Hi! I hope you had a wonderful Easter. Ours was low-key and cosy - we've just about come to the end of the chocolate mountain and now for ready for life without chocolate. For a day or two at least.
Today's post is about something that so many of you ask me about - namely, how to take natural, relaxed photos of our own children. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every photograph we took of our family was a beautiful and authentic image full of genuine emotion? Where everyone was completely natural and relaxed, super happy to be in front of the lens for as long as you needed, simply being themselves.
No pulling faces or awkward posing. No eye rolling or fake smiles.
Unfortunately, the default position for 99% of people is the latter - me included. You’d think by now that I might have actually mastered the art of being photographed but I am laughably bad at it! Regardless, I still make sure that I’m photographed with my family every year, and they remain some of my most treasured possessions.
So, unless I employ some clever ninja like tactics during a photo shoot, I would expect many of my sitters (young and old alike) to fall back to the default setting.
Here are 5 tips that you can use every day when photographing your family. I'm excited to share some of my tricks and hope they'll give you some inspiration throughout the rest of the holidays - they don't require any special equipment or big fancy camera's, just a love of natural, authentic photography.
1. Encourage them to engage or interact with each other
This is an easy one but obviously requires two or more children, or a parent and child. See below for tips when shooting children on their own. I love photographing siblings together because you can make them do the work, and with a few simple pointers they relax very quickly. I always start out shooting the larger groups because I don’t want to single anyone out at the beginning of a session - that’s easier once everyone has warmed up and has got into the swing of things.
Idea’s for interaction can be as simple as getting one of them to tickle the other. It's an oldie, I admit, but it works! Make sure you’ve got them in the right position with good lighting and a nice clean background, preferably sitting down next to each other. I will make it into a game and only tell one of them, and give them a secret signal when I’m absolutely ready, because the moment will only last a couple of seconds.
Another way to make them engage with each other and forget they're being photographed is to tell one of them to think of a silly word and then whisper it to the person next to them - like Chinese whispers. This works as well for 2 siblings as it does for large groups. Once the word has been passed down through everyone, I count to 3 and they all shout the word out loud.
Permission to shout the naughty words they're never normally allowed to say - how much fun is that?!
2. Step back and observe the quiet moments
Once children become absorbed in an activity and aren’t looking at the camera it’s incredibly easy to capture natural images of them being themselves. The quiet images are as important as the laughing ones, and often make for some of my favourite portraits. The easiest way to capture these quiet moments is to step back and observe. Often during a shoot I’ll look behind me and see one of the other children absorbed in something and I’ll quickly take some photographs without them knowing. Or we’ll be on our way to a new location, and moving from one place to another - they have no idea that I’m still quietly shooting.
Other times I’ll set it up - I’ll tell the children to go and count how many flowers there are underneath the tree, or just to simply wait somewhere whilst I pretend I’ve got to do something important with my equipment. They instantly 'switch off’ and that’s the perfect moment for a shot.
This one is probably the easiest; it requires very little effort on your part, you’ve just got to spot the opportunity and make the most of your surroundings. It works brilliantly when the session is getting a bit stuck and the children are getting bored, and immediately injects a boost of energy.
The no-brainer is jumping on the bed or sofa. Guaranteed fun!!
For younger children you simply have to throw them in the air for instant radiance - even the very shyest of my sitters will laugh when we do this. Good work out for the biceps too :)
And the failsafe ”Run to that tree and back - I’ll time you” works every time.
Why did I always fall for that when I was little?
4. Ask a question
When shooting children or adults I talk. A lot. And one of the quickest ways to get people to relax is to ask them a question. It momentarily makes them think about something else and nearly always makes them relax. The questions can be about them, or things they like doing, or just silly things.
Do you like ketchup on your cornflakes?
What was the best thing you did yesterday?
What’s your favourite superpower?
Who is cooler - Hans Solo* or Luke Skywalker? (*Hans obvs)
Ask a few questions and you should be able to capture some thoughtful, natural expressions.
5. Play, Play, Play
Probably the most obvious one of all, but often over looked. It’s what children do best, after all! I like to give children free reign to come up with their own ideas - this gives them a sense of independence and make them feel part of the session.
Find a branch to swing on, do a headstand, turn the music up loud and dance.
Have a cartwheel competition. Leapfrog ten times.
All lie on top of each other and squiiiish.
The sillier the better.
I hope this has inspired you to go and take some lovely family photos, and above all, have FUN. Because if it’s not fun, then it’s not worth doing!
Now I'd love to hear from you in the comments below what you do to have fun and capture genuine emotion when photographing your family or clients. Have you got any great tips that work every time? And if you think that Luke is cooler than Hans then you can tell me that too - we will still be friends, I promise.
As always, thank you so much for dropping by, and for your support!
P.S As the light starts to get better, look out for a post next month about how I shoot/ create amazing soft light, plus a bumper piece about iPhone photography. They say that the best camera is the one that's with you, and I've done the hard work for you. It'll come out just before the summer holidays and will take your iPhone photography to the next level, including my favourite 5 apps, some great accessories and lots of tips. I'm VERY excited about this one!