CAMERA OR CAMERA SETTING MATTER?

Copyright lily B photography 2011

We posed this question to Crystal. Her reply? “Yes, by all means they matter!” However, she also added, “Perhaps more important than camera or camera settings – seeing the moment. Understanding that this moment must be captured and then framing that moment and hitting click. So many of my favorite photos are my favorites because they touch my heart. They bring back memories. They stopped time just for me.

Anyone – with any camera – can do this. With that said, knowing how to use your camera is important so that you can be ready to capture the moment in the most beautiful way – whenever and wherever it happens. And, knowing your camera (and having a good camera) will also help you take your photos to the next level.”

We asked Crystal what camera she uses and what she would recommend for moms and everyday use. “These days,” she replied, “so many people purchase high-end cameras – usually SLRs – but never take them off of auto mode. This is so unfortunate! These cameras can do so much more, but are, in my opinion, no better than a more compact camera if you never learn to use them properly.

So, ask yourself whether you will take the time to learn your camera before spending the money on an SLR. If you’re willing to learn, an SLR might be for you!

As for me, I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark II.”

TIPS FOR GETTING THE BEST KID PICTURES

Choose Natural Light: “Flash (unless you really know how to use it properly) can ruin a photo. Plus, flash gives you away! Children instantly notice flash (and, you know what that leads to). Trash the flash! Learn to find the light and use it!”

Keep the Camera Level with the Child’s Eyes or Lower: “Get down on their level! Focus on the eyes and click away! (Of course, this rule can be broken and should be from time to time). Don’t be afraid to try different angles to get a different perspective.”

Don’t Tell Them to Say Cheese: “Just don’t. If you do, you will get ‘the smile.’ You know the one – that less than attractive, slightly annoyed, grimace that reads, ‘please hurry and get out of my face.’ Instead, try one of these tricks for getting a more natural smile:

  • Tell them not to smile – to be as serious as they can – no matter what happens. Continue along that line of talk and they will crack. Trust me.
  • Tell them to say something other than cheese. I use, ‘say elephants wearing pajamas.’ This usually gets a laugh.
  • Act like a loon. This may be a bit degrading, but, it works!”

Copyright lily B photography 2011

Don’t be Afraid to Fill the Frame: “Get close! And, don’t be afraid to back away and just be a bystander to the action. Candid shots are the stuff life is made of!”

We asked Crystal if she had any parting thoughts for parents, and she summed it up this way: “When it comes to taking photos of your child or children, there is no wrong. Don’t forget the big picture. Think about your favorite family photos, and why they are your favorites. Keep this in mind when taking pictures of your children. Capture moments. Don’t force moments. Have patience. And, if all else fails, call in a professional!

Many thanks to Crystal – we couldn’t have summed it up better ourselves. More importantly, we will likely be giving her a call this November for the Mount Everest of all parental photo obligations – the holiday photo card…Until then – may your children be well behaved and your lighting for photos be scrumptious.

Crystal Hardin owns lily B photography in Alexandria, VA. You can view her full portfolio, read her blog, and contact her at www.lilyB-photography.com. You can also become a fan of lily B photography on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lilyBphotography and visit her Tiny Prints storefront.

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