Honestly, I’m hesitant to even attempt this post because there are ONE MILLION people out there who take amazing, inspiring pictures of their children. Literally, about a zillion people are doing this better than me. (And I’ve included links to some of my very favorite ones throughout this post). But because I’ve been asked about my Instagram photos many times, I thought I would simply share what works for me when I photograph my daughter. This is not a technical how-to, but more of an outline to my general approach from an I’m-just-a-mom-who-loves-photographing-my-kid perspective. A “momtog” if you will. (ha!)
I do have a pretty sweet bonus for you, though! I happen to work as an assistant for a truly gifted photographer who was kind enough to offer a couple of pointers from a professional standpoint, so be sure to check those out at the end of the post as well. (Thanks, Denise!)
*Edit: Several people have asked what type of camera I use. 99.9% of the time I use my iPhone6. I do break out the DSLR from time to time, but rarely. And all of the images in this post are from my iPhone.
Here are some of the things I try to keep in mind when I’m snapping a photo of Aven:
BACK IT UP.
This took me a while to learn, and is still something I have to remind myself of. Close up shots can be so great and certainly have their impact, but when you back up a few feet (or twenty, haha) and zoom out, you capture more in the frame and can set the entire scene. It adds more visual interest because you’re really telling a whole story rather than just one page.
Here are a couple of shots where you can see more in the frame than just Aven. I think the extra elements in each photo really add to the magic.
Someone who does this well: @etst
PERSONALITY OVER POSING.
If you scroll through my Instagram feed, you’ll notice most of my pictures of my daughter are mid-play. I much prefer to capture Aven in her element as she just goes about life as a two year old, rather than asking her to stop and smile for the camera. Especially because right now, Aven is in the super-unnatural, super-cheesy smiling phase. She cocks her head all the way to the side, squints her eyes shut, and smiles as big as she possibly can. I mean, it’s adorable of course, but I don’t want all my pictures of her to be sporting a fake smile.
Instead, I hang back and just let her do her thing. I go for less (fake) smiling, more silly. Less posing, more playing. Most of the time, I don’t even mention I’m taking a picture, but just try to catch her more naturally. I’ve noticed that this spontaneity not only makes the image more intriguing, but more importantly, it allows her true personality to shine. I love having documented these little peeks into her demeanor, expressions, and the funny quirks I might forget later!
Someone who does this well: @thegraygang / @nihaoyall / @imayasr
MORE IS BETTER….
I always take more than one shot of whatever I’m trying to capture. This is especially important with kids because they are unpredictable and on the move! Chances are, out of 5-10 images, only one or two will turn out how I had hoped. Sometimes I just snap away, other times I hold my finger down to capture a “burst series” (like if she’s swinging or twirling), and if I have time to play around a bit, I’ll reposition myself between shots for variety if I’m not sure which angle will look best.
Here’s a screenshot of my camera roll after a visit to the pumpkin patch, just to give you an idea. Once I’ve taken these, I go back and delete any that definitely won’t work and then hang on to a few favorites.
….BUT LESS IS MORE
So while “more is better” when trying to get a good shot, I try to stick with the “less is more” philosophy when it comes to actually posting those photos.
I usually pick my one favorite of the day (or of the group of photos I’ve just taken) and only post that single image. If I do post more than one, I’ll make sure there’s some variation in the ones I choose.
OUTSIDE THE BOX IS MORE CAPTIVATING.
For every shot you take, there is a generic, straightforward, “basic” approach. And in most scenarios, there is also a more engaging (“outside the box”) choice you could make. For example, yes, you could take your kid’s photo on the beach: them smiling at you while standing beside their sandcastle masterpiece. OR you could have them jump as high as they can in front of it while you snap away. OR you could have them stand behind their creation and peek over the top. OR you could get an action shot of them pouring the last bit of sand as the finishing touch.
The goal here is to play around and see what works best; there isn’t a right or wrong way, so just see what you can come up with!
To help illustrate this, here are some unedited shots I took while Aven played in the garage yesterday. You can see right away that certain images draw you in more than others just based on the angle/approach alone. (My favorite is probably the bottom right.)
Someone who does this well: @mimiandfar
EMBRACE IMPERFECTION & LET THE PHOTO TELL THE STORY.
Some of my most favorite shots are blurry or out of focus from capturing Aven when she’s swinging, dancing, twirling – ya know, just generally being a little girl. And some of my most treasured pictures are the simplest. So don’t allow yourself to get too caught up in the “perfect shot” – instead, focus on documenting your child in a way that really lets them shine, and I promise you’ll be happy with the outcome.
Editing and other tips for Instagram:
- Shoot in square mode on your camera so you can be sure to get all of the scene in the shot. It’s helpful to save a step and not have to worry about cropping, although now IG does allow you to post a full sized photo, which is a nice feature that I like to use sometimes.
- Consider your overall feed. (Think about it, don’t stress about it.) Whenever possible, I try to maintain some diversity among the images I post. Some black and white among the color pictures, various angles, close ups and then zoomed out. I also generally edit my photos the same way (rather than picking a different filter each time) so it’s more uniform.
- I always, always brighten my photos, even if I do nothing else to them. The editing tools in Instagram are really good, so I usually just stick with those.
- Use the Adjust tool to create better balanced photos for the ones that are a little off but otherwise great shots. Symmetry goes a long way in creating a more polished final image.
For more photo inspiration, here are some of my favorite IG “momtogs” to follow: @thegraygang, @masseya, @etst, @samscrazylife, @jlgarvin, @nihaoyall, @courtbrown, @mimiandfar, @notatallsarcastic, @mrscourtneycooper, @imayasr
As I mentioned earlier, my boss and friend Denise is a professional family photographer and sent me her top two tips for parents. (You can check out Denise’s beautiful work here and here. Seriously, if you are local and need a photographer, she’s your girl.)
1. “Get down on [your child’s] level. See the world as they see the world. We get so used to looking in the downward direction toward our kids, but there’s something magical about getting down on the ground and seeing them and their world from their perspective.”