Now that every parent has a phone with a camera in it, taking pictures of our kids is ridiculously easy. It can also become something of a competition, with people posting photo after photo to show off their kids’ accomplishments, adventures and experiences, all accompanied by the behind-the-scenes shouts of their parents to look at the camera and smile, dammit.
Professional photographer Jennifer Blakely specializes in photos of newborns and children, and even though she takes pictures for a living, she worries about the pressure all this photo documentation creates both for the parents and for the kids themselves. Her worries inspired her to do a photo series called Let Them Be, which features kids showing their emotions instead of their achievements, being silly and making faces, and acting as goofy as they’d like, all without being given specific instructions. All they’re doing is expressing themselves, with no pressure to do anything else.
For those of us who don’t have her studio or her talents, she offers tips on how to get better photos of our kids without all the nonsense that can clutter them up. “Often times I will take them to a location that I love, dress them intentionally, and step back and photograph them just ‘being,'” she says, “with very little direction or prompting. This, for me, is the best way to photograph them while capturing their personalities and genuine moments. It is also a fun, easy and stress-free process that the children enjoy.”
Here are some of her suggestions:
Avoid Saying ‘Cheese!’
I agree. I’ve seen “picture smile” in far too many pictures, as my father’s side of the family is always making us take giant group portraits whenever we get together. The better ones are just of the kids, when my dad stands a few steps behind the camera and jumps around like a lunatic, or pretends he’s about to poke or prod the photographer. Real laughter and smiles are always better than fake ones.
I have a “sports” setting on my camera, and I use it a lot when the kids are running around, so I can capture a moment instead of stopping the fun to force one. In the digital age, we can take a dozen pictures just to get that one gem, and it’s always worth it. Your pictures will tell a story and help make a memory last forever.
Don’t Make Them Look at the Camera
Their genuine expressions are always better than the forced ones that happen when they’re told to look at you. Also, they’re happier when you’re not yelling at them to look in your direction, and then you’ll get some true emotion. And although I love seeing my children’s faces in photos, some of my favorites show a connection between two people who are looking at each other and completely unaware of the camera. And some are taken from behind, when I can observe without them knowing, leading to a truly honest moment of self-expression. Here’s one of my favorites, of my daughter:
© Laurie Ulster
Put the Camera Down (Sometimes)
Even Blakely, a professional photographer, remembers to put the camera (or the phone) away, sometimes, and just enjoy the moment. Every outing doesn’t have to be a photo shoot.