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Photograph Your Children

10 Easy Ways To Improve Your Family Photographs

by Colleen Moulding

1. Get to know your camera. Half an hour spent reading the instruction book and getting to know what your camera can do, really will be time well spent. Practice using the camera without film until you feel confident with the controls. Practice holding the camera very firmly when pressing the shutter, as any movement will result in a blurred picture. Tucking your arms tightly into your body helps to avoid this. Or look around for something to support the camera. A wall, a ledge, seat or tree branch would be ideal.

2. Get in close. Fill the viewfinder with your subject and you are sure to improve your pictures. A telephoto or zoom lens is obviously the easiest way to do this but even with a compact camera you can usually get much closer than you think. Consult your instruction book. Getting down to your child's level will make this easier and and improve the shot too.

3. Look carefully at the background. We've all seen photographs of people with lamp posts or telegraph poles growing out of their heads, but it's the less obvious background muddles that often ruin pictures. The washing on the line in the garden or clutter on the sofa or table. Change your position if you cannot change the child's.

4. Turn the camera round. Taking the picture with your camera in the vertical position can be an easy way to cut out a lot of unnecessary background and give you more of the child in the shot. If using your camera this way up feels strange, practice without film until it feels comfortable. Using your camera in this position avoids a lot of cut off heads and feet too.

5. Photograph children in their natural environment. Pictures taken in their bedrooms surrounded by toys, crawling out of their den in the garden or hanging from the climbing frame in the park are much more likely to be successful than formally posed shots in their best clothes perched on the edge of the sofa. Photograph them when they're grubby and scruffy as well as in their Sunday best.

6. Become invisible. The very best natural, unposed pictures will be taken when your child is totally unaware of your existence. This can be acheived by the use of a telephoto or zoom lens or just by being so quiet that they forget about you. If this is impossible, the other trick is to talk to them about what they are doing, thus turning their attention back to the activity and away from the camera. If you feel that flash lights will frighten your baby or distract your child, use a fast film, 400 or higher, and you should be able to take photographs indoors in a fairly bright room without flash. Side lighting from a window can be effective but don't place your children directly in front of a window or their faces will be in shadow.

7. Sea, sand and sky. Is there anything more depressing than getting back the prints of your family on that paradise beach to find them all pictured as black silhouettes against a perfectly exposed sky? This happens because the large amount of back light tricks the camera's exposure meter into thinking that the whole scene is receiving lots of light, but as we have seen, faces are in shadow. The only way to correct this is to use fill in flash to lighten the shadows, or a large piece of white card, held just out of shot, to reflect light back on to the faces. Check your instruction book again as some cameras have a back light compensation switch especially to help solve this problem. Avoid shooting at midday as this is when the shadows will be harshest. Try to move your child so that the light falls from the side if possible.

8. Dressing up. Having a few props ready can make for a fun session. Hats are a favourite with children, but shawls, flowers, baskets and dressing up clothes as well as toys and teddies will all help you compose interesting pictures, especially when children do the unexpected with them! Don't necessarily go for a smile on every shot, try to capture a whole range of expressions.

9. Sports and action shots. There are two ways of photographing action. The first is to use a high shutter speed which, like flash, will effectively freeze the motion, giving a sharp picture but losing the sense of movement. The second method is panning, or following the child with the camera. Focus on the spot where your child will be arriving and follow the action with the camera, pressing the shutter very smoothly and keeping the pan going for a few seconds afterwards. This results in a sharp picture of your child but with a streaked background giving a much better feel of the action. Remember it is easier to photograph motion that is coming towards you than passing by in front.

10. Collecting your prints from the processor need not be the end of the story. Why not have your prints enlarged so that you can hang them on the wall and enjoy them every day. Or scan them into your computer and set them as wallpaper or make them into screensavers. If there is a problem with Aunt Sally's slippers in the left hand corner, many processing houses offer selective enlargements where they will just enlarge the part you want. It is also possible to have your photographs printed on to a paper that gives the look of a painting on canvas, or you can have pictures made into posters, puzzles, table mats, even mugs and plates.

Happy snapping!



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