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10 tips for better pictures of your kids

(Photo by Me Ra Koh from Your Family in Pictures)
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Sometimes I wonder if the best way to get a good photo of my toddler son is to follow him around all day, camera in hand—click, click, click.

Most of the photos would probably capture the blur of action that he is, or the mischievous smile before the jar of olives gets dumped on the carpet. This photo-taking strategy seems impractical, though, if for nothing else that a camera in hand means no extra digits to stop the olive dumping.

So I asked Me Ra Koh, the so-called “Photo Mom,” for a better way. Koh is the host of Disney Jr.’s “Capture Your Story” and author of a series on taking photos of children, including the most recent “Your Family in Photos”.

1. When outside, take pictures in the morning or afternoon.
“It’s not about being a photographer so much as it is about being an expert on light,” Koh says. Shoot during the day’s golden hours, in the morning and afternoon, when it’s not too dark to see and not too bright that the light casts harsh shadows. If you must shoot during the middle of the day, find some light shade.

2. Inside, use natural light and ban the flash.
Try to find the same golden-hour diffused light indoors if possible, in a well-lit, not-too-bright room. And avoid artificial light. “One of the things that I like to do when I enter a home to do a photo shoot is turn off the lights,” Koh says. “You feel like it’s counterintuitive, but it helps you see where the light is the strongest.” Whatever you do, don’t use the flash, which Koh says “is evil!” (Bottom line: Accept that indoor photos taken at night with the flash just won’t be that good.)

3. Follow the rule of thirds.
When composing your photo, imagine that your view is divided into three sections vertically and horizontally and place the subject, whether the child’s full body or just her face, in any section but the middle ones. The idea is to take an off-centered photo, which makes for a more visually stimulating image.

4. Get closer.
Most of the time, the background is just a distraction that swallows up your child. Frame the shot tighter than you think you should or get closer. “The two biggest mistakes that people struggle with is that their photos are blurry or there’s too much background,” Koh says.

5. Get down to their level.
Many parents try to get down on the floor and play with their little kids at least once a day. The same suggestion helps with photos. Sit down with them or lie on the floor to enter their world and be better able to capture it.

6. Prepare specific strategies.
In each of her books, Koh suggests so-called “recipes” for capturing the important moments in a child’s life. She was inspired by cookbooks, which show you a picture of  the end result and the specific steps for getting there. In “Your Child in Pictures” (2013), for example, there’s a recipe for capturing blanket forts, which suggests building a blanket fort with your child in front of the window of the brightest room of your house in the late afternoon. Set yourself up for specific moments like these; don’t just wait until the moment happens and then race to find your camera.

7. Re-dos are okay.
“I’d see my kids doing something so cute and so fun, and then the moment is gone,” Koh says. “But then we’d have fun later recreating it.” She has had her kids dress up in Halloween costumes the day before Halloween, baked a birthday cake the day after a birthday, scheduled time with her daughter to dance in her princess dresses in front of the living room windows in the morning, among other things.

8. Keep your camera accessible.
Koh advises parents to leave the camera out on the counter so you’re always ready to capture a moment. Get in the habit of being photo-ready, and when the moment happens, don’t worry about whether you’re using a manual, point-and-shoot, or smartphone.

9. Be selective in what you take.
At the same time, know that it’s impossible to capture every single moment. Koh likes to pretend that she’s shooting with film and that she only has 36 frames in her roll. “If you only have 36 photos to take of this vacation you’re going on, then it will make you think about how you can get intentional about what you’re going to take photos of and what you’re not going to take photos of,” she says.

10. Have fun!
When her kids were toddlers, Koh hid away a box of special toys. “When I wanted great photos, I’d pull out that box of toys and put it in front of the window at 10:30 a.m.,” she says. “When moms start to get stressed, kids disengage. As long as mom is having fun, the kids love it,” Koh says.

Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be reached at www.lindseymroberts.com.

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