Monday, December 23, 2013

Take better photos of your kids this Christmas

The other night I found myself feverishly snapping pics of Ashford during a totally abnormal bout of adorable smiling and calm play with the Christmas tree.  These are the kind of photos that make my mommy brain and my photographer brain get drunk together and then die of happiness.  
As I was reviewing these photos, I thought to myself...I want everyone to have photos like this!  So, I thought I'd share some tips with everyone for taking better photos of your kids this Christmas.  

1. Most important.  Use an actual camera, not your phone!  Check your camera manual to see how you can get the best low-light images.  It's worth it.  I have a full frame DSLR that makes it easier to take great shots, and I also shot all the 'white jammie' photos in raw, then used ACR and Photoshop Elements to reduce grain, adjust exposure, white balance, and brighten his face and eyes.  These tricks certainly make for great images, but even a point and shoot can produce prettier photos with some preparation.
2. Turn off your flash!  It is unflattering, creates shadows, and takes all the soft light away from your subject.  It also eliminates the beautiful light halos of your tree lights.  Hold yourself steady, use a tripod, or set the camera on a table to reduce camera shake and blur.  I took these pics with an outdated point and shoot (Canon Powershot SD1200) that is terrible in low light.  I had all the lamps in the room on, and also a three-light floor lamp pointed at the tree.  Flash photo on the left, no flash on the right. 
Obviously, this is a dumb photo of my kid watching TV - but it shows the difference between the flash and no flash rather dramatically.  Which looks nicer to you?  Would you even be able to tell that it was 9am in the flash photo?  I didn't edit any of these, but in the no flash pic I would remove the color cast from his face in Photoshop and do some other tweaks. 
Of course photos without a flash will be softer and grainy, but I don't mind that when the trade off is the pretty tree lights and feeling that you are seeing the scene, not a flash.  This one was taken using my Rebel XSi, and I will definitely be deleting the flash photo, however I love the other one!   I will probably mess around with the white balance though.  
3.  Speaking of white balance, without a flash you will want to compensate for indoor lighting, so your images don't come out all orange.  The proper white balance setting on your camera is most likely 'incandescent' or 'tungsten' unless you use all reveal bulbs or those super-white CFLs.  I find that auto white balance hardly ever gets it right indoors.
4. If you have white lights on your tree, face your kiddo towards it to capture the light on their faces.  (If you have colored lights you can still do this, but their face may get the color cast from the lights) 
5. If you want the tree behind them, make sure there is a bright lamp or some lighting on their faces, or your camera will expose for the background and leave their faces dark.  Directional floor lamps are great for this!  Just watch out for overhead lights, which make ugly shadows on faces.  Or, you can have fun with silhouettes against the lit tree. 
6. If you want a blurry tree in the background, bring the subject farther away from the tree to blur the lights.  It's best to have a camera with manual control, so you can open up your aperture and really blur that background.  Here are some 'twinkle light' photos I took of Ash for our Christmas card, and the settings I used to get that beautiful bokeh. All photos were taken with my 28mm f/1.8 lens which is my very favorite lens!    
ISO 200 SS 1/320 f/2 
ISO 320 SS 1/320 f/2 
ISO 640 SS 1/400 f/2.5 
For this setup, I had two continuous lights set up behind me to my left and right, and natural light was coming in from the window directly behind me for the first two, the others were at night.  In this shot of all of us, you can see how the (white cord!) lights were pinned over a white sheet on my backdrop.  You can also see a bit of the bulb to the right.  
And after I got this into photoshop, the result was a fabulous family photo.  Since it was a group shot, I had to close up my aperture a bit to make sure we all stayed in focus, the camera/tripod was quite close to the lights are a little more visible than I'd like. I also could've cloned in more lights, but I was lazy.  Overall, I'm very happy with my first attempt at twinkle light photos!   
ISO 500 SS 1/400 f/3.2 
Another shot of the setup, where you can see I had a large reflector on the bed.  Not sure how much it helped to bounce light, but I'm sure it was better than nothing. 
7. Get down to kid level to get the best composition.  I laid on the ground and used my elbows as a 'tripod' for these!  (You can see from the settings that I really had my ISO cranked, shutter speed slow, and aperture wide open to compensate for it being night time and no flash.)
ISO 8000 SS 1/80 f/2.2 
ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/1.8
8.  Try creative poses: kids under the tree, peeking from behind, or standing looking at it while you take the photos from below. ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/2.2
Through the tree is cute, too!  You really need a camera that allows you to choose your focus point.  If I'd used my powershot on this one, it would've most definitely focused on the ornament, or my hand, rather than his eye.   
ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/2.2
Even if you are using a flash, try to take photos that are different and unique to make it interesting.  If you need some inspiration, try this blog: 
Clickin Moms
I joined their forums a few months ago and have learned so much!  The blog is free to peruse and one of their photography instructors has a great post about using a remote or 'interval shooting' (if your camera has that feature) to get yourself in the Christmas photos this year.  Have fun, and please email me if you have any specific questions!  
ISO 6400 SS 1/80 f/1.8
* All white jammie photos were edited using a free Photoshop Elements action called Vanilla Peach by Julia at Night Fate.  I love the soft glowy look it adds to the photos. Check it out here!


  1. These are really amazing photographs . Couple looks so beautiful and cute baby looks very danshing .
    Regards Tim

  2. He's one seriously cute little man... Merry Christmas to you guys!

  3. Those photos are FANTASTIC.

    And Zoe has the exact same football jammies :)

  4. Great tips....glad you are back to blogging. Missed your posts!

  5. These are such great tips. White balance is always what throws me off in indoor photos.

    Totally pinning this!

  6. Love your photos, chica. Happy new year!


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