The summer is finally in full swing, and if you’re a parent like me, you’re probably spending a lot more time with your kids now that school is out. When I was growing up, summer was the absolute highlight of the year, a time of freedom and adventure and long, carefree days.

As parents, it is our responsibility to document these days for our children so that when they’re older they can look back and reflect on where they came from and the experiences that helped to shape them into the adults they will become. I really believe that taking the time to photograph our kids is another way to show them how much they mean to us. Mounting photographs of our kids on our walls says “you are somebody.” It helps to foster a sense of self worth, and reinforces the importance of family.

Print Your Photos
So make sure you take lots of photos of your kids this summer, and perhaps more importantly, take the time to look through them and pick out some favourites and GET THEM PRINTED! Don’t just back them up. Photography is meant to be enjoyed, not just stored on a hard disk that will one day fail or be accidentally thrown away.

The importance of the printed image was once again brought home to me last weekend when I met some friends whose house was burgled the night before. Along with their laptops the thieves took the external hard drive they used to back up all their photos. So in one stroke of misfortune they lost 10 years of memories, and those can never be replaced.

Don’t Strees About Your Equipment
Anyway, I’ve digressed from the original theme of today’s article – taking great photos of your kids this summer. I want to give you some basic tips that don’t rely on any expensive equipment or advanced photography techniques. It really doesn’t matter what you use to create your images, especially with the state of technology today. I printed an 8 inch by 8 inch photo for my mother-in-law recently, taken with a smartphone, and while the quality is not DSLR standard, it depicts a wonderful moment between her son and granddaughter. Regardless of how it was made, it’s an image full of joy that will be treasured for years to come. So don’t worry about the equipment, worry about how you’re going to use what you’ve got.

Disable That Flash
The first piece of advice I want to give is for those using DSLR cameras: if you’re shooting in automatic mode please, please, please disable the flash. DSLRs will often throw up that little onboard flash to fill the shadows on your subject’s face. This creates a really boring, flat lighting that robs an image of so much feeling. If you find that the faces in your images are too dark after you follow this piece of advice, then your options are twofold: 1) learn how to shoot in manual mode, which is really not that hard (read more here), or 2) improve your lighting.

Find Some Shade
Summer can be a challenging time to photograph because of the intensity of the sun’s light. In fact when the sun is high in the sky I would advise you to avoid open sunlight altogether. Even scenes with mixed sunlight and shade are very difficult to photograph properly. So try and find a open shaded area, like the north-facing side of your house for example. Otherwise you might like to wait until evening when the sun has started to wane a bit. Sunset is actually the best time to photograph, but if your kids are young you might need to have them in bed before sunset on these long summer nights!

Get Down!

All too often I see parents photographing their kids from a standing position, pointing the camera down. Photographs taken from a child’s perspective are much more effective so get yourself down to their level and shoot from there.

The Best Photos Are Unposed
For me the most powerful images are candids, photographs that are taken when the participants are barely or not at all aware of the camera. Don’t try too hard to get your kids to pose for the camera; it’s boring for them and frustrating for us as parents when they don’t cooperate. I find the best way to get candid photos of children is to set up an activity that they can get totally immersed in. Every kid has something they love to do, so indulge them and great moments will start to happen.

Notice Your Background
One of the big lessons I learned when I began to study photography was the importance of the background. When you’re making a portrait you want to simplify the background as much as possible, so as to allow the subject of your photo to be the total focus of the image. So look for backgrounds that are free of clutter, or else position yourself so that you can eliminate unwanted elements. For example, you might want to get down really low so that the big blue sky becomes the background.

Choose Simple Clothes
Another early lesson for me was the importance of good wardrobe choices. Like the choice of background, clothes should be as plain as possible. Your child’s happy face should be the most eye-catching part of the photograph, not their clothes. So avoid anything distracting to the viewer like patterns, stripes, graphics and logos. And veer towards muted colors rather than very bright colors. Even white can be a bit too eye-catching. Ideally the clothing should be a darker tone than the skin tone of your subject.

Some Advanced Techniques
If you are a more advanced camera user, someone who is comfortable shooting in manual mode, there are a few techniques that you might want to consider.

  • Try bumping up the color temperature of your images to give them that warm, summery feeling. I regularly set my white balance mode to the ‘shade’ setting (check your manual if you’re not sure what this is). You can also set a custom color temperature, like 8000k for example which will make a pretty noticeable difference.
  • Set your aperture to the widest setting (lowest number) possible. This will help to blur your backgrounds and cause your subject to ‘pop’ more.
  • If your background is brighter than your subject it’s likely that your subject will be a little under-exposed, a little too dark. You can use exposure compensation to force the camera to over-expose in this situation (read more about that here).

Practice, practice, practice
More than a skill or a talent, I believe photography is something you can get better and better at through practice. So make it a hobby this summer and get those photos that you and your family will enjoy for years and years to come!

If you are thinking about upgrading your camera this summer, I highly recommend considering a mirrorless camera, like the excellent Fujifilm X-A1.

Justin Morrison
I am a professional photographer, working in motion and stills. I create portrait, lifestyle and documentary work, and I strive to tell real and authentic stories. Based in Vancouver, British Columbia.