Capture their personality when taking portraits better than the pros

How to Shoot Your Kids' Portraits

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

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Why let Sears Portrait Studio rake in the bucks when you can start taking portraits of your kids at home? Plus, you can save more by e-mailing your children's portraits to friends and family or by posting them free to, and other secure sites, instead of printing your own or buying more contact sheets from the studio. You know your children best and can probably do an even better job of capturing their personality when taking portraits than the pros.

Use a digital camera with at least three-megapixel resolution. Make sure it is set at the highest resolution (meaning that fewer photos fit on the memory card) for sharp photos. Remember that the larger you want to print your photos, the higher resolution you need. Use a tripod for stabilization.

Look your camera over in advance and practice sans children in the setting where you plan to take the photos.

Indirect natural lighting flatters and if it's bright enough, you won't need to use a flash. Turning on a lamp usually creates harsh effects, and going with the flash won't work well for a bigger group unless you have a professional set-up. Taking photos with a flash or outdoors when the sun is very bright can result in squinting faces and harsh shadows.

Posing matters, too. They're not criminals in a line-up. Have some in front and some in back or some standing and some seated. An outdoor photo can include your rose bushes or another pretty place in your yard or a park.

For wee ones, build a mountain of firm pillows on the bed or floor and drape a smooth sheet or blanket over it. Or you could drape his car seat before placing him in it. This makes a clean background that supports baby. (Never leave an infant or toddler alone on a bed or in an unfastened car seat for even a moment.)

Older children may hold little ones in their laps or gather around a bassinet where baby is propped up a bit. If your kids are very disproportionate in size from one another, have the bigger ones sit or kneel to equalize their height. You could have a teen lie on his side so a toddler sibling could sit on his hip for a whimsical pose.

Eliminate clutter from the photo site before picture time. Look through the viewfinder or at the screen and examine every inch of the scene as if you were a stranger. It's easy to become accustomed to the flotsam and jetsam of life so that stray toys are overlooked. Beware of backlighting, which can spoil your shot.

Plan for your photo shoot when the children are fed, rested, clean and content. Gather everything you will need in advance, including comfortable clothing and accessories and a comb or brush for sprucing up mid-shoot. For little ones, it helps to give them a small prop to keep their hands still.

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Get down on their eye level and get close. Portraits should be "tight" with limited foreground and background. When photographing babies and toddlers, it's nice to have a mix of whole body shots, waist-up shots and headshots to show the chubby legs, dimpled hands, and more delicate facial features. But for school-aged kids, waist-up and headshots work better because of their size and maturity.

If possible, have someone stand slightly off-center just behind you (which is more flattering for most people than a dead-on angle) making faces, crowing like a chicken, or whatever it takes to crack them up. You or the "kid wrangler" can also simply talk to the kids about happy moments, such as "Remember when we had so much fun raking leaves yesterday?" to elicit a pleasant expression.

But serious expressions can be sweet, too. For more introverted kids, a contemplative look can best capture their personality, just as a giggling grin does for an outgoing child. The important thing is that everyone's eyes are open and their attention is directed towards the same focal point.

Take many, many more shots that you think you'll need to end up with a few photos you like a lot. With a little practice, you'll have terrific portraits for less.

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