Everyone remembers to take a photo before the first day of school—backpack at the ready, cool new outfit donned—but how about the first day of summer vacation? The kickoff to three months of sun-drenched fun is just as worthy of celebration. Here are some pro tips for taking active, outside portraits that’ll set the tone for the season ahead.

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Get outside! Nature always makes for a great setting; if your kids are into sports or other summer activities, let them bring along some equipment. (Maybe your little swimmer wants to take photos near the quarry, or your gymnast-in-the-making wants pictures near the monkey bars, for example.) “Ask, ‘What are you most excited for this summer? Let’s go get a photo of that!’” suggests Rebecca Markovitz, owner at Rebecca Rose Photography. “Letting them help plan the shoot means they’ll be more excited than if you just announce, ‘We’re doing this today.’” Your kids will look prettiest in early morning or late-afternoon sun (not harsh midday light).


Just like on the first day of school, this is a fun call to pick out the perfect outfit! “This is a chance to capture some personality, and colors give really strong temperature indications,” Markovitz says. If your kid likes to relax, go for cool colors: blues, greens, watercolors. If your child’s more high-activity, bright, warm colors, like reds and oranges, will look best.


Chatting with your photo subject helps keep her relaxed—not nervously staring at you as you silently snap away. Try prompts like, “What are you most excited to do this summer?” or “What’s one thing I’d never let you do?” to keep her smiling naturally, Markovitz suggests. If you’re snapping several kids together, get them interacting: Say, “Marcus, tell Lucy a secret!” or “Lucy, what’s Marcus’s favorite book?” One of Markovitz’s favorite tips involves a little trickery: “I’ll say, ‘Great, I got what I need,’ and pretend like I’m done taking photos,” she says. “Then they relax and start acting more naturally, and you get a candid shot. That’s what you think of your kid looking like—not stiffly staring at a camera!”


Before you leave the house, make sure you have enough memory to shoot too many photos; you can edit down to your favorites later. And always keep an eye on what’s in the background: You don’t want weird juxtapositions or strangers wandering through the frame. “It always happens: You find the photo with the greatest smile, and there’s a random foot flying by from the swing set behind your kid,” Markovitz laughs. Another composition tip: You don’t always need your subjects perfectly centered in the frame. “Go for the corners, go for different levels, and it’ll look much more interesting,” she adds.


“Smartphones have so many built-in tools that are great for outdoor photos,” Markovitz says. For one, “if you’re shooting outside in summer, you can use the built-in exposure tools to get the brightness right; an on iPhone, you just tap on what you want to be in focus, and it’ll adjust.” Turning on HDR (which stands for high dynamic range) is also great for the outdoors, because it helps you get both the background and the person you’re shooting sharp and bright. “Don’t be afraid to get some closeups where the background is out of focus,” Markovitz adds. “Just get within about a foot of your subject and tap on them to focus, and then the background will be soft, which produces a really nice photo.”