“The desire to improve on their photography skills often hits new parents a few months after welcoming their first child earthside. When they start seeing light at the end of the sleepless night tunnel is usually when they start to notice that the hundreds of pictures they took with their mobile phones during those initial months aren’t really cutting it. Plus, baby is now actually moving quite a lot and managing to get a focused image of her with your phone can be pretty tricky and, at times, frustrating.” If you recognise yourself in this description, keep reading……mum and photographer Raquel Ferreirinha, based in Italy, has written an exclusive post for MumAbroad Life about how to improve your photography skills and start taking pictures of your kids like you really see them!
First things first, if you’re even only a tiny bit serious about taking good pictures of your family, I’d suggest you shop around for a basic DSLR or a decent mirrorless camera. My other tips don’t depend on this one, so if you’re sticking to your phone or your compact camera, for whatever reason, no worries, just read on. If you are open to, and can afford, spending a little bit of money, know that you don’t have to spend too much. You don’t need a professional full-frame camera (unless you’re going pro, of course) and there’s a wide range of cropped sensor cameras out there that will do just fine. Shop around, check if you know anyone who is selling their old camera (maybe they’ve upgraded and don’t need their perfectly functional beginner’s camera any longer), look online. There is so much information out there that it can be overwhelming at first, but I’m sure you’ll find what suits you best. Once you have that first camera, it probably comes with a kit lens (if you went for a DSLR), so the next step will likely be to buy a nice prime lens, a good one to start with is a 50mm. You will definitely find some budget friendly alternatives for 50mm lenses, used and new.
Remember one thing when you’re picking your camera and your lens: if you mainly shoot at home, you will most likely be shooting under less than optimal lighting conditions more often than not. Keep that in mind as the better sensor your camera has and the wider your lens opens, the easier it will be to shoot indoors. Again, the resources you’ll find online are endless so do your homework!
Whatever you do, whichever device you’ve picked to shoot with, always have it at hand. I struggle with this myself, to be perfectly honest. I’ve lost track of the number of times that a photo moment has unfolded before my eyes in the most random of places and I ended up regretting not having my camera on me. Even if it’s only a room away, I swear kids have a radar. They’ll stop doing that really cute thing they were doing if they have even the slightest hunch that you’re interested in taking a candid picture of them while at it. It’s hard science, I tell you. If you head out of the house, always bring it along. Even if you’re only going grocery shopping, I’m dead serious.
After learning the basics of photography and how to work your camera (again, thanking the internet gods right now), the single most important thing you need to understand is the ins and outs of light. Light is magic. Light sneaks in places without you even noticing and changes throughout the day. Take some time to understand how natural light enters into your own home. How can you use the lamps and other sources of artificial light to make a picture? Study it, know it, play with it. You might find some great new places to take pictures of your kids, right there where you live.
Whenever you can, go outside. No, seriously, that’s just my own two cents about parenthood. Kids need to be outdoors as much as they can. It just helps everyone stay sane. Photography-wise, the outdoors just open an endless realm of opportunities. However, if you are shooting outdoors, you should know that the worst possible lighting situation is the one most people think is the best: direct sunlight at noon. You will want to avoid this kind of direct light at all costs as it creates very harsh shadows on your subjects’ faces. If the skies are clear, try to shoot in the shade, or as early as you can in the morning or as close as you can to sunset. Aim for the “golden hour”. If it’s an overcast day, you’re safe to shoot mostly anywhere you fancy.
I’m certain even the most professional of pros will admit to sometimes needing to shoot through the moment. That’s usually the case for sports photographers, but certainly also for those who are trying to capture crisp moments of their very active children. I’d say that 9/10 times that I’m taking pictures of kids, unless they’re very young, they’ll be moving. Sometimes the only way to capture that moment is to overshoot. Don’t be ashamed of that, especially in your early days, focus on composing the scene well, getting exposure just right and snap away.
This is my very personal advice, strongly tied to the way I see childhood and my photography style so, by all means, feel free to totally discard it: just let kids be kids. Capture the real moments, in awkward places, with mismatching, possibly dirty outfits. You’ll want to remember things how they were, you won’t want to look at a picture and recall the insane ordeal of putting your toddler into those special clothes you bought for the “shoot”. Just shoot the reality as it unfolds in front of you and keep shooting. One day, that picture of their messy hair and dirty fingernails will bring you back to today and you’ll be thankful for just letting them be.
Last, but not least, among my top 7 tips, I have to include this one. It’s mostly a personal reminder to tell you the truth, I almost never take pictures of myself with my son. This is something I personally have to work on because I’m starting to regret not being in the frame every now and then. Learn to shoot remotely or get someone to shoot a picture of you while you’re interacting with your kids, every once in a while. I hear it’s totally worth it.
The photos in this article are photos Raquel took of her own family.