When I first started taking photographs of my children I struggled with creating good images at my home. They would often come out too yellow or not sharp enough. I very soon learned that I need to stop using the AUTO mode on my camera, invest in an affordable portrait lens and learn a little bit more about the light and how to best use it for photographs at my house.
Sounds interesting? If yes, make yourself a cup of tea and have a look at my top suggestions on taking great portrait photographers of your kids indoors.
What camera do I need?
Any camera will work fine but this article will be most helpful to those who have a DSLR or any camera that allows them to shoot out of an auto mode and have interchangeable lenses.
If you have a point and shoot camera, then lenses are built directly into the camera body. These cameras are sometimes called a fixed-lens camera because you can’t swap lenses.
You don’t need an expensive DSLR though – any entry-level DSLR will work great for taking portrait photos of your children. What is important is the lens you are using.
Pick the right lens for your portrait photography.
I recommend using a prime lens because they work very well in places with low light. They are great at isolating subjects and creating “bokeh“ - a beautiful, creamy background blur that I love in my portrait photography. What it really means that the subject is singled out and any distracting elements behind them are cut out. Look at the example below:
I started my adventure with portrait photography after being gifted a “nifty fifty” lens by my husband. As a busy mum and amateur photographer who knew very little about lenses, I let him decide on my first proper lens. And he got it just right!
The nifty fifty is simply a fast 50mm lens. The nifty part comes from a lens having a very wide aperture, such as f/1.4 or f/1.8, and the fifty part refers to the focal length. A fast 50mm lens will capture the scene you want to photograph as close to how you see it as possible. There is a low amount of distortion compared to some other lenses. A 50mm lens is a perfect entry lens and a great all-rounder. It can be easily used for various types of photography e.g. landscape, portraits, street photography.
Here are the top three prime lenses perfect for close-ups of your children:
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF
The 50mm f/1.8D AF from Nikon is an affordable prime lens that is great for slightly winder head and shoulder framing on a full-frame camera. On an APS-C DSLR body, you’ll get a tighter focal length of around 75mm. It offers a wide maximum aperture of f/1.8, making it easy to blur the background.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
Similarly to Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM is one of the most affordable lenses on the market and offers a wide maximum aperture of f/1.8, making it easy to blur background. It is small, lightweight and very sharp.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
This lens offers the widest aperture at super-fast f/1.4 so it is perfect for shooting in low light. It has an Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) for faster and quieter focusing. It comes at a higher price tag so if your budget is limited, the f1.8 versions are great alternatives.
Time to think about your camera settings.
If your children are like mine, they are constantly on the go and won’t still for too long. That is why it is important to set up your camera in a way that you can control the whole session easily.
I suggest photographing children in the AV mode (Aperture Priority). In this mode, you can adjust the depth of field by changing the aperture while your camera will choose the right shutter speed for you.
If you are working in a room with low-light, you may need to set your aperture to the smallest number to achieve a reasonably fast shutter speed and avoid your images being out of focus. A fast lens with a large aperture such as f/1.8 or f/1.4 helps a lot in those situations.
If it gets darker, you will need to increase your ISO a little. You may already now that it is usually best to keep the ISO at the lowest number possible and that the higher ISO results in grainy images. But I always say that a little bit of noise is not a big deal, and you can easily fix it in Lightroom and Photoshop. Remember, it is better to have a sharp image with more noise, than a blurry noise-free image! Plus even though the images will be a little grainy, you might capture an image worth all the effort. I would suggest setting your ISO to no higher than 800 or 1600, but I always play with my settings to work out what works best for me.
Shoot by a big window or in a well-lit room.
When you need to take pictures inside, try shooting near a large window preferably with a net curtain over it to provide soft, directional light. The diffused natural light will minimize harsh shadows and create a more flattering image. Try to avoid times when the sun is shining directly in. I always turn off any indoor lights, which can make my photographs look yellow. White walls or white bedsheets in your master bedroom will help to bounce light into shadows and give your lighting a more even appearance.
For example, this picture was taken in a room with white walls floor. There was a large window on the right side. My little girl sat on a small stool and I gave her a flowery band to play with - she gest bored very easily. I shoot this image in the morning to avoid direct sun coming through the window. The settings were: ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/320.
My top tip for taking photos of uncooperative children.
Even though I have been taking photographs of my children since they were babies, they are still very little and sometimes prefer to do their own thing than pose for mum's photos. If this happens, I always make the session super fun. Sometimes I give them a new toy I saved especially for this occasion and ask them to look up every now and again to capture them looking straight into the camera. Or we play an imaginary game. Or I tell them a make-up silly story which often makes them smile!
Have you found it useful? How you got some questions? Please feel free to get in touch!
Inspired to learn more?
I am now offering a Photography Workshop for Busy Mums packed with useful tips on how to best use your camera, strategies on making the most of your location and lighting and advice on how to work with children. It is a perfect start to developing new skills that will allow you to capture high-quality images that will last a lifetime. I run this weekend beginners photography course near Ampthill & Flitwick in Bedfordshire.
I also offer 1-2-1s photography training and can tailor the content to your needs.