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How to take Amazing Family Photos with your Smartphone - Part Two

We’ve already talked about smartphone cameras basics, so now we can move onto the fun stuff. Composition, light, and creativity.

This is the second of three posts that will help you capture beautiful family photos with your smartphone. In this post, I'll give tips on how to use light and composition to create stunning photos. Next week, I'll be sharing with you some of the apps I use for mobile photography. So if you missed last weeks post about smartphone camera basics <link> make sure you check it out before moving onto this post about composition and light.

Child dipping toe in water
Shot with a Samsung A50

Move Around

The most flattering position to take photos of your kids is at their height or lower - so get moving!

Do you simply lift your phone up at about eye height, point it towards your subject and snap? Most people do. The photos you get using this method will match what your eyes see, but what we see every day can be a little boring. It's easy to create a more exciting and dynamic photo of your kiddos by choosing other vantage points to shoot from.

The most flattering position to take photos of your kids is at their height or lower. So crouch, kneel, or even lie down. Get to their level and see the world from their point of view. You'll get much nicer and more visually interesting shots - plus - they think you're hilarious!

Alternatively, get up high. Stand above your child and get them to look up at you. Or climb on a chair, bench or table and get a birds-eye view of whatever they're doing. It's a little more effort, but totally worth it!

Child holding red ball in ball pit
Notice the difference when I got closer to my subject and asked her what colour the ball was?
Child playing with balls

Shoot in landscape

Shooting in landscape generally produces better photos.

Most people tend to default to portrait mode (taller) when photographing with their phones, probably because this is the way we naturally hold them. Try instead to shoot in landscape (wider) whenever possible. Shooting in landscape allows you to capture more background, gives you the opportunity to include more of the scene which sets the context (I love using foreground) and looks better when viewed on a computer. Personally, I'm partial to landscape photos, and would guess that over 80% of my photos are shot in landscape.

Baby swinging on swing at beach

This landscape photo has lots of space around the subject which represents the free-spirited childhood summer this little one is clearly enjoying.

Use Natural Light

Light is your friend, play with it!

Because smartphone cameras don't perform well in low light it’s important to make use of any available light (natural is best, but artificial light can work, too). Move your subject into a brighter area or simply wait patiently until they turn into the light. Pro tip - try putting your child's favourite toy in the middle of the light you'd like to photograph them in.

Light is your friend, play with it! The light coming through a sheer curtain, or light and shadow patterns created by a fence can have a really beautiful effect. Look for distinct light patterns that your child may be playing in. The time shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset (called the golden hour) is an amazing time to take beautiful, warm images with a three-dimensional feel. So next time you take your kiddos to the park after gan but before dinner have your smartphone ready to go!

Toddler walking in sun light and shadow holding a water bottle

I adore the light and shadow in this photo, but creating it took a lot of patience. Below is a sample of the other photos I took during this series. I experimented with different angles as I waited for my subject to move into the light at just the right time.

Don’t forget the details

Let your photos tell a story by taking a variety of photos.

When photographing your children, you don't always have to stand back and capture every object in the room at once. Here's a mini shot list to help you tell a story:

1. The whole scene (to give your photos some context)

2. Details (sandy toes, sticky hands, snotty nose, melting popsicle, etc.)

3. Facial Expressions (to capture the emotion of the moment)

4. Action (playing with a ball, going down the slide, reaching for the last rung of a ladder)

Use the rule of thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the best known photographic principles and if you follow it your photos will be more balanced and visually pleasing. I promise!

The best part about this rule is that it's super easy to master! Basically, divide your image into thirds (vertically and horizontally) and place your subject at one of the four points where the lines intersect. Your smartphone camera app most likely has a rule of thirds overlay function. If you're not already using it, switch it on and use it to compose your photo when taking photos. You'll be so impressed by how much better your photos turn out!

But don't stress too much about always following this rule. Kids don't stay still for long. It's more important to capture a beautiful moment than it is to have a perfectly composed photo (which you can crop to fit the rule later, anyway). And remember, rules are meant to be broken! Once you've mastered the rule of thirds, try some different compositions (like putting your child right in the middle of the frame) to see what effects it has.

Pro tip: Go through some of your old photos and crop them to fit the rule and see what impact this has.

Toddler and dad hugging
Like this image? It's probably because it adheres to our natural affinity for the rule of thirds

Remember to focus

Say goodbye to fuzzy pictures by manually selecting your focal point.

Out-of-focus images suck. Your smartphone camera will do a fairly good job of choosing what part of your photo should be in focus, but it won't get it right all the time. You can fix this by manually tapping the part of the image you want in focus.

If you're taking a close-up portrait of your child, focus on their eyes. If you're taking a photo from further away, focus on their face. If the main subject of the photo is something your child is holding, eating or playing with, focus on that.

Candid photos for life

I have been known to bribe my daughter to look at the camera, but most of my favourite photos are the ones where they don't realise they're being photographed and stay true to my own style of photography. Kids start posing for cameras at a ridiculously young age so wait until they're absorbed in something they love doing before you start snapping. This will give you the best chance of capturing who they really are in the here and now.

Baby lounging by pool
I can always count on my daughter to provide endless opportunities for very dramatic candid moments.


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