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How to Take Great Pictures of Grandchildren

Learn to Think Like a Photographer

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Nothing warms the cockles of a grandparent’s heart like a photograph of a grandchild, and it’s even more gratifying if you took it yourself. While having a decent camera is important, and some technical knowledge is helpful, neither of these will guarantee a good picture. Learning to think and act like a photographer, however, is guaranteed to improve your photographs. These tips can help any grandparent take great pictures of grandchildren.

1. Become aware of light.

Photographing Children
Photo © Plush Studio / Getty Images
The brightest days are the most likely to lure us to the beach or the park, but these are the worst days for photography as the bright sun creates harsh shadows and makes children squint. Early morning and evening are often better than midday, and those overcast cloudy-bright days can be superb. If you have to take pictures outdoors in bright light, try shooting in a shady spot and using your flash to illuminate your subjects. Also try different angles. If you are facing north, rotate and take the next shot facing west. It’s amazing what a simple change of position can do to the quality of the light.

2. Get on their level.

The best photographs of children are taken with the camera on a level with their faces. If you are fairly agile, get on the floor with them. If you are physically unable to get up and down easily, there are still ways to get the camera on a level with their faces. Photograph them on the stairs, on playground equipment, in high chairs or in any other situation that elevates them above their usual stature.

3. Avoid flash.

There are situations where it is necessary, but flash tends to wash out facial tones and give that “caught-in-the-headlights” look. Also, you may have problems with the flash reflecting from eyeglasses, window glass and other shiny objects. Then there is the “red eye” problem, which can be fixed in a photo editing program but which is much better avoided completely. When shooting indoors in the daytime, position your subject near a window, but not in front of the window, which can give you a silhouette effect. Natural light is especially good for photographing newborns as there's no harsh flash to distress them.

4. Watch for foreground-background confusion.

In a photograph, perspective is flattened, and items that are well behind the subject appear to be part of the subject. I have one classic example of a young man in front of a wall sconce in which the arms of the lighting fixture appear to be coming directly out of his ears! Trees, fence posts and other such items in the background are frequently troublesome. Shift your position so that such objects are to one side of your subject rather than directly behind the person.

5. Clear away clutter.

When the grandchildren are visiting, your usually neat house is likely to become a bit messier. Before photographing them, clear away any distracting items that are likely to end up in the picture. Another way to eliminate distracting elements is to shoot with less depth of field so that items in the foreground and background are not in sharp focus. This requires some technical expertise and a willingness to take your camera off automatic mode.

6. Go for the natural look.

The typical look-at-the-camera-and-smile technique can give good results, but you will get more natural poses if you shoot the grandchildren while they are doing something. Of course, if they are doing something like jumping on a trampoline, that brings another set of problems, but photographing them while they are building with blocks or baking cookies will give you a natural pose without too much movement. Pictures of children reading, drawing and putting together puzzles can be sweet, but since they’ll be looking down, you lose some of their expressions.

7. Don't always shoot full-length from the front.

Full-length shots are great, but get some close-ups of faces. One of the major faults of amateur photographers is shooting from too far away. Look for other appealing shots. I love to photograph my grandchildren from behind; because you’re not looking at faces, you are more aware of the features of their bodies and their posture. I also like shots of little hands and feet.

8. Don't make every shot a group shot.

If it is difficult to get a good shot of one grandchild, put two others in the frame and it becomes exponentially more difficult. We all cherish those group shots of our grandchildren, even if they are not perfect, but you are more likely to get really excellent quality by photographing one or two grandchildren at a time.

9. Take lots of pictures.

You may think you have the perfect shot, but take another. Digital photography has removed the need to conserve film. All kinds of things will show up in the final photograph that you didn’t see in the viewfinder or that you missed in the review mode. Most commonly, a picture that looks okay in review mode turns out to be slightly out of focus when you see the full-sized version.

10. Shoot everyday life, not just special occasions.

Sometimes grandparents save their picture-taking for holidays, but those can be the worst times for photography, with a crowd of people and a lot of visual clutter. In addition, if you are hosting, you may not be able to concentrate on getting good pictures. Those occasions need to be documented, but make it a point also to take lots of pictures of your grandchildren doing everyday activities.

11. Try burst mode.

Shooting action is a challenge. If your reflexes are a little slower than they used to be, you may be missing the shot of a grandchild blowing out candles or sliding into home. Try burst mode if your camera is capable of it. The results won't be as good as those from a master photographer who knows just when to press the shutter, but you’ll get several shots in a short period of time, and you are unlikely to miss the action altogether.

12. Teach yourself about composition.

Learn about the rule of thirds. Become aware of other lines in your picture and how they create a pleasing composition. Study the great photographers to see how it is done, and stop by our Wordless Wednesday photo gallery to enjoy some delightful pictures of grandchildren.

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