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Action Mode: Tips for Photographing Children

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Chatbooks Ideas

Here’s how to make the most of your favorite photo subject—your child.

  • Go low. Photographs are more intimate when the subject’s eyes appear to be gazing at the viewer—impossible when you’re photographing toddlers from 3½ feet above them. Kneel down or plop yourself onto the floor so the lens is at their eye level.
  • Enable easy open. The quicker you can get to your camera, the likelier you are to capture that once-in-a-lifetime shot. Most phones open up the camera automatically when you swipe right or swipe up, giving you another moment to frame the photo.
  • Zoom in. That means you, not your camera lens. Zoom is fine when you don’t have another choice, but it can result in grainy photos. Kids’ photography tips often say to capture children in their element (good advice). But don’t make the mistake of including too much background. When you’re photographing children, it’s the child you want to see.
  • Use burst mode. Seventeen hours of labor aside, kids move fast. Setting your camera to a high shutter speed when photographing children will help prevent blurry photos. But burst mode might be even more effective. It allows you to take several photos in quick succession by pushing and holding the shutter just once. This way, you don’t have to keep your eyes glued to the phone nonstop, and you’ll capture so many photos that at least one of them is bound to work out.
  • Document the everyday. If life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans, maybe the planned stuff isn’t where we should be aiming our cameras. This MomForce Podcast episode includes 55 ideas for photographing children in moments that might be humdrum today—playing sports, morning bed head—but that will yield photos that pay off big emotionally years from now.
  • Capture the process. Whether they’re building sandcastles, baking a cake, or just driving you to casual fantasies of a getaway to your pied-à-terre in, oh, Antarctica, your children’s activities have a beginning, middle, and end. Take a few snapshots of the whole process to tell a story: sandcastle gear gathered in a beach wagon, finding the right setup spot, the construction of the castle, the rising tide, the exhausted kids. (That last one belongs in the canon of kids’ photography tips: Sleeping-kid photos are more precious than they have any right to be for documenting something they spend literally half their time doing.)
  • Make it a game. “Sometimes parents will do things like say, ‘OK, I promise you’ll get a piece of chocolate if you’re good’ to get them to pose for a photo,” says Meredith Zinner, a family photographer based in Brooklyn, New York. “That doesn’t work. They don’t know what ‘good’ means in this context, and they just want to please the parent without being engaged. You wind up with kids putting on fake smiles just to make the parent happy and get it over with, and that picture isn’t going to be interesting.” For posed photos, instead try challenging them to look at the camera for as long as they can without blinking, or to keep a straight face while you act a little bananas. For candid shots when photographing children, try challenges like, “How high can you jump?” or “How many of your stuffed animals can you show me in 30 seconds?”
  • Be present. Some child photography ideas, like this one, are counterintuitive but effective: Strategically take fewer photos. “The more joyful the occasion, the more engaged your kid will be with the camera,” Meredith says. You can’t summon joy if you’re staring at your phone nonstop. If you find yourself getting swallowed up in phoneland, play pretend when photographing children: It’s 1998. You are obsessed with the Backstreet Boys. Digital photography isn’t a thing. You have exactly one roll of film with 36 shots. How are you going to use this precious resource? (The film, not AJ and Kevin.)
  • Let your kids enjoy the photos. Tiny fingers and $600 phones do not a happy parent make. Printing out your images in a photo book allows the family to enjoy the pictures, risk-free. No exaggeration: The Chatbooks monthly minis series costs just $7 USD a book and has a toddler-proof guarantee. If your kids wind up loving your photo book to pieces, we’ll replace it for free. (Offer valid once per book, within one year of original purchase.) Just email, send us a DM on Instagram, or simply tag @chatbooks on your Instagram or Facebook post of a photo book that’s been loved too much.

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