Get to know your camera
“Understanding your camera and taking a moment to think about the shot can really transform your photographs,” says Kevin Egan, senior product manager for Nikon UK. There are some really nifty new settings on even the simplest cameras now. Such as toddler mode – better known as ‘subject tracking’ or ‘active child mode’, which lets you frame and select the child in the viewfinder before you begin taking the pictures. Or an ‘anti-wobble’ function, which will be called an optical or electronic stabiliser in your manual.
Darren Rowse from Digital Photography School says, “In the past year I’ve even seen snow mode, fireworks mode, beach and foliage mode, which gives bright colours.” Confused? The more basic settings include:
Tells your camera to use its own judgement to take the best shot it can.
Makes sure as much of the scene you’re snapping is in focus as possible.
Helps keep the background out of focus.
Lets you move closer and take a more close-up shot. Cameras have different levels of ‘macro’.
Also called ‘slow shutter sync’, this is used for low-light situations and sometimes lets off a flash, too.
Plan your shot
You don’t see the washing up or a messy lounge in magazine shots, because photographers choose their location wisely. While you want to have fun and be relaxed, to get the best shots you need to get into ‘being’ the photographer – tell yourself the next half an hour or so will be dedicated to taking snaps. Then you need just three things – thoughtful composition, a basic understanding of how light affects your image, and good timing.
Think about the shot as a whole, looking at every part of the frame. Is there clutter around? What about the colours of your tot’s bedding or clothes? Are there random things in view, like a strange picture on the wall or toy on the floor? It all adds into the perfect shot.
If it’s dark, your picture will be! Likewise when it’s too bright. Professional photographer Jo Hansford has been taking photographs of children for 14 years. “Natural light is so important – soft sunshine is best,” she advises. “Remember if the sun is very bright overhead, try to look for some form of shade. Harsh light creates ugly shadows and makes your subject squint, so look for trees, doorways and bridges that you can pose the children under.”
A busy evening won’t produce a calm picture. And equally, a calm morning won’t give you a ‘playtime’ active picture. Don’t expect interactive shots at the end of the day with a tired toddler, or to get her to look at your lens for a long time when there are animals she’d rather be checking out on a day at the zoo. Jo Hansford says: “When you’re taking pictures of your children, it’s important to take your time and be patient, letting the shoot unfold.”
Baby’s first pics
“Until babies can sit up and move their heads around they’re pretty static,” says Jo Hansford. “I like to keep things very simple, with a clean uncluttered background and nice natural window light. Move the baby into the light (but away from the window otherwise you’ll have the view in shot) in a basket or cot, keeping all the picture colours neutral or white. It’s nice to turn these images black and white.”
Getting your baby’s best side
- Position her so the light is falling on her face – even if she’s asleep you can get some lovely pictures.
- Take abstracts too – pictures of her little eyelashes and delicate fingers and toes.
- Once she’s mobile take her outside for pictures of her crawling in the grass. Get dad to make faces behind you, so she interacts and gives you lots of smiles.
Photos of your toddler
“With toddlers, I tend to start off with more staged pictures and groups looking at the camera, then encourage them to just go off and be natural – perhaps at the beach, hunting for shells and playing in the sand. It’s good to get photographs of children while they’re absorbed in their activity,” says Jo.
Getting your toddler’s best side
- Plan what clothes you’d like her to wear. Logos can distract attention from your child’s face.
- Natural sunlight’s best but if the sun is very bright overhead, try to look for some form of shade. Harsh light creates ugly shadows and makes your subject squint.
- Don’t be afraid to fill the frame and crop quite tightly – usually it’s just the face and expression you want to see anyway.