Making the most of photo opportunities

I am thrilled today to introduce the first guest blogger to Nurture Mama. Janene Kay is the mother of three children. She loves to take pictures and read good books and she is a fabulous friend! You can view her work at jkphotography and reserve your next photo session with her.

Who doesn’t love to take pictures of their children? Well, if you don’t love the actual process of taking the pictures (yes, I know it can be a headache!) here are some tips to help you get the most out of those photo ops, with some other tricks and ideas thrown in for fun too.

Look for the right light. The best times to take pictures are right before and after sunrise and sunset. With little ones it’s hard to have happy smiling faces early in the morning or later in the evening, but if circumstances allow, then those are the best times for the BEST light. It is even, soft, flattering, and just plain awesome. You can shoot anywhere if the light is right.

My little model just in some nice soft evening light:

So what do you do when sunrise or sunset is nowhere in sight? Your next best bet is for open shade. You can find open shade pretty much everywhere, you just have to look. In the shade of a tree, around the edge of a building, even in your own shadow!

Here is my daughter sitting in some open shade underneath a big tree in our backyard:

When shooting in the shade of a tree, be aware of light shining through the leaves. When there are patches of bright light, called dappled light, you will probably get some unflattering spots:

You can also try turning you subject around 180 degrees to see if that helps.

Of course there are times when there is absolutely not a speck of shade in sight. Poor babies!

Turning your subject around so that the sun is facing their back or side should help with those closed and squinty eyes. However if your camera is on Auto (or another preset mode) it might make your subject completely dark (underexposed) because it is making the bright background exposed properly. Ahhhh, Exposure. That’s another lesson in and of itself. But if this happens, turn on your flash to “fill flash” to get some light onto your subject so you can see them!
(my daughter in the same place as the picture above but just turned 180 degrees. No fill flash used)

Speaking of flash, it is so harsh and unflattering!! Keep it turned off as much as possible. Try flipping your camera to “P” (or Program) mode to turn it off. Your flash will fire if your camera thinks there isn’t enough light, and sometimes there is plenty of light! But if you move (camera shake) or your subject moves (silly boy can’t sit still for mommy to get just one picture of him in his Easter outfit to send to Grandma. . . yeah, I’ve been there) then you might have a blurry picture. Try opening up the windows and placing your subject really close to it, head outside, or you might have to keep that flash turned on. Give it a try and see what works.

Want to know what is so frustrating? When I take an awesome picture with my son actually looking at the camera and I didn’t pay attention to the background and he’s got a nice pole sticking out of his head! Or an awful, rusty, air conditioner as the background on my daughter’s first day of preschool! Or just distracting backyard toys:
Again, try turning your subject 90 or 180 degrees to get a different view. Watch those distracting backgrounds!

Don’t let the months (or worse, years) roll by without getting some sort of formal pictures taken, even if it is taken by yourself or a friend. Children change so fast, too fast, to not try and document what they look like regularly. In our family, we take a formal family picture right before Christmas, and I take formal studio pictures of each child around their birthday. I don’t think that is overkill, but whatever you choose, be consistent!
I had a client that really wanted to get an updated portrait of her daughter wearing her first pair of glasses. She wanted it blown up big to put in her daughter’s room. Her daughter was having a hard time adjusting, and didn’t like the way she looked in her new glasses. My client wanted the portrait to show how beautiful her daughter was, even with these glasses, and she hoped that it would encourage a little more self-confidence and love for herself if her mom proudly displayed a picture of her wearing them. I thought that was such a wonderful idea!! Proudly display those pictures, snapshots or formal portraits, to help build up your child’s confidence and show that you love them, just the way they are! Get those pictures (and memories!) off your computer. Also, I believe, that having family pictures displayed helps make a “house” more of a “home”.

Some final tips. . . I know, I know, finally. . .

Get down to your subject’s level. Meaning, squat down or lay down to really get into their perspective.*

Cut the cheese. Seriously. Well maybe not seriously, but the fake kind! Making grotesque and out of the ordinary noises often gets the best smiles for me. If you want to get true smiles, giggles, and happy natural smiles don’t encourage them to look at the camera and say “CHEESE!” all of the time.

Use those crazy modes and knobs on your camera. They are there for a reason! I really encourage you to get familiar with your camera and all of it’s capabilities. Having a “photo shoot” of your daughter in her pretty Christmas dress? Flip your camera to the “Portrait” mode (usually indicated by a face or lady wearing a hat) to blur out the background a little. Taking a landscape picture of that beautiful mountain? Flip your camera to “Landscape” mode (indicated by a mountain usually) to make sure all of those majestic peaks are in focus. Your son is kicking the winning soccer goal? “Action” mode is there to freeze that moment, without blur (the icon is probably a person running) and it might be a good idea to use this mode if you’ve got a fast toddler on your hands, too!!

Photo editing is your friend. Photos with red eye, too much empty space, and distracting backgrounds can be helped with a little TLC in a photo editing software. I LOVE my Adobe Photoshop, but it is pricey! There is a free 30-day trial version available on their website that you can download. But, I’ve also used Picasa by Google and was surprised by it’s capabilities considering it is a free program. If you have a few minutes before you start putting pictures up on your blog, play around with your pictures in one of the programs and you’ll be surprised at how much better they look. Try sharpening a little, cropping out the distracting parts and empty space, and lightening the exposure or adding some contrast. Once you catch the bug, you won’t want to stop!

Get in that picture too, MOM! Hand the camera over to someone else like your husband, daughter, friend, or even a stranger; don’t be embarrassed. In 20 years, your children will be glad you did, you probably will be glad too!

Capture those memories. Even with my love of formal portraiture, I’m not looking to take the most beautiful and artistic pictures of my family all of the time. My philosophy is to just capture those memories. If my son is making the cutest expression, I grab the camera, turn on the FLASH, and snap away! And I don’t feel bad for a moment that, photographically speaking, they look horrible. To me, those memories and expressions can’t be replaced.

Give lots of praise and compliments for willing models. It makes things run much more quickly and smoothly and builds up confidence too.

And don’t forget to have fun!
Janene has offered to answer any burning photo questions that you might have in the comments section, or if you live in the area and want to book a photo shoot with her visit her website at jkphotography. Thanks, Janene, for sharing your talents with us!
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