Without a doubt, the best skill I’ve acquired through blogging has been my improved photography. It’s been a long learning curve, and it’s a journey I hope to continue: constantly improving, trying new things and finding new ways to capture my family but the huge photograph collection I’ve been building of Pickle is worth so much to me and I know it’s something I’ll be incredibly grateful for in years to come. Learning how to use my DSLR has taken me some time, but whether you’re shooting on the latest DSLR model or your trusty camera-phone, here are some tips from me to you to help you take better photographs of your toddler.
1. Use whatever camera you have on you
Someone once told me, the ‘best camera’ is the one you have at the time. You can have the fanciest, highest spec model, but if it’s not with you when you want to capture a moment – it’s no good at all. I’m a little obsessive with my camera, so it’s rare these days for me to leave the house without it but wherever I am, I know I’ll always have my phone with me as a back up option.
Both of these photos were taken on my phone and although they might not compare artistically to some of the fancier photos I took on my DSLR camera that day, the one of Pickle with his nose scrunched up is one of my absolute favourites!
2. Is your toddler is safe?
We all know how adventurous toddlers are! That’s what makes them such hard work, but also it’s these moments of mischief and exploring that are sometimes the most fun to capture. I’ve found I’m so much more relaxed and able to take better photos if I know Pickle can’t get into too much trouble – it’s mainly why I have so many photos of him in the swing!
Playgrounds are good places for photos as they tend to be contained whilst providing lots of opportunity for adventure, with lots of lovely natural light. I could probably do a whole blog post just on photos I’ve taken in various different parks!
3. Make the most of the light
This one is a tricky one to explain as I feel like everything I’ve learned about light and what kind of conditions I look for has come from trial and error. No matter how much I read and try to learn the theory behind the ‘best’ kinds of light, it definitely takes practice. Now, knowing how to use the light to my advantage has become a little more instinctual, and a lot depends on the style of photo I’d like to go for, or what camera I’m using.
I find my camera phone is better in brighter light, but my DSLR is much better in dappled light (either with a bit of cloud cover or in the mottled shadow of a tree). A bit of experimentation with light can produce some beautiful effects – like this unique light captured coming through a hedge. I hadn’t quite got the shutter speed right here (you can see some blurring on his wellingtons, but it’s an interesting photo none the less.
I’m a big fan of a backlit photo (which isn’t something generally recommended for portraiture photography), but I love the light halo it creates, and I think it’s particularly magical for children.
Not all the photographs you want to take will be outside. Photographing indoors is something I find harder as our house is naturally quite dark. If possible, try to use light from a single source (e.g. through a window) rather than having a ceiling light and a lamp on as well, and adjust your white balance settings accordingly.
4. Use a fast shutter speed
If you’ve managed to find a way to keep your toddler still for a photo, I’d love to know your trick! Instead, I have to use the fastest shutter speed I can to make sure I still get a fairly crisp image despite the constant movement. I’ve heard that at least 1/200 is a good place to start but I often end up using a speed much higher than this (especially when I’m shooting with my 50mm lens).
That said, sometimes a little bit of movement works wonders. We had great fun capturing these photos of Pickle playing in the leaves, and I love the mixture of sharpness and movement.
5. Be opportunistic
Sometimes, the best photos aren’t planned in advance. In fact, with toddlers (certainly with my toddler!) it’s a fruitless exercise to try and orchestrate a particular photo. For me, it’s all about letting him do his own thing, and being opportunistic with the camera and capturing what I can.
Sometimes, being opportunistic also means trying out unique angles. I often try and make sure I’m on the same level as Pickle when taking photos (I’m always crouching, most of the time!) but sometimes capturing him from below or above can create some interesting, dynamic photos.
6. Don’t forget to enjoy yourself
For me, photos are only as good as the memories attached to them. If you’ve spent a whole trip out worrying about getting the perfect photo, you won’t have had time to enjoy the day, and it’s really likely you’ll forget about the photos you took anyway. When I look back at photographs, it’s because I have good memories surrounding them. And it’s because of those memories that a smile creeps onto my face, not because of a perfect composition or good use of light.
7. Embrace the outtakes!
Sometimes, photos don’t turn out the way you expect. And that’s okay! Whether it’s a facial expression you’d rather not be caught on film (which happens to me all the time) or you accidentally chose the wrong settings, these photos we sometimes might initially dismiss can end up being some of the most memorable!
Don’t think that all your photos need to be happy smiles either. Toddlers tantrum. We all know this. And in years to come, I think I’ll be glad to have some photos taken during the tough times as well as the easier ones. I don’t know why, but I really like the following photo of Pickle lying down on the floor when we visited Berkeley Castle.
8. Be in the photo
As much as I love taking photos of Pickle, it’s often the times I relinquish the camera to someone else and let myself be in the photo that I treasure the most. And I know in years to come, it’s the photos of us together that will take pride of place on the mantel piece.
If whoever you are with isn’t comfortable using your camera, you can take a test shot beforehand to check all your settings and then it’s just a case of letting a friend, your partner or whoever else point and shoot. I’m forever trying to encourage LPD (Little Pickle’s Dad) to get more interested in photography, but at the moment, I definitely need to be adjusting the settings for him.
9. Editing photos
Don’t fall into the trap of overly editing your photos. Whilst it’s true that a little bit of tinkering can help bring out the colours, or help compensate for any under or over exposure… I’m not a fan of the overly edited look. I want my photos to look like us.
Here’s an example of an unedited photo compared to an edited photo (I almost used this photo in the outtakes section as this wasn’t a moment I was hoping to capture… Pickle’s concentration here is his classic ‘doing-a-poo’ face!).
As you can see, I’ve not made any massive changes: I’ve warmed up the colours a little, toned down the highlights, pulled up the shadows and added a little contrast. For my editing, I now use Lightroom but I’ve only recently begun to use that. If you’re new to editing, there are some great free online tools that you can use. I used to be quite the fan of Pixlr Express – although, I always worried that it overly reduced the quality of my photo. Lightroom is much quicker and offers far more editing options.
10. Print them
What’s the good of a photo that lives eternally on your computer’s hard drive? If you’ve taken a photo that you love of your little one, print it out, pop it in a frame and display it proudly. I have to confess that this is something I don’t do half as much as I’d like. I’d love our house to be littered with photography, but I’m a little wary of hanging things on the wall in our rented property at the moment.
I do have a few photo albums that I’m remembering to fill up, but I’d love to have more photos up on display. Photographs are windows to our memories, and I want to be surrounded by all of mine.
Photographing Pickle as he grows has been the most incredible privilege. I hope when he’s old enough to go through the photos himself, he’ll be grateful that I’ve spent so much time documenting his early years, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed that he’ll happily continue to be photographed as the years go on.
Go forth and photograph
If reading this has inspired you to be a bit more adventurous with your family photography, I’d love to hear from you and see some of your results. But whether your photographs stay private for your family or not, enjoy capturing them, have fun and take in as much as you can of your little one and remember: a photo doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to remind you of the moments you don’t want to forget.