Guest post: Don’t Forget the Gummy Worms (photo tips)

While I’m on vacation until Aug. 9 (and quite possibly for the day or two after I get back), I’m featuring several guest bloggers. Today’s guest post comes from Anna of Hank & Willie and is chock full of great tips for photographing your kids.

DON’T FORGET THE GUMMY WORMS
(And six more tips for taking better photos of your kids this summer)

It’s summertime, and the activities from each busy day could fill their own photo album. Amy and family are probably enjoying one of those days as you read this. I know that many of Amy’s readers are, like her, accomplished photographers and even professionals, but if you aren’t, I’m hoping you’ll find something to enjoy in this post.

Maybe you’ve got a new digital SLR camera, or maybe you’re a diehard point-n-shooter, but we’ve all got the same goal in mind: to take the best possible pictures of our families, preserving the memories in the jewel-like light we remember them.

I can guarantee you’ll see great results in your photos if you try a few of these techniques, and I won’t even talk about shutter speed and f-stops. And if you’re a devotee of automatic settings, you don’t have to change your stripes. You can try all these tips in auto mode.

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1. Get involved.

Get close. Then get closer. Then get down low. Chances are you’re taking a photo of your child in a location you’d like to remember—maybe a scenic mountainside or a sparkling beach. But one of the biggest mistakes we can make in a photo is trying to include too much information, like taking a landscape photo that just happens to have a small, faraway person in it. Instead, fill the frame with your subject, making them the most important part of the photo. Because they are.

Want to remember the beach? Get up close to your child and photograph his toes buried in the sand, or the look on her face when she spies a new piece of sea glass. Want to remember the mountain? Zoom in as your child reaches in to pick a wildflower or throws a rock in a rolling stream.

And unless you and your child are the same height, you’ll want to get down where the action is. It’s all part of getting involved.

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2. Find the sweet light.
Your photos will be 1000-percent improved if you do nothing else but this: think about the best times of day for kids to be out in the sun and shoot your photos then. Early morning before the sun gets too intense (you’re all awake anyway, right?) and afternoon/evening when the intensity wanes.

Here in North American, that’s roughly before 8 a.m. and after 5:30 p.m. this time of year. (Bribe ‘em with ice cream if they are melting down at day’s end.) Full-day sunlight washes out colors, creates harsh, unflattering shadows and causes sunburn, of course, while the warmth and softness of early and late-day sun will bring a beautiful, unrivaled tone to your images.

Now, I know what you’re saying. Plenty of life goes on between 8 and 5:30, in fact most of the day for those of a certain age in my household. So if you’re stuck outside at high noon on a sunny day, pray for a cloud or find some open shade (a spot out of direct sun lit by reflected light. Just go under a tree.) and shoot your photos there. And if you end up with a cloudy day on vacation, you can be the annoying one that chirps, “Well, it’s an absolutely perfect day for photos!”

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3. Go for the unexpected
If your child is about three or up, they probably know what it means to pose for a photo and you end up with a series of lock-jawed grins. So go for the anti-pose. Have your child leap in the air. Make a crazy monster face and challenge them to make one, too. (Guaranteed to get a laugh.) Sing the ABCs to them, and get it wrong, so they have to correct you, giggling all the way.

Younger than three? Try positioning them in or on something, like a ride-on horsie, a bathtub, a bucket or a basket and shoot away until they escape or are done. Then follow them around and capture their entirely unselfconscious anti-poses. Or hand them a prop you can stand to see in your photos, like a bright red ball.

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4. Get cheeky
When photographing more than one child together, have them avoid perpetuating the grip-and-grin pose they see in adults. Instead get creative to get their faces close together. Have them lie on the ground and look up, which almost always will bring on the giggles. Encourage a whispered secret or a kiss on the cheek. Or just request “Cheeks together!” which will bring you sibling closeness you didn’t know you had.

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5. Remove the bulls eye from your child’s forehead

So you’re on the beach. It’s 5:45 in the afternoon, and glorious streams of golden light are bathing the scene in front of you. The sky is a brilliant blue, the sand is warm and inviting, Junior is waving his snappy red shovel and he flashes you a big, natural-looking grin. Mentally patting yourself on the back, you get down on his eye level, perform a quick check on the background to be sure the lifeguard chair isn’t growing out of his head, center him perfectly in the frame and…STOP!!!!!!

Try this. Move your camera slightly to the right or left, so that Junior is now off center. Is there something else across the frame that you can bring into the photo, like the bright blue bucket he just threw in frustration when his sand castle caved in? I promised no photo lingo in this post, but if you’re ever tempted to Google the phrase “rule of thirds” you’ll learn a lot more about this composition technique. In short, it can make for a much more appealing and interesting photo. Give it a try.

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6. Take your camera for a spin

Take your camera and turn it 90°. Try using the camera in vertical or “portrait” position to capture an image of one or two children, a format that naturally crops extra information from the photo and focuses in close on the important stuff: your subject. While excellent portraits can be in either landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) position, trying the portrait position might bring a brand new focus to your shots.

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7. Don’t forget the gummy worms!
While portraits don’t need to have dead on eye-contact to be successful, there is always something a little disappointing about the image that is nearly perfect in every way, yet has a child with a vacant stare over your shoulder, probably because a well-intentioned person was jumping up and down trying to get a laugh.

When I’m nearing the end of a session (and I use the term loosely, I’ve been known to break out this trick in the backyard with my kids) and want to bag a few more good shots, I might drape a gummy worm around the barrel of my lens. This usually promotes a tractor-beam lock on my lens (hello, eye contact!), as well as an interesting discussion about worms and eating them, depending on the age of your subject. It doesn’t last long, and if you’re shooting someone else’s kids you probably want to check the guidelines on sugar consumption, but it can be a serious secret weapon at the right moment.

Before and After

This morning at a playdate, I tried to use some of these tips to demonstrate what they can do in two quick snapshots.
Here’s Sydney before, out in the blazing sun at about 11 a.m., in a cluttered snapshot, taken in landscape view. Like the disembodied adult arm and half toddler in the background?

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Here’s Sydney a minute later, under a tree in her yard. This photo was taken at her level, in portrait view, in lovely open shade. She was so happy about it she even gave me a smile!
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Got a great summer photo to share?
Post a link to your blog, Flickr or web page in the comments section here, and let me know if you give these tips a try!

Anna is a mother, writer and photographer from New England who can often be found
picking up toy trucks off the floor and blogging at Hank & Willie.

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9 thoughts on “Guest post: Don’t Forget the Gummy Worms (photo tips)

  1. Pingback: camera bag

  2. Thanks for the tips! I’m in the process of trying to learn more about my camera and photography so this came at just the right time :D

  3. These are great tips!

    I took some simple pictures of my daughter last month and posted them here. I took probably 25 photos of her, to get a handful that turned out really well. My favorites are the close up of her inspecting a piece of clover, and one in which I lay on the ground and shot upwards. The different perspective really makes all the difference between and ordinary photo and a really lovely one.

    Also, if your photographing pets, natural light is best because it eliminates the red eye effect, and flash tends to frighten animals.

    Again, great post, and lovely pictures!

  4. Pingback: Don’t forget the gummy worms! « Hank & Willie

  5. I love these tips! I am going to try some of them out tomorrow at our play date so I can get some super cute pics of my daughter and her little buddy!

  6. Taking pictures of kids definitely has unique challenges. You have to be quick! Thanks for the gummy worm tip. Here is a photo I took of my little girl last week – she was “gardening”: Lane

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