How to take pictures of your family (and love the result) by photographer Andrea Thomson

Taking pictures of your nearest and dearest, should be easy, right? You’re comfortable with each other, you spend a lot of time together, you love each other…then why is it, that whenever you pick a camera up everyone stops what they’re doing and acts like a rabbit in the headlights or turns on the jazz hands and poses as if they’re on a shoot for Vogue? Gorgeous, natural pictures are always the best, but can be the hardest to take. Which is why we turned to brilliant Edinburgh-based photographer Andrea Thomson (who takes amazing family pictures) for some tips. If you’ve ever wanted to take a good photo, then read this….

“Your kids are adorable. So why is it so tricky to get a few cute photos of them? I don’t do a lot of formal posing when I’m photographing families but I have my own little bag of tricks that I draw from to get some gorgeous, natural photos. Here are my top ten…”

1. Get down, mama.

And dada, too. To get the best photos, it’s ideal to be at eye level with your children – it’s easier to engage with them and it’s arguably the best angle for a portrait. If they’re still pretty little, that means squatting or even sitting on the ground, even if they’re on the move (you’ll get photos and a full-body workout – win/win!).

2. Don’t say cheese. Ever.

Kids have some sort of inner programming to make the worst gurning face when prompted to ‘say cheese’. So just don’t. If you’re aiming to get a good posed shot, ask your child to tell you the silliest word they can think of. Or if they’re a bit older, ask them to say their own name backwards – basically anything to put them at ease, make them forget about the camera and possibly even get a giggle out of them.

3. I’ve heard there’s a fairy living inside my camera.

There might be one living in yours, too, even if your camera is your phone. I love this one and use it over and over because I’m taking photos of different children all the time. This might be a one-hit wonder for your own children if they’re a bit older, but it really is a good one.

4. Let them do their thing.

And the thing children do best is playing! You could challenge them to a quick game of hide and seek, or sometimes I get children to show me how fast they can run and end up with some super sweet photos as they’re headed towards me, rosy-cheeked and laughing. Another option is to ask your kids to show you their favourite parts of the park, your garden or their own rooms, or to show you their best toys, which brings out a little pride and passion in them.

5. Timing is everything.

If you’re trying to get a few photos of your children, have they been fed and watered, napped and changed? I always make sure that when I’m photographing families, especially those with really little ones, to ask what is the ideal time of day for them. It can make all the difference, in photos and in life!

6. Location location location.

Think about going somewhere with options. For example, if your kiddos get bored playing on the beach, you can always move to the park next door or another part of the beach or over to the pier, etc. Change of scene is your best friend when photographing children.

7. Raid the dressing up box. Or not.

My boys love to dress up. My littlest and I used to go out for the whole day where he was dressed like a superhero and the photos I got are some of my very favourites. But if your kids don’t enjoy spending time in the land of make-believe, encourage them choose their own outfits. I know I always feel better in my best jeans and a cute top than in stiff formal wear.

8. Don’t be afraid of a bribe

I try to steer clear of bribery when photographing other people’s children for obvious reasons, but sometimes a small bribe goes a long way with my own if I need a quick snap for grandma’s birthday card.

9. Tap into the beauty of your everyday life

A posed portrait is great but getting a bit of the everyday stuff – eating breakfast and getting dressed and brushing teeth and doing arts and crafts and even playing on their iPads – this is the stuff that makes up your life, the stuff you want to remember when you and your children grow old. And don’t be afraid to sneak around ninja-style to take photos when your kids are completely unaware. Sometimes these are the best ones!

10. Take all the photos – sometimes the best shots are the ones in between.

The more pictures you take of your kids, the more they’ll get used to it and the more cute photos you’ll end up with, at least in theory. Sometimes when I’m doing some posed photos and I’m asking kids to answer a question, it’s the moments directly after, when they’re laughing, that are the best ones to photograph.

Bonus tips – how to take better photos in general.

1. Look for the light.

If you’re not sure what that means, don’t fret – I have an amazing, easy trick for finding the perfect light. Hold up your hand so you can see the back of it. Move yourself, and that hand, around in a circle, and watch how the light changes on that flat bit of hand. You’ll easily spot the difference between perfect light and dark shadows. Ask you subject to move accordingly and boom – you’ll have a perfectly-lit portrait. This trick works inside and out.

2. Avoid harsh sunlight

Yes, I know that’s pretty easy to do in Great Britain. But if you have a choice between a bright, sunny field or the shade of a tree, definitely choose the latter. People squint in bright light and you can get some harsh shadows that could ruin an otherwise great shot. Likewise if you’re indoors, natural light is always best and using a flash on your camera or phone can cause a delay when you press the shutter.

3. Focus on the eyes. Whether you have a high-end SLR, the camera on your phone or something in between, when you’re taking a portrait the most important focal point is your subject’s eyes. Get those in focus and you’re halfway there!

Thank you Andrea! If you’d like to check out Andrea’s work or even speak to her about photographing your family, you can see her website here.

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