Capturing beautiful family moments is easier than ever before. Photographer Erin Brooks shares her tips to take the best photos of your children.

By Erin Brooks
Illustration by Yeji Kim

As parents, we are the storytellers, and history keepers of our families. Luckily, recording special moments like birthdays, holidays, and first steps is easier than ever before. There's no more worrying about missing the moment because you're out somewhere without a camera—you can grab your smartphone and create beautiful photographs in seconds.

I'm a lifestyle photographer based in Houston, Texas and I too use my iPhone to capture precious shots of my girls any chance I get. Here are my simple tips that will help you take great photos of your kids with your phone, too.

Find the right light

Light is the most important factor in every photo. Look at where it's coming from and how strong it is. If you're inside, try to get close to a window and turn your child's face toward the natural light. I usually leave indoor lights and flash off, especially now that iPhone 11 Pro has night mode. Artificial lighting changes the white balance (warmth) in a photo and messes with skin tones. But if you happen to capture a shot you love and the lighting is tricky, try a black and white edit.

Another tip for indoor shooting: Look for interesting light patterns made by things like blinds or drapes and pockets of light streaming in through windows that help create eye-catching portraits.

When outside, light on an overcast day is good all day. On sunny days, the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset is the most beautiful and flattering light to take photos, but life doesn't always happen in perfect lighting! If the sun is high and strong, I look for shade or bend low to the ground to put the light behind my kids. Smart HDR makes it easier to take a shot and expose it correctly even in harsh overhead light, but know that the shadows will be harsh so you'll have to work with it as best as you can.

Erin Brooks
Erin Brooks

Consider the entire scene

When I'm taking a photo of my girls, I think about how I should frame the shot: Should I be up close or move back? Should I use portrait mode? Will the background add to the moment or take away from it?

If I'm focused on capturing solely the emotion or if the background in the moment is chaotic, I use portrait mode and zero in on their faces, blurring the distractions away. If my kids are moving fast or if they are in a cute, candid moment and the background helps complete the story, I use regular photo mode. And now, with wide angle available on iPhone 11 Pro, you can incorporate more of the surroundings like a beautiful rainbow in the sky.

And always watch your angle as you adjust to capture your shot. Don't place a face too low in the frame or in the middle of the shot; move it up toward the top. Pay attention to objects like walls, picture frames, and trees, and ensure they aren't crooked. Also make sure you haven't cut a foot or hand out of the frame before you press the shutter.

Erin Brooks

Capture emotion

It's so important to tell the story with feeling. To do this, rely on candid moments, like a recent one between my dad and my daughter enjoying a quiet morning of reading stories. Because I had my phone handy, I was able to capture that special moment while sitting across from them.

But don't be afraid to create some candid moments of your own. Ask your kids to give hugs, hold hands and jump, play with water, pick flowers, build a sand castle, or have them twirl or dance. Give them a toy or snack like ice cream or hot cocoa. Sit back, watch, and snap the in-between moments of silliness, giggles, and beauty.

You can bend or crouch down to be at face level to get the most of their expressions. Let them stick their tongues out, be goofy, and have fun. Tell them jokes and laugh with them and their faces will light up even more.

Erin Brooks

Throw the rules away

OK, not really, but don't get hung up on them either. With time and practice, you won't think about lighting and framing so much because it will start to happen naturally, and you'll be able to focus on storytelling and capturing that raw emotion. Remember, you're telling the story of their lives, you're not limited to a certain number of photos, and your kids don't always have to strike a pre-planned pose.

The photos I end up loving most are the ones where my children aren't looking at me and smiling, but instead are interacting as I capture their actions. Nothing compares to the ones where they are laughing so hard I can remember what their giggles sounded like days later. A lot of times, these shots aren't technically perfect, but they're perfect to me.

Erin Brooks

Join in on the fun

And last but not least, if you're the designated family photographer, use that selfie mode! You were there too; you're part of that story. Go by how a shot makes you feel and capture the moments that matter to you because, in the end, your photos of your kids are for you.

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