If you are taking photographs of your kids, likely you will be taking a lot of portraits. A portrait is just a picture of a person. The standard definition of this often refers to a photograph (or other form of art) that depicts only the head or shoulders, but I am of the belief that a portrait is a picture depicting who a person is and often includes more than just ten head and shoulders. In this post you will learn how to take better portraits of kids so you can capture the people you love.
Think outside the box
A portrait doesn’t have to be a person looking directly at the camera and smiling. When you hear the word portrait do you automatically think of school pictures? I do. I think of a colored background with a child looking directly at the camera with an awkward smile. Not only are these photographs usually lacking emotion and character, but they also don’t give you a story of that child. Think outside the box when taking portraits of your kids and try to get photos of them that showcase who they are. Take pictures at different angles, don’t worry about making sure they are smiling, and even include props if you want to. One f my favorite things to do is bring my kids on to our bed (we have the best light there) and ask them to bring their favorite stuffed buddies, or a stack of books, or a few of their small toys, and I take pictures while they play. These portraits show who my child is at this stage and allow me to get genuine smiles and laughter.
Get the right lens
The lens you choose can make a huge difference in your photo. The stock lens that came with your camera most likely has limited capabilities as far as aperture goes. In my opinion the best lens to get started with portraits is a 50mm or 35mm 1.8. This lens will allow you to get super sharp images, focus on your subject while having shallow depth of field, and gives you a nice focal length for portraits. It is not a huge investment and you likely won’t take it off your camera.
Soft skin/soft light
When you are taking portraits it is important to pay attention to the skin. Having soft lighting gives the skin a very smooth appearance which makes for a flattering image. Blemishes, bumps, wrinkles, or other lines will be minimal and the focus will be on the eyes rather than any distractions on the skin. Soft lighting can be achieved by looking for shade, photographing during the first 3 hours or last 3 hours of the day, or going out on a cloudy day. For more on lighting, read “Natural Light Photography Tips for Stunning Photos”.
Bokeh is the term for the little unfocused, balls of light you see in the background in many portrait images. You get bokeh when your depth of field is shallow (using a wide open aperture) and your subject is backlit. The light may be coming through the leaves on a tree and creating a beautiful pattern behind your subject. The bokeh may also be caused by artificial lights behind your subject such as Christmas lights or street lights that have been blurred by decreasing your aperture setting. (If you have no idea what I mean by aperture, you can learn more about this and your other manual settings in this post, “How to Get Started with Your DSLR”).
Watch your background
It is the worst when you get home and find your favorite photo has a bright green trash can in the background taking all the focus off your beautiful child. I once came home only to find there had been a stop sign behind my child hat I didn’t notice and almost even photo had this stop sign coming right out of her head! This can completely ruin an otherwise perfect photo so be mindful of what is in the background when you want the focus to remain on your child.
Aperture is a super important setting when it comes to taking better portraits. Learning how to use this setting will allow you to control the focus of your image, the amount of light that comes in, and the depth of field in your photograph. Close up portraits with a blurred background bring the focus directly on the face of your subject and create stunning images. Understanding your aperture setting is essential for making this happen. If you aren’t confident in manual mode, no problem. Sign up for my free course, Manual Mode Made Simple, and take the overwhelm out of all those settings.
You can probably tell that I think personality is a big deal in photography. If your image lacks personality, you won’t feel anything when you look at it. Don’t just ask your kids to look at you and smile. Photograph them doing what they love and you will get better portraits immediately. Your portraits should be a way to highlight your subject and bring them to life on a two dimensional photo. You have to create the photograph. You can’t just say, “stand there, look at me, and smile.”
Focus on the eyes
When you are doing any portrait photography you want to make sure the eyes are crystal clear. Place your focus directly on the eyes so your image appears sharp and your viewers eyes are drawn right to your subjects eyes. Some kind of emotion is almost guaranteed when you look directly into someone’s eyes. This is what creates the most compelling photos.
The majority of your photographs will be portraits while your kids grow. Think of portraits as more than just a headshot. In order to take better portraits you need to think outside the box and capture your child for who they are right now. Take close ups, full body shots, include the background, and even add a few props every now and then. Tell the story of your child (or other subject) through your portrait photography.
What to do now:
Take LOTS of pictures of people. Change your mindset around what a portrait is. Choose one child a day for the next couple days (or if you only have one child, you can focus just in that kiddo) and take as many portraits as you can throughout the day. Look for opportunities that show your child’s personality, emotions, and little quirks. Get full body images as well as close ups and really focus on the eyes. Tag me on Instagram (@athomewithkidsblog) and show me your favorite photos.
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