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From Chasing Bugs to Chasing Babies – Advice for Parent Photographers

There’s an assumption among many non-photographers that if you’re any kind of photographer, you’re every kind of photographer. I’ve nurtured a life-long passion for macro insect photography so when I fell pregnant with my now toddler son, friends and family naturally assumed my photography would evolve from taking detailed portraits of bugs to taking gorgeous photos of my baby.

To be honest, I’ve never much enjoyed photographing people. I’ve made a habit of grimacing in polite hesitation when asked to photograph special events. How do you explain to someone with limited photography experience that, just because you can capture bugs in their natural habitat, does not mean that you can capture the forced smiles and candid enjoyment of people at a wedding?

With little confidence in my own ability, my husband and I decided to pay for professional milestone photo shoots for our baby boy to ensure we’d have a collection of high-quality photos. While I’ve never regretted paying for professional photos, there’s something about photographing your own kid that elicits a certain candor that a professional cannot always capture. Here are some simple things I’ve learned in my journey to becoming a parent photographer that I hope may help other non-people photographers capture their little ones’ candid moments.

Shoot Low and Look for Clean Backgrounds

Kids are small, which means their perspective of the world around them is different from what adults see. Your compositions will naturally improve if you get low to the ground and shoot at eye level (or lower) to your child. Also make sure you consider what’s in the background of your child. Is there branch or arm sticking out from behind your child’s head? Are there other people, unsightly buildings, or household clutter in your shot? Consider how you can change the angle of your shot to minimize unwanted distractions in your photo.

I was able to mask the people walking at the end of this birch tree alley by placing them directly behind my son's head in this shot.
I was able to mask the people walking at the end of this birch tree alley by placing them directly behind my son’s head in this shot.
While I wanted my son in a photo with this gorgeous tree that was just starting to change color, I did not want the unsightly buildings in the background. Shooting from an ultra low angle masked the buildings and provided a cool perspective of the grass!
While I wanted my son in a photo with this gorgeous tree that was just starting to change color, I did not want the unsightly buildings in the background. Shooting from an ultra low angle masked the buildings and provided a cool perspective of the grass!

Equipment is Secondary to Great Composition and Lighting

You don’t need to have the newest or greatest photography equipment to capture great photos of your family (I’ve shot some of my favorite photos with an iPhone). My favorite DSLR lens is also my cheapest lens. I invested a whopping $150 in the Canon EF-S 24mm ƒ/2.8 lens a few months before my son was born to pair with my Canon 70D. The 24mm lens has become my go-to lens for photographing not only my son but for also photographing bugs (when paired with an extension tube).

When a chance encounter with a hot air balloon did not offer time to grab my DSLR, my iPhone was able to capture a memorable shot!
When a chance encounter with a hot air balloon did not offer time to grab my DSLR, my iPhone was able to capture a memorable shot!

The most important aspects of any great photo are not necessarily the camera and lens, but composition and lighting. Find a great location with plenty of natural light and look for unique compositions of your child. Consider using the rule of thirds (breaking the image into tic-tac-toe board and placing your points of interest along the lines or at the intersections) to compose your shot, but don’t get too caught up in rules. Start by photographing what seems natural. I have fallen in love with photographing my son walking from behind. There is something about following in his little footsteps that makes the world seem magical.

I love shooting in the natural daylight of mornings and evenings.
I love shooting in the natural daylight of mornings and evenings.

Keep Props and Expectations to a Minimum

In my experience, trying to incorporate a lot of props into your photos leads to having high expectations for how your photos will turn out. It’s easy to envision your child sitting in an enchanted forest at a beautifully decorated table set for a mock tea party all the while secretly hoping a few forest animals will stumble into your shot. To produce this photo, however, is near impossible. Stick to minimal props (a cute outfit in a great setting is key) and focus on getting some get candid expressions from your child.

Most of the time, the best prop is your child's silly expressions.
Most of the time, the best prop is your child’s silly expressions.
My kid LOVES blowing dandelion seeds, which provides for some awesome candid shots.
My kid LOVES blowing dandelion seeds, which provides for some awesome candid shots.

Don’t Overshare

Social media is a great tool for sharing photos with friends and family. People who have never met my child feel like they’ve gotten to know his warm and goofy personality through photos and videos I share on Facebook. It’s easy, however, to share too much (and I’m not just talking about nude bath time photos). Many people make a habit of sharing every photo they take of their kid, even if that means sharing twelve nearly identical less-than-perfect photos. While I’m sure your loved ones enjoy your kids as much as you, seeing the same out-of-focus photos show up in your newsfeed every day of the week can get annoying. Rather than sharing a whole batch of bad photos, choose one or two of your absolute best photos from the day or week to share. I try to share only a few photos of my son per week and I share the photos that offer a unique view of our week’s adventures.

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In the end, I have come to adore photographing my son. I’ve learned a lot about the technical aspects of portrait photography through my journey, but more importantly, I’ve come to appreciate the collection of candid shots I’ve collected throughout the last 21 months. With a little one on the way, I’m thrilled to start a new adventure of sibling photography soon!

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