How to Take Better Pictures of Your Own Kids

Usually I write more about my kids, and what’s cooking around here, but today I thought we’d shake it up a bit.  I recently guessed blogged about this topic, and thought it was high time I shared it with all of you!

I am a Children and Family Photographer, and have been for about 4 years now.  You can check out my website at  I started out in photography when my second was born, and have not stopped since.  I was so overwhelmed when my first was born, that there are very few pictures of her.  But I knew when I had my second that I didn’t want to repeat that mistake, and my son completely agreed.  He has LOVED the camera from birth.  With his bright blue eyes and red hair, the camera loves him as well.  Its a match made in heaven.

When I started out, I read books, blogs, watched podcasts, and obsessed over how to take better pictures of my kids.  I have learned a lot over the years, and am here to give you a few tips on how you can drastically improve your own photographs of your kids (without all the research!).  I’ve just used pictures of my own kids as examples today, just to be extra authentic…

Top Five Tips for Taking Better Photos of Your Kids


The biggest mistake I see is people assuming that a bright sunny day is perfect for pictures.  I actually dread those for my sessions (although we don’t get many here in Seattle ;)).  The sun wreaks havoc on our faces, creating dark shadows, and too bright cheeks on the little ones.  Open shade is ideal for pictures.  What I mean by that is large open patches of shade, not deep under trees.  What we want is to be out of the direct sun in a shaded area, or ideally with light cloud cover.  But I still try to keep the sun behind me (but shaded) when I’m taking the picture so that the faces are lit best.

“Really Mama? This shirt looks terrible, and the light is behind me. See the shadows under my eyes? What am I, 80?”
“Its better… My shirt is off, but the light is to the side and I’m looking a little dark. And see how my head is cut off by the horizon? You can do better…”
“Now I’m looking good!”

Be aware of what is in the background of your picture.  Try to keep it as simple as possible.  I do most of my sessions at parks, for the lush green backgrounds and simple scenery- this makes your children the start of the photo.  For my own kids, most of our pictures are in our backyard in the grass or next to trees.  I also take my camera with me most days when we go to the park, and take a few minutes to let them play near the trees and grab a few shots.

First, I was down on his level, but I had people in the background. So I stood up and got the gorgeous fall leaves as the background instead. I shouted “Elmo” to get him to look up.

Another huge mistake is making it uptight and nerve racking.  Kids get nervous when parents start telling them to smile, don’t pick your nose, look at the camera, sit still, don’t pick that flower… When its a chore and they’re in trouble you will never get a genuine smile.  I like to make it like a fun game.  “Pick your favorite spot in this whole shady area.  Now sit as close as you can to each other.  And hug!  Now look at each other.  Where’s Mama?”  Be relaxed, and they will relax.  Then they might even want to do picture time again soon.

One of my favorites of my daughter
I was getting super cheesy smiles, until I started making “tooting” sounds and got some great smiles…

OK, my advice for this varies based on what kind of pictures you are doing.  Formal with the whole family?  Go fancy for everyone.  Relaxed atmosphere in the backyard?  Dress the part.  When you are attempting shots of the whole family (good luck!), there is no need to dress everyone the same (denim, white shirt, etc).  That tends to look corny.  What I recommend is laying all the outfits out together, and coordinate like you would one big outfit.  Does that make sense?  Like all ten pieces are one outfit and the colors are in the same pallet, and go together well.  No big patterns, stripes or logos.  Simple is best.

For individual shots of the kids- really anything goes.  Again, I think logos or stripes tend to not look good.  But think about where you’re taking pictures.  Going to the park?  Dress them in a simple plain shirt and jeans.  Going to a more urban setting?  Find a funky outfit, or great hat.  Think about what outfits they love, or you want to remember someday.

Bring some wipes and a brush with you if you’re heading out of the house just in case.

And babies always look best in their birthday suit.  Don’t be afraid to take off that diaper, or at the very least the onesie.  We want to see those gorgeous eyes, and they tend to get lost in their clothes when they are so little.

Here’s a great example of a lot of no no’s. Ian’s shirt is really distracting, the background is chaotic, and there are some shadows on their faces. I need to rotate to my right so I had that big green tree in the background (and change clothes).
A little better when I moved to the right (but I lost a kid and somehow his shirt changed- that must be a different day…)

I’d have to say the second biggest mistake I see is taking the shot from a standing position.  This gives a strange feeling to the picture of looking down on them, it tends to have an odd background (your floor), and doesn’t put the kids at ease, or make them the focal point.  Get down on your knees, even lay down on the floor at times.  But try to get on their level.  Just this small change will revolutionize your pictures!

Typical Shot- I’m standing and asked them to say cheese
Much better- I’m on the ground, and telling them jokes

OK, this is probably a separate point (but who wants 6 tips?  5 sounds much better…).  Fill the shot with your child.  There are times where pulling back and getting the whole house in the picture is appropriate.  But the shots you will love later are the ones where you went close in on her beautiful face and captured a smile or that shy little look she gives sometimes.  For group shots especially, do the one where you get everyone’s legs if you must.  But then focus in on the faces, go as close as you can- that will be the one that you will love in the end.

This one is OK (notice it is in the open shade near the edge of the barn)
This one I love

So, go grab your camera, maybe a kid or two, head to the backyard and go crazy!

This post also shared on these great blogs…,,,  inspiration friday,