While I think it is important to hire a documentary family photographer at least once a year to capture family photos, I know firsthand that many, many more moments exist daily.
Here are a few tips for taking better candid family photos:
Have Your Camera With You Always.
If you want to capture real life, it is important to have your tools with you. I typically have my gear packed safely away between sessions/weddings, but I have found that I use my mirrorless camera more when it is sitting out on the table, charged, and ready to go.
When I can’t take my professional-level gear with me (or don’t want to), I always make sure to have my phone on me. Yes, I know that most people have their phones on them at all times, but I take it with me even when it doesn’t make sense or if it is a burden to carry (i.e. on a hike, going to the beach, etc.).
Get Into A Routine
I have some friends that intentionally take one photo a day of their family. I’ve never been able to get into this habit, but I do routinely take a photo every time we do something together, even if it is small. If we spend the day with our parents, I make sure to try to take a few of Kitt with his grandparents playing.
Another idea is to set a goal to pull out your camera once a week. I’m a goal-oriented person, so if I have it on my to-do list, it will be checked off.
Photograph With Good Light
Outdoors: the best time of day for light is within two hours of sunrise or within two hours of sunset (on a sunny day). For example, if the sunset is at 8:00p, then the “golden hour” window is between 6:00-8:00p. If sunrise is at 5:30a, then golden hour is between 5:30-7:30a.
Indoors: the best time depends on which direction your house faces. For most homes, sunrise/sunset will provide more unique light in your home, but the light will be more evenly lit in the afternoon. Turn off lamps so that you are just photographing with window light.
Overcast days tend to lend to more moody light. These are the days that I tend to edit more in black and white vs. color (I highly recommend the VSCO app for iPhone editing).
The More Monotonous, the Better
Some of my favorite images are of our everyday life. This is why I believe in Real Life Family Sessions so that you can be in the frame too. But, when you don’t have a professional documenting, you can easily capture the daily moments as well. We tend to forget about our daily routines because they are second nature to us. However, I think we will long these moments after the kids are out of the house, more than images of our vacations that we take once a year.
Think of what things you do together every day in whatever phase of life that you are in. For example, my son and I make smoothies almost every morning, and he helps put the ingredients in the blender. This is fleeting, as there will come a day soon when he won’t want to climb on the counter any more, or he will be sick of smoothies (for a season). We take a walk every evening, and we usually have good light. I like documenting him in all seasons and as he grows. I have photos of him when he just learned to use his balance bike to when we would push him in the stroller.
One of my favorite images from last year is a photo of Kitt and I brushing our teeth in the mirror. I look terrible because I was still in pajamas and hadn’t brushed my hair, but I also love that image because it was a perfect depiction of our life in that moment.
Get On Their Level
To create more engaging photos, position your body and camera to your child’s eyeline. This drastically changes the perspective to feel more engaged in the action instead of hovering above it. Play with perspective: get really high above, get really low to the ground, move around the subject. Sometimes the opposite side is better than how you framed the photo originally.
Play with your position too. Photograph really close to the subject, and then back away farther than you think you should. Both positions will create drastically different images.
Don’t Train Your Kids to Smile On Demand Every Time They See A Camera
I have photographed many, many families over the years. I can always tell when I work with a family who takes photos constantly and makes their kids smile/pose every single time a photo is taken. The child can have a hard time turning this habit off and being “natural” in front of a camera.
If you would like more candid photos of your family, practice taking photos when they are playing. You will get more candid smiles of them running around and playing with their toys vs. stopping them and having them pose.
Don’t get me wrong, we have plenty of selfies and smiley photos. But, my son is more used to me having my camera/phone out while he is playing instead of stopping him constantly and posing him because we take very few “posed” photos. This gives me more opportunities to photograph him quasi-unaware without him feeling like he has to model for me.
Action and movement can create the best candid moments. Pull your camera out when your children are actively playing outside, dancing, jumping, etc. They are also more engaged in the activity and less aware of your camera, rather than if you are sitting inside and reading a book together.
The Most Important Thing
…is to have fun :) Play with your children and make photography fun. Let them take photos of you as well. Take photos with them! Play with your camera. If you’re on a phone, experiment with the exposure instead of letting the camera automate your exposure. You can do this by holding your finger down on the highlight (i.e. the brightest part of the framed image) and scrolling up or down to make the exposure brighter or darker.
Play with photographing at night! Look for ambient light (i.e. the sensor light off your driveway or neighborhood lights) to help add light to the frame.
And, when you are ready to be in the frame too, send me an email! I would love to work with you to document your family. I also offer mentoring if you would like more help with learning your camera gear and photographing your family.