School is out! As you kick into summer mode, most people try for at least ONE NICE PHOTO (said in exasperated tone with roll of eyes) of their kids during the summer break. And then wonder, WHY DEAR GOD IS THIS SO HARD?! I mean, maybe you’re traveling to beautiful beaches, they’re wearing adorable summery outfits, and the light. people, the LIGHT! It’s just gorgeous. and lingering, and rosy. Your pictures should come out like an Impressionist painting and yet, they don’t. Read on for the best ways to up your chances of getting a few keepers. I’m kicking grammar rules to curb for this one–get ready for ALL CAPS like I’m shouting. Sorry to my readers but especially to my college roommate, Meg, who hates nothing more than bad grammar and poor punctuation.
- Let’s talk about that gorgeous light. Long days actually mean many hours of HARSH light. Imagine trying to smile for a camera and seeing spots because it so. darn. bright. For most of the day in the summer, the lighting is squint city. So, you can either:
- Hide in the shade- find a leafy backyard, a covered porch, etc. Your kids’ eyes will thank you.
- Photograph indoors using window light–this can be pretty but is also tricky and hard to do without fast professional lenses.
- Put the sun at their backs (have them face you but away from the sun) and try to expose the photo for their faces to be correctly lit. This might require you to use your flash or have the background a bit “blown out”.
- Use the golden hour–this is the best option. The golden hour this is the hour at sunrise and the hour before (and slightly after) sunset. This is when I schedule beach sessions, which can be hard with children’s schedules, but necessary if you want to be out in the wide open landscape and capture that amazing summer light. Photographing at sunrise works for some families with early risers, and taking photos during the hour before sunset can also work if you feed the kids beforehand and promise some ice cream after the photos! If you’re planning to be at the beach during golden hour, check the tide chart in advance and aim for a day when low tide is around sunrise or sunset. This way you will end up with incredible reflections from the watery sand (see image below).
- Whatever you do, DO NOT TELL YOUR CHILDREN TO “SMILE”. They will respond with a maniacal fake face that is not what you or Grandma want to see on the holiday card. If you have another grown up with you, get them to stand directly behind the camera and act like a monkey, a dog, a jack in the box…whatever it takes. Level 2 if that doesn’t work is to get your kids to laugh by making semi inappropriate comments like “who has the stinkiest farts? Mommy or Daddy?” and so on. You’re allowed to say these things to your own kids, I promise. Level 3 if they’re just not cooperating is to give them a break for 5 minutes and then regroup–the regrouping will have to involve some sort of very enticing bribe, but so be it, you’ll get your photo IF IT TAKES ALL THE TREATS. ALL OF THEM. And one more note–don’t be stuck on the idea of having everyone look at the camera. Some of the best photos I take are of kids laughing, looking at each other or looking at their sibling or parent, etc. You can prompt these by having one sibling give another a smooch on the cheek, asking them if one has something funny on their face and having them look and laugh, etc. If you’re really ready to give up, take a photo of them from behind while they are facing the water or whatever nice background you have. Extra points if they hold hands and act like they like each other.
- You know your children best. Don’t seat the two elders next to each other if you know they can’t touch without fighting (my girls), and be sure to give the baby or toddler to the one that can actually hold them. If you have a baby, bring a squeaky toy or a rattle. Stand directly behind the person taking photos to shake it to get them to look, or play peekaboo from behind the camera.
- Try to have everyone seated in the sand or grass (or if near home, piled onto and contained in a chair or couch can work too). If they’re not interested in sitting, and all ages can walk/run, get a few of them walking or standing up (holding hands again is a bonus). If you have a decent camera, also let them RUN. I love these images as you get real expressions and the kids feel more like themselves. Draw a line in the sand (or make a line in the grass) at a distance, tell them to wait on the line, then get into position with enough room for them to move toward you and still be in the frame. Then do an “on your marks, get set, GO!” Warn them in advance to look at you and try to stay sort of together as they run toward you. You’ll have to re enact this several times, but they’ll get the hang of it. If you have an SLR camera, put the shutter speed on 500 or higher and you should be set to freeze their motion.
- Feed and hydrate them before you attempt any of the above. Also bring non-messy snacks (think light colors/non-crumb/non sticky/non staining)…sliced apples are good, and even those little gummy fruit snacks can work. Goldfish/saltines are bad-little crumbs get all over their face and will become an accessory in your photo for 25 years.
- If it’s really NOT GOING TO HAPPEN and you’ve exhausted all possible bribes, then your kids are likely done with you and your camera. Try again another time. As annoying as that can be when you’ve gotten everyone dressed up and the lighting is pretty, you can’t always force it due to fatigue, sibling drama, etc. My children HARDLY EVER listen to me when I try to take photos of them, but 95% of the time, my clients’ kids do listen to me. So if you can’t get them to do what you want, it’s likely just because you are their parent. Thus, if all else really fails, you can hire someone that your kids might listen to. But really just regrouping for another time can work wonders.
I hope you enjoy these first days of summer and can use these tips to take some great photos of your kiddos!