When my kids look back at our family albums, I want the photos to time-travel them back to the regular days—the ordinary moments. What I mean is that we don’t need the perfect posed photos.
We don’t need everyone to stare at the camera and smile. We don’t need to match our outfits. I want my kids to remember the shirt that “Mom always wore,” and how it smelled just like her. I want them to remember the hallway with backpacks scattered on the floor, and the tired dog under the kitchen table, ready to grab a fallen bite.
Don’t make taking photos that big of a deal.
If you think about looking back at photos of your own childhood, would you rather see everyone posed in a field, matching outfits, smiling to the camera—or would you rather see a photo of yourself, snuggled up in your mother’s lap while she reads your favorite story with your favorite stuffy in your hands?
For me, it’s a clear answer. I want to remember the regular days. Ordinary, everyday, actual life.
Think about what you want to remember. What are your favorite moments with your children? Bedtime, maybe? Making pancakes together? Sitting down to do homework together? (Ugh, that’s not something I need to remember.)
To help you get in the right mindset, a good question to ask yourself is: At this age, what do my kids do? It will change. A year from now, life will look so different. What did your children used to do that you wish you would have captured?
When you get a sense of what meaningful memories you want to capture, let’s make it happen.
So now, of course, the question begs: How can we go about taking a good photo of something ordinary?
The answer is almost always L I G H T .
Take out your phone camera, turn it on selfie mode, and look at yourself. Now face a window, then slowly spin while you look at yourself. Do you see how the light on your face changes? See how the shadows under your eyes get bigger and smaller? This is important! You want to take photos where the shadows are softest. You want the shadows under your eyes to be as small as possible. (But remember: there are NO rules—sometimes harsh shadows look amazing!)
If you’re outdoors, take photos when the light is soft. The magical time is usually sunrise to one hour after sunrise, or one hour before sunset to sunset. But there are other tricks you can use too, like blocking out the harsh sun with something like a treeline, a house, or yourself.
The light makes all the difference.
Look at this photo I took of my husband and our youngest son. The light is ROUGH, and the shadows are so dark and they are squinting because its too bright for their comfort. So instead, I turned around and used my subjects to block the sun. This immediately removed all the harsh shadows and gave us a nice, soft light. Big difference, right?! Then I asked my husband to take photos of me with the kids, and I told him to move around—if you stay in one spot you’ll get only one look. When you move around, you’ll get a wider variety of light, shadows, and angles. (And P.S., we’ll be talking more about angles in Lesson 3 of our Photo School!) These photos are taken one min a part, but look at the difference of the light!
Indoors, the magic usually happens when we turn off the lights. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but trust me. We think we want light, so we turn on the overhead lights, but what happens then is we create an unnatural, yellow light, with all kinds of weird shadows and hues. Turn off the overhead lights, and hang out by a window instead. If I’ve taken photos of your family, you know this. I almost always move my families to the windows.
BUT, all rules are made to be broken — here are some photos done with overhead/side light and it’s really cool, too! These photos work really well when you want to tell a story.
Facing the light is almost always a good idea, especially for indoor photos, like these.
A trick to photograph kids at home is to corner them. I know that sounds silly, but hang with me for a second. It’s easy to get images of the back of your children's heads, but we want their face and expression in them, right? So I try to move their toys or whatever they do, so they have light on their face, and so they at least partly face me. Here are some examples where the photo only works because of the relationship between the subject and the light. .
Now I am going to show you some good examples, vs some bad examples. Can you see the difference? Look at the shadows that work, vs the ones that don't work. See how an image works because the subject is facing the light vs facing away from the light.
Image 1. Too much shadow, we cant see the expression.
Image 2. He lifted his chin and we see the face and the cute expression.
Image 3. Kids are playing in the sand in full sun, but the shadows work!
Image 4. Still a cool photo of a kid surfing, but we cant see the expression because the photographer is not positioned at the best spot.
Image 5. Can't see anything of the subject because the is not facing the light. (and the photographer has the settings working for light, not shadows)
Image 6. This pic is taken at the same time as image nr 5. but here the subject is facing the sun.
Lastly, here are some fun light. Thats all over the place. It's a fun, creative way to play with light. Remember to expose for the highlights.
And here is a really great Instagram reel that puts it all into action!
Hopefully this helps. Stay tuned for Lesson 3 of our Photo School: The angles & poses.
You can find the first lesson here: Take her picture.
I would as always, love to hear what you think. Please send me a note here or leave me a comment below!