Taking the Perfect Picture of Your Kid

Digital SLR camera
From the day your child is born, each moment is so precious and fleeting. You want to document every sweet age and stage, from the first time you lay eyes on her to the first day of school. But getting those great photos can be elusive.

For most of us, parenthood comes more naturally than photography. And it doesn't leave much time to pore over a digital-camera manual. That's why we asked professional photographers for their best, easiest tips for taking great kid pictures. Fire away! Then enter your top shot in our cover-model contest.

Get Started

Snap a lot. Working photographers take hundreds of pictures to end up with a few great ones. With digital it costs no more to take more, so get in the habit of shooting like crazy. "Take several shots of the same setup and then change your point of view or pick a different background and grab some more, suggests Mark M. Hancock, a photojournalist in Dallas. "Say monkey!" or "milkshake." Asking your kid to shout "cheese" results in a, well, cheesy-looking grin. Try words that start with an M; they create a more pleasing expression. To get an infant smiling, tickle her lips with a tissue. And don't forget about keeping it real -- crying, pouting, and sleeping babies are adorable too.

Corbis Photography/ Veer
Corbis Photography/ Veer

Select the right setting. Most cameras have either a "sports" or "child" mode; both of these allow you to capture clear shots of fast-moving subjects by automatically increasing the shutter speed. (Look for an icon of a running man or a boy with a dog.) If you have either, use it instead of the "auto" mode.

Turn Off Smile Detection. If you're photographing more than two individuals, avoid using facial-recognition features, which are easily confused by motion

Veer Images
Veer Images

Set Up a Great Shot

Capture his personality. Some of the best pictures show who your child is, not just what he looks like. So bring out his favorite toys and quietly snap pictures as he plays, reads, or cuddles with the dog.
Expand your horizons. Get in the habit of looking all around the frame before you click the shutter to spot shot wreckers -- like the telephone pole that appears to be growing out of your kid's head, recommends Ginny Felch, author of Photographing Children Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent.
Rein 'em in. Place your squirmy toddler in a big wicker basket to stop her from wandering. If you have a couple of little ones, corral them in a wagon or a play yard. Not only will this keep everyone in place, they'll likely find it amusing -- at least for a few crucial minutes.

BananaStock/ Jupiter
BananaStock/ Jupiter

Delight in the Details

Go small. Babies are cute as a whole, but don't forget about all those adorable little body parts. If your camera has a macro setting (look for the flower icon) use it to focus on a hand, a foot, an ear, or an elbow. It'll help keep the photo from getting blurry. But you do need a perfectly still subject, so it works best for a sleeping baby or a toddler in a state of deep concentration.

Flickr/ Getty
Flickr/ Getty

Catch Him in the Act

Get Focused. Before snapping, hold the shutter button halfway down so the camera pre-focuses on subjects. Cutting lag times, this practice can sharpen image clarity and prevent motion blur, explains Joshua Goldman, senior editor of digital imaging at CNET. "This is especially useful when photographing kids who can turn into human pinballs."

Try Panning. Moving the camera left to right to follow hyperkinetic tots can produce arresting shots that freeze children in focus against a blurred background, says Katrin Eismann, coauthor of Real World Digital Photography.

Learn the Light Stuff

Aim for prime time. Shoot in the early morning and late afternoon (before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m.), when the sun is low. If you're outside at other times, add a flash (set your camera on "fill" or "force flash" mode) to help soften features and fill in harsh shadows.
Tone it down. At night, make sure you use the red-eye setting. If that doesn't do the trick, try taping a scrap of tissue over the flash to diffuse the light.

Fancy Photography/Veer
Fancy Photography/Veer

Fill the Frame with Love

Consider all the angles. Either crouch down at your kid's level or get below him and shoot up. Looking down at your child will distort the perspective: Your kid will look as if he has a big head and small feet, explains Cindy Bizal, a child photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Move in. Most people end up too far away from the subject. Make sure you're close enough by setting up your shot and then taking two giant steps forward.


Ready to Upgrade to a DSLR?

It's worth spending the extra money on these fancier cameras if you...

Want to Get Up Close
Capturing your child singing at the school concert from the back row is best accomplished with a high-powered, super-zoom lens.

Have a Need for Speed
DSLRs turn on and shoot faster, eliminating lag time and making them more appropriate for action shots, like game-winning home runs and double pirouettes.

Put Your Kids on Display
Offering sharp focus and greater depth of field, DSLRs allow you to achieve a more professional look, such as frame-worthy family portraits featuring detailed faces.

Snap All Day and Night
Providing improved image sensors, controlled shutter speeds, and sharper low-light performance, these models more accurately capture nighttime, sunset, or faintly illuminated scenes.

Want More Control
You can manually adjust exposure, motion blur, and improve image contrast, so experienced photo bugs will get more from these devices than from auto modes.

Originally published in the November 2009 issue of Parents magazine. Updated in 2012.

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