My daughter-in-law showed me the photos she had taken of my grandson. Cute as he is, his face was criss-crossed with shadows, hiding his features. "It's not exactly like yours," she told me, "but you're so great at photography." Actually, I'm not so great but along the years I've picked up a few tricks to make my photos really pop. Here is some of the best advice I've been given.
Get Down Low
Photos of children look a thousand times better when you get down at their level. If your kids are sitting on the floor, sit on the floor with them and take the photo. If you're photographing a baby laying on a bed, changing table, sofa, etc., make sure you're photographing the baby at that level. Much less effective is a photo angle from below or above your subject. Of course there are some artistic shots that can be taken pointing up or down but if you're interested in taking a portrait shot, shoot the picture at their level.
Use Your Flash Indoors and Out
We all know that using flash indoors makes for a better photograph. But use the correct flash or your subject may look washed out. Many cameras, including digital cameras, have settings for indoor photography. These cameras adjust the lighting to account for artificial light given off by lamps. The results are photos with natural looking skin tones and more true to life colors
Outdoors, flash can be equally effective. Remember the shot my daughter-in-law took of my grandson. Those shadows criss-crossing his face could have been removed if his mom had used "fill" flash. By using flash in a shady area, the face is illuminated and you can see those beautiful features that made you want to take the photo in the first place.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was getting married and asked me if I would photograph her wedding. I read agreed because that was something I could give as a wedding present and since my friend could not afford a professional photographer, she and her fiance would really appreciate it.
I asked Inez where and when she was getting married. She informed me that they were having the ceremony in the middle of the summer at noon in a park. "It's great", she told me. "There will be plenty of light." Well she was right about that; there's no brighter light than outside at high noon in the middle of summer. I asked if there were any trees near the wedding site and was relieved when Inez told me there were huge leafy trees all over the area.
No one – and I mean absolutely no one – looks good in bright light pouring down on them. The wedding photos were a great success; they were taken in the shadows under the trees, using fill flash. If you're photographing your family outside, find some shade to place your subjects; then use fill flash to keep shadows off their faces. The results will be terrific.
Let Objects Interact With Each Other
Take a look at most family photos and everyone is lined up, staring at the camera. Not very creative are them? Try photographing your child playing with mom or dad or a sibling. Or if you photograph a child by himself, give him a favorite toy or stuffed animal. Children do not have to be staring at the camera to photograph well, nor do adults. When there's a connection between people, the photograph is more interesting.
Try a "Sports" or "Motion" Setting Outdoors
A friend of mine wanted some photos of her little girl, a ball of nonstop energy. After her mother tried in vain to get the little girl to sit still and pose for pictures, I made a suggestion. We let her run around to her heart's content. The photo session was being done in a public garden. There were some areas where this little ball of energy could run through fields of wildflowers. I set my camera on the "sports" setting; This is the setting that stops motion and gives the free-frame look to horse races, baseball, football and other games. The results were incredible. This lovely little girl was kept in stop-motion (perfectly exposed) as she ran through fields of wildflowers and down garden pathways. The flash is disabled in this setting but if there's enough light, the shadows will not mar the photo and the photo is taken so quickly the bright light will not wash out your subject.
Take Lots of Photos
During a trip to Europe many years ago, I met a professional photographer and his wife. This man had sold a great many photos to National Geographic, including a cover photo, so you know he was good at his job. I asked him how many shots he had to take to get the cover photo. "1600", he told me. I was flabbergasted. He then explained that the main difference between an amateur photographer and a professional is the number of photos that they take. He took photos of the same subject from many different angles, using different settings, in different light. I took his words to heart and saw an immediate improvement in the quality of my photography. In fact, I started selling some of my work shortly after heeding this advice. I never became a full-time professional but it was a nice sideline and today I have an online store selling clothes and gifts featuring my photography.
Of course, children are not likely to stand still while you take 30 or 40 photos. But that's okay. It's better if they do not just stand there. I spent an afternoon with my grandchildren recently and watched them play. As they were playing, I was snapping away – with a digital camera that cost under $ 300. The results were amazing; they're as good as any professional.
It may take a little practice but try out some of these tips and see the difference in your photography. You just might find that you no longer need to pay for professionals; you've taken your own photography to new levels and created memories that your family will treasure forever.