From her tiny toes and comedy ‘bed head’ shot, through to her first day at nursery, there’s not a second that goes by when you won’t be wanting to take a snap of your little one. So how come when we upload them they’re blurry, more blanket than baby, or cursed with red eye? Although they might look complicated, in fact point-and-shoot digital cameras now contain sophisticated technology designed to make rubbish photos a thing of the past. Some even have a mode designed especially for tearaway toddlers! But if it still feels more like NASA training than amateur photography, it’s time to read our guide.
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 online experts www.digital-photography-school.com 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:
- Automatic mode: tells your camera to use its own judgement to take the best shot it can.
- Landscape mode: makes sure as much of the scene you’re snapping is in focus as possible.
- Portrait mode: helps keep the background out of focus.
- Macro mode: lets you move closer and take a more close-up shot. Cameras have different levels of ‘macro’.
- Night mode: also called ‘slow shutter sync’, this is used for low-light situations and sometimes lets off a flash, too.
To flash or not to flash?
If red eye is a problem in your pics, it’s time to study your camera’s flash modes. Test them and see what they do. For instance, red-eye reduction mode (activated by selecting the eye symbol) usually sends out a strobe light or series of mini flashes to help avoid the flash shining off the back of little one’s retinas, creating that ‘devil eyes’ look. Many new compacts have software built in which automatically removes red eye.
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.
Now use your picture
- Create a canvas with your favourite shot. From Jessops for £45
- A ‘talking’ photo album records a message for each picture in the set. You could get your little one to gurgle into the mic. From Talking Products for £20.
- Customise your photo with graphics for a unique take on your child’s portrait. More information at Snappy Snaps.
- Notecards are great for announcing the birth, or inviting guests to a baby event like a christening. From Snap Fish, £7.99 for 12.
“It’s worth paying for an expensive camera”
“I spent £500 and I don’t regret a penny. The way I see it, photographs of the children are very important to me, so it’s worth the investment over the next 10 years. We’ve even been able to blow images up into huge canvas prints that we gave to mum and dad as Christmas presents.”
Helen James, 42, from Hampshire, mum to twins Zac and Cara, 3
“I take the camera when we do something new”
“I prefer to photograph Charlie naturally while he’s busy doing something, rather than force him to smile for the camera. I think it makes for better pictures. I also try to take the camera along when we’re doing something new.”
Kathryn Hough, 33, from Cambridgeshire, mum to Charlie, 20 months