Getting the shot: 20 tips for great family photography

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

Everyone loves looking at photos. It doesn't matter if they're from yesterday's soccer match or Mom's high school graduation. We like to remember moments with candid photos of our family for a treasured scrapbook, or the family album. Here are some tips from local professional photographers on how to make your photos the best they can be.

1. Buy a good camera. One of the first things new parents buy is a nice camera to capture their adorable newborn. When shopping, hold it and move around with it so you get something you feel comfortable with. "Consider buying a Single Lens Reflex Digital (SLRD) camera, which is like studio cameras, and they are getting more affordable. You want one with a good resolution—at least 8 megapixels, but I would recommend 10," said Julie Sunderland, photographer from SOHO Studio in Dublin.

2. Read the owner's manual. To take great photographs, you have to learn more about photography and how your camera works. Go through the manual to learn where everything is and how the controls work. The goal is to be able to quickly change settings and still capture the photograph.

3. Learn how to hold the camera. To avoid having your fingers covering the lens or sensors, hold your right hand on the camera body and your forefinger on the shutter button while your left hand cradles the lens or bottom.

4. Catch the sports action. If you want to take pictures of your children's sports games, Sunderland said to buy a more advanced camera in which you can control shutter speeds and aperture, allowing you to catch the action. "You are going to want a better lens and flash for capturing subjects at farther distances. An SLRD camera is better because you have control over everything," said Sunderland.

5. Buy a monopod. If your child is in sports, using a simple monopod on the sidelines will help control camera shake and unwanted movement in the picture.

6. Create a camera station. You have to be quick to capture those magical moments with your child, so have a designated basket or spot in your kitchen that permanently houses your camera.

7. Always use the flash. "A lot of people don't understand that even if it is daylight, you still need a flash inside and even outdoors to help with shadows. If your subject is sitting under a tree and there is a branch shadow, the flash will take that away," said Heather Cartwright, owner of SOHO Studio.

8. Avoid red-eye. Many cameras come with a red-eye reducer, but using it causes a delay in the shot and may cause you to miss the shot altogether. Sunderland recommended using the tools available on the camera kiosk to get rid of red-eye instead.

9. Be mindful of the sun. Whenever you are taking a photo, you want to make sure the sun is behind you, not the subject. "It causes a lens flare that will appear as a little rainbow octagon on the photo," said Cartwright.

10. Choose a creative background. "With a little creativity, anything can make a great background for a photo. An old, beat up brick wall on the side of an old building, a brightly colored bedroom wall, or even a garage door can make for a great backdrop," said Amy Clark from Baby Steps Studios.

11. Get closer. People often make the mistake of being too far away from their subjects. Don't be afraid to get close.

12. Shoot at eye level. Get down on your child's level for a more natural perspective.

13. Prepare the child. "A well-fed and rested child will make for the best photos. If little Johnny isn't in a good mood, then by all means don't try to force him to have his picture taken! Try again later," said Clark.

14. Get a real smile. "In photography, the most important part is being able to connect with your subject and getting their true emotions and feelings in the shot," said Cartwright. Try creating a fun environment by telling jokes, playing games or making your subject laugh to create a true smile.

15. Hand over the camera to someone else. "One of the hardest things I have ever had to do is take a photograph of my own baby daughter because she doesn't pay attention to me," said Cartwright. If you have a neighbor or friend take the shot, your child will look at him or her more because it is someone they don't see every day.

16. Birthday parties. Clark recommends shooting as many photos as possible and designating another family member to take the photos. With the craziness of the birthday party, it is hard for Mom or Dad to capture every moment.

17. Christmas cards. "I know those holiday outfits that you picked out are adorable but you will have much better luck with photos if you let your kids be kids. Instead, head outside for a good old-fashioned snow ball fight, decorate the tree or bake cookies while you take the photos—j ust get creative! Everyone will have much more fun and the photos will show off your family's personality," said Clark.

18. Vacation photos. "You want to spend your time enjoying your family without fighting them to get those photos for your memory book. Just take photos that document the activities that your family is enjoying, such as your family's feet on the beach, Grandpa and grandson's hands on the fishing pole, or your children holding hands while waiting in line at the amusement park," said Clark.

19. Learn how to use the photo kiosks. Every drug store or department store photo shop has a photo kiosk where customers can process and manipulate their images. Take the time to learn how you can improve your existing photos.

20. Use a professional photographer. Consider having a professional photographer document important milestones in your child's life. "Choose a studio that makes you feel comfortable and knows how to work with children," said Cartwright.

Pattie Stechschulte is a freelance writer living in Westerville with her husband, Steve, and two sons, Will and Jack.