Best practices for taking photos of kids

I am by no means an expert on photographing kids...however, I have two young boys and I've been able to figure out how to get some good shots of them over the years. I am sharing these tips to possibly help you too. You don't need to do all of them, just pick a few and stick with them. Or, try each one over time. Enjoy!

  1. Always keep your camera(s) ready. - We have learned in the Baxter household that you never know when a great moment will arise. Fortunately, we have plenty of them - pillow fights on the bouncy bed.....don't bonk that head, big wheel races in the cul-de-sac....be the leader of the pack, dance party with the whole family....better believe it's "Call Me Maybe" . (Or our favorite, The Avett Brothers  best live show ever - check them out here). Whatever the moment - I have our cameras and video recorder ready to catch the bonked heads, thrilling finishes, and foot-stomping, good time dance moves. I used to keep my cameras tucked away in there respective carrying cases. Now I keep them on the kitchen counter out of their cases - ready for action (and dancing). Plus, I am probably taking pictures everyday because they're out in the open. Where do you keep yours? 
  2. Use props - You have probably figured this out already. However, if you haven't, this is a good opportunity for you. Providing your child with something to play with for a photo shoot is a great idea. Keep it simple though. (For instance, use a train vs a train table). Kids will get preoccupied with the item which is fine, however, ask them to show it to you. Ask them what it does. Ask them to show you how it flies - you are actually encouraging them to show you their personality. A favorite toy or familiar object is good prop (it doesn't have to be a toy). Whatever prop you use, make sure you think about what it will look like in the photo as well.  Buried treasure from the litter box is normally not as photogenic or as sanitary as say a pinwheel from the dollar tree :)
  3. Get down on their level - Obviously, your kids are smaller than you. Otherwise, they would have hung all the Christmas decorations this past holiday (in due time). So, it is best to get down and experience life at their level. I spend a good portion of my time with the boys sitting, laying, or yes, wrestling around on the ground with them. Their perspective is very different from ours, and I like to portray that in our photos. The reason I shoot is to tell the story of our lives through pictures...and our life as a family is not just through my perspective - it's through all of our perspectives....and the little ones have a different view of our surroundings. 
  4. Make them Laugh - I am going to just put this one out there. I am very focused and professional in my business affairs. I am well respected by my colleagues and peers. And I can command a room when I need to present. However, when I'm looking to get some 'happy' shots of my kids (or I just need them to snap out of a funky mood)....I turn into one of the slapstick stooges and start clowning around for some belly busting fun. I will make silly noises and faces, bonk myself over the head, or trip over a toy to get those cheap laughs - Whatever it takes, no matter whose there, at home or in public - I'm joking around having a good time. However, my camera is right next to me ready to shoot. I am either too confident to care what I look like or too ridiculous to notice.....but either way, I get some fun pics of my kids. 
  5. Take candid shots - As much as we would love to have just a few good family shots - everyone smiling and staring at the camera - they are just few and far between for us at this stage unless we hire someone. Also, I am in love with candid shots and I believe they are the best way to tell our story. Candid shots do a far better job at showing personality and emotion (the 2 things that you ultimately want to convey). Besides, every time we say "smile" or "say cheese", my kids do smile, however, they also fiercely squint their eyes as though they are trying to crack walnuts with their eyelids. So, we mostly stick to candid's (and they look better in photobooks versus having 60 pages of head shots). 
  6. Take more pictures - Since we are in the age of digital cameras, I really believe that there is no reason why we shouldn't take tons of pictures. I am old enough to remember taking film to the drugstore to get developed. I even used to develop some of my film by myself. When it comes to kids, I would rather take many pictures and get lucky than take fewer pictures and hope they're perfect. I am not afraid to tell you that some of my favorite pictures are those that weren't planned. I just take a lot of pictures and sometimes get lucky. There are plenty of times that I am not even looking through the viewfinder or screen. I will hold the camera up high above my head, down low around the ground, or even around a bend. You don't have to be perfect - it is just fine to be lucky. Ask your local leprechaun what he thinks about luck.
  7. Natural light is best - "It helps you win if you let the light in". This one may be more difficult to get comfortable with depending on how fancy your camera is and how well you know how to use it. The reason I say this is with some cameras - if they are set on auto - you could be standing on the surface of the sun and it would still want to use it's flash. In most cases it is pretty simple to turn it off. You just need to know how to do it quickly (So, know your camera). I once got a new camera and didn't have time to familiarize myself with it when one of these awesome moments arose. My 2 year old son was staring out the window at first dawn one morning and looked absolutely precious with the sunlight painting glory all over him. I started fumbling around trying to figure out how to turn the flash off - pushing buttons, scrolling through menus, pulling levers - I looked more like I was trying to disarm a bomb rather than turn off a flash. By the time I figured it out the moment was gone.....unfortunately....so was my son. I had to drop the camera and search for him. Sure enough, I found him upstairs in the closet trying on Daddy's clothes. And where was my camera at this adorable moment? Downstairs detonating on the counter. Another perfect shot escapes because I didn't know my camera well enough in the early morning. COFFEE PLEASE! 
  8. Allow them to play - I have taken a lot of endearing pictures of my boys while they have been playing in a natural environment. Kids are already photogenic and at 1.5 & 3.5 years old - good luck trying to get them to pose for the camera. I am more likely to wake up in the morning with a toy truck in my back and a tiny hiney on my face - than I am to get them to pose for me. So, to get those creative and candid shots, I encourage them to play. I normally crouch around them in circles taking pictures at different angles. In doing this my boys think I look like a baboon and my wife thinks I look like a buffoon. So I make funny noises while I shoot to suffice them both. Sure enough, the pictures turn out great and I go from zero to the hero!  
  9. Show them the pictures on the camera - I have done this since they were very young so they grew accustomed to what exactly the device is and what it does. This way it is a familiar object to them and not some weird headpiece that Daddy wears. I am also thinking ahead with this one as well. I would love it and be proud if they inherited the passion for pictures and storytelling. As soon as they are ready they will have their own cameras to capture the world around them.
  10. Make taking photos a habit - This is beneficial to all of us in several ways. By keeping it part of our daily life, it will feel natural around the kids. We will have plenty more pictures to document this wonderful life we've been blessed with. And, maybe - just maybe - one day I will master my camera. At the very least, the kids and my beautiful wife can enjoy dear old Dad clowning around in the backyard making monkey noises.

Until the next time, I hope that you find this post beneficial or at least entertaining. Any and all feedback is welcomed. If there is anything specific you are interested in learning about, please let me know. 

Cheers!

John Baxter

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