We all know what it’s like. You’re going around your business, cooking or cleaning or wiping your kid’s nose. Maybe they said something funny or too grown-upish. But every so often, it hits you.
“OMG my kids got so big!”
“They’re growing too fast!”
“Where does time fly?”
Kids grow so fast, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. But you can document the journey so that you can remember.
It’s frustrating to try to capture what you’re seeing and feeling and having turn out flat on camera.
But armed with the right knowledge, it’s easy to get real images that capture personality and evoke emotion. When you get the technical details like lighting, angles, and composition right – you can infuse the image with whichever tone or mood you want for it. A bright and cheerful feel, something dramatic or mysterious, peaceful or chaotic.
As a mom myself; I’ve gone through lots of frustration getting candid images of my kids. So I did a series of candid images of my kids for 30 days.
I gave myself two rules:
1) I did not pose or direct my kids, or instruct them in any way. If I was able to get in there without them noticing me, that was even better. I wanted real moments.
2) Being that this was in a very chaotic time in my life, I decided to embrace the mess. I never cleaned up for an image, I included whatever happened to be on the floor and photographed my kids naked, in dirty clothing, and hanging diapers. That was the stage I was in then, and I decided to stop being embarrassed about it and trying to force change. The funny thing is, letting go actually made it pass faster 😉
All of the images I did during that challenge are in black and white – I wanted to focus on lighting, angles and composition, without being distracted by color. These are the 3 things that most strongly affect the tone or mood of your image; and are what I want to teach you. I’ll share as many as I can of those, but for teaching purposes I will also include some of my professional work to illustrate concepts.
Here are some tips on how to create better, more emotional images of your kids – with the camera you have.
What I’d like to share with you in this article is the three things you need to think about before you take your camera out: Focal point, Theme, and Eliminating distractions.
These are the three basics that set the intention for your image and help you capture memories in a way that conveys emotion.
INTENTION OF A PHOTOGRAPH:
1) SET YOUR FOCAL POINT.
Every image has one subject that is the focus of that image. If you’re a mom, it’s very likely to be your kid; or a group of kids. The focal point is the most important part of your image – you want to direct all attention to it, make sure it’s in focus (if you’re using a phone, that’s what you’ll tap on to set the focus of your image) and well lit.
In an image with more than one subject, you can have the group as a focal point – and have them all in focus, like in these…
Or, the focus might be on just some (or one) of them. In this image, the story is about mother and daughter interacting, but the rest of the family is included as well because they are part of the reality we want to show about her.
One way of directing the focus to only one subject is to crop the rest out, like in these below. Don’t be afraid not to include the full body of everyone in the image – sometimes intentionally cropping some of it out actually helps to tell the story.
Practice choosing your focal point in any image by deciding which part of the image is the most important.
2) ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS.
Sometimes, there are random objects in the frame that helps to tell the story. For example, in the image below, the focal point and main subject is the baby. The theme is her joy. The bike on the side shows the chaos in our home (one of my 30 day challenge images, where I wanted to document how crazy this time in my life was). The hand and fork sticking in give you a hint as to why she might be so excited. Note that even though there’s a table and chairs, and radiator in the background; I let in a lot of light that helped to overexpose it so it’s not so stark. The difference in how the background and foreground are lit help to separate the baby from the background.
Note: If the mess wasn’t part of the story I wanted to tell, I probably would have cropped out the bike on the side, as well.
3) FIND THE THEME OF THE IMAGE TO DETERMINE THE TONE OR MOOD.
What is the story you want to tell / what emotion do you want it to invoke? This will help you decide on the tone or mood of the image – the colors, the amount of light, even the angle…
If the focus of your image is your twirling 2 year old, and the feeling you want to invoke is joy, you’d probably set your camera to include a lot more light than if you’re photographing a pensive child and want it deep and mysterious.You’d photograph a kid from low down for a more intimate, up-close and personal feel. You might go farther out and higher up to give the feeling of being more detached – and giving your kids more space.
So, working with a theme for your image will help you make all those decisions. There’s loads of information we can learn on tone and mood, more than we can cram into one article. So for now, let’s just focus on the what, not the how. Practice asking yourself the question, what do I want to feel when I look at this? The answer of that is the theme of your image.
Here are some examples that show how choosing the theme impacts every aspect of the image (angles, lighting, and composition – those are the how, and I’d love to teach them in another article. If you’d like that, please let me know in the comments section. Send me your specific questions; I’d love to answer them in the next one.)
The focal point in this image are her feet. I didn’t need her face, because that’s not what’s telling the story in this image.
There’s lots of contrast in here to reflect the struggle. The light is coming from the side, but wraps around the back and helps outline her leg to set it apart from the background (another way of pulling the focus to the focal point.) I could have cropped the image closer to eliminate the oven, but doing that would mean losing the floor – which adds so much to the composition (it’s what shows you how low down the image was taken from.)
You might ask, isn’t her sister considered a distraction? I could have cropped her out, but in this case; her sister’s cautious posture only served as foil to amplify her exuberant stance. I left her in, and because she is off to the side and a bit further back, the first thing your eye sees is her.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
So, the next time you pick up your camera, you’ll want to decide on a focal point, decide on a theme or story, and eliminate anything that distracts the eye from the focal point and doesn’t add to that story.
It sounds like a lot to start with, but – like riding a bike or driving or cooking – over time you’ll do it intuitively without even having to think about it.
If you enjoyed this article, or if you want more, please let me know by commenting below. And if your on Instagram, please don’t be a stranger! I’d love for you to connect with me and DM your questions to me @peppermintphotography I’d love to answer them 🙂