How to Take a Fabulous Holiday Photo of Your Kids
Like most parents, I take a lot of photos. Truth be told, there are well over a thousand shots hanging out on my hard drive, and my twins are only two-and-a-half years old. You would think that with all this snapping, I would have no problem finding the perfect two-shot of my toddlers to send off to friends and family this festive season. But while there are plenty of wonderful separate shots, when it comes to capturing the girls together in one frame, there's always someone looking away or making a goofy face or stuffing a hand in her mouth. Nothing that screams "look how cute we are!" -- which is exactly what I'm going for.
Shannon Echlin is a Toronto-based baby and child photographer who says it can be done, even for parents like me with two (or more) kids under three. Here are her tips for capturing that elusive, amazing shot you'll be proud to mail out to your nearest and dearest.
1. When it comes to the all-important smile, a natural look is always better than a fake "say cheese" grin. Echlin suggests enlisting your partner or another willing adult to help generate giggles. "My portraits are always 100 times better when I have a parent willing to be silly standing behind me," she says. Singalongs, monkey dances and that universal kid-pleaser, the fart noise, are all good smile-inducers. "I know it's gross, but kids think it's hilarious!" says Echlin.
2. Location, location, location! Echlin prefers soft and flattering outdoor light rather than a flash, so she suggests that you bring a camera along the next time you go to the playground, and sneak it out to catch a merry moment in the sun. If you do prefer an indoor shot (hey, it's cold out there!), Echlin advises setting up in the brightest room in the house. "I always love portraits of children sitting in the window," she says.
3. Timing is everything. "I always do my shoots early in the day. Kids are just happier in the morning," says Echlin. "There is a window between breakfast and lunch when kids are full of joy and energy." (I know that window -- it also works well for birthday parties and doctor's appointments). Echlin also recommends that if you want a group shot, get it first, because it's the only shot you'll need to give directions for, and kids will have no patience for a group shot if you've already been snapping away for ten minutes. And when it comes to babies, the briefer the better. "When I do shoots with babies I know it's over because they get bags under their eyes," she says. "Photo shoots will actually wear out a six-month-old!"
4. Even the most attached of siblings can have a problem cozying up for a photo shoot, but Echlin says there are a few tricks you can use to encourage togetherness: "Have them sitting back to back. For some reason, kids like to do this and they tend to stay put a bit longer than side by side." Or, you can make it a game and create a makeshift spaceship out of pillows or chairs to encourage them to sit still for you. For those easily distracted (and not-so-easily directed) one-year-olds, containment is key. Big cardboard boxes, toy chests, laundry baskets, bathtubs -- these can all give you a few extra minutes to compose a shot before your kids scramble out.
5. Don't be afraid to experiment. "Get down on their level and get close up," says Echlin. "Move around and try angles you wouldn't normally." She suggests doing a little research beforehand on websites like Flickr, where you can check out other peoples' photos and find new ideas that appeal to you. "It's much easier to get a good shot if you have a few images in your head to inspire you," she says.
6. Patience is a virtue. "You will never get a good shot if your child is frustrated," says Echlin. "If they aren't into it, don't force them. The last thing you want is for your child to think that family portrait time is punishment." A well-timed cookie break can rejuvenate a flagging toddler and invigorate a bored preschooler. "At the end of the day, it's all about having fun," she says. And who knows? Maybe you'll end up capturing a priceless moment, just in time for your holiday cards.
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