"When you’re photographing children, you have to remember the main law: ‘kids rule’." So says Claire Wilson, a professional photographer who specialises in infant and family photography.
“When I’m photographing my daughter I stop when I can see she’s getting tired or bored. I don’t want her to get fed up of me taking pictures of her, so if she’s not in the mood, I don’t force it.”
Wilson is a particularly interesting person to interview on the subject of family photography because she understands it from the dual perspectives of the amateur snapper and the photographic professional.
“I had been an animator for nearly 10 years, and then in 2003 I got my first SLR camera, my Canon 10D,” she explains, adding that she was so intimidated by the camera that she left it in a drawer for nearly a year. “Then I found out I was expecting my daughter and I knew I had to learn quickly so I could take all the millions of photos first-time parents have to take!” Wilson’s passion grew from there – she started a photoblog, posting photos of her daughter Eve, and made friends with other photobloggers who shared their wisdom with her. In 2006 she was nominated for Best Photoblogger award in the Irish Blog Awards, and in 2007 she launched Gingerpixel Photography (www.gingerpixel.com), catering for all photographic occasions, but with a particular focus on families. More recently she has launched www.newborn.ie, which specialises in infant photography.
Here are Wilson’s top tips on taking a good family photograph:
It’s not all about the equipment
“These days you can take a good photo on your iPhone,” says Wilson. “So don’t get too bogged down in having really expensive equipment.” She believes it’s a lot more to do with developing a good technique. “Having said that, if you have the budget, investing in an SLR camera is never a bad thing. These kinds of cameras don’t have any delay between pressing the button and the photo being taken, which can be particularly useful when taking pictures of kids.” A basic entry-level SLR camera will set you back about €500, she says. “Really though it’s about working with whatever camera you’ve got, getting used to it and not just sticking it on automatic.”
Practise, practise, practise
“It all comes down to this,” says Wilson. “When I started out I took thousands and thousands of rubbish photos. They were grainy or blurry or over-exposed but I was determined to master it.” Keep your camera with you at all times, she adds, so you can capture moments as and when they crop up. “As well as this, look at photos that haven’t worked and ask yourself why, and figure out how to make them better in the future.”
Learn from others
“I learned a huge amount from looking at other people’s photography. I’d often get in touch with them to ask them how they had managed to get a certain shot.” So do look for inspiration, especially online, Wilson says.
Take a class
“At the beginning of 2004 I made the resolution that I was going to figure out how to use my new camera so I took a class for beginners and started to learn about what all those buttons do,” explains Wilson. “It was very basic, but it taught me how to use the various settings on my camera. I also did a workshop in the US, which was fantastic. So definitely evening courses can be very helpful when first getting into photography.”
Ah yes – light. Even the most amateur snapper knows light is important for taking a good shot, but what exactly does that mean? “The light you’re looking for will be soft and even on a person’s face. So very sunny or very dark places are equally bad for taking photos,” explains Wilson. “If you are outdoors and it’s very sunny, try to find somewhere shaded to avoid people squinting or harsh shadows falling on their faces.” Indoors, avoid darkened rooms. “I usually find a nice spot by a window or doorway – not quite in the light, but which will have that soft lighting you’re looking for.” In general if you need to use a flash, the space is too dark, she says. “And always remember to have people facing towards the light, rather than with the light behind them. The more you practise, the more you will get a feel for lighting and what will work,” Wilson adds.
Avoid posed photos all the time
Posed photos can, of course, be lovely, but Wilson says it’s also nice to get pictures that capture children when they’re totally unaware of the camera. “Some of the most beautiful images can be of them completely lost in their own world, maybe examining a ladybird or picking a flower. Use your zoom lens to get close-up shots of them. It can also help to get down on their level on the ground.”
Photoshop can be your friend
“I don’t fix things in Photoshop,” explains Wilson, “I enhance them.” For non-professionals, Photoshop Elements is much cheaper than the main Photoshop package and can work just as well. “Lightroom is another package, or if you’re looking for something free, Google’s Picasa is very good. I would have used that a lot when I was starting off.”
Make family photographs fun
“Even if you really want a perfect shot, there’s no point putting too much pressure on kids because it’s always counterproductive,” says Wilson. She advises keeping everything lighthearted. “Have a joke and a laugh, maybe a few tickles. At a certain point, when everyone’s having fun, start taking some photos. And remember not everyone necessarily needs to be looking at the camera. The main thing is that everyone is enjoying themselves.”
Don’t leave your photos on the computer!
“I like to make storybooks of my pictures,” says Wilson. “They look like coffee table books and are actually very reasonable these days. Instead of hanging millions of pictures on your walls, they’re a great way of having your favourite pictures there in front of you to leaf through.” A photobook can also make a lovely present for somebody, she says. “You’ll find loads of online companies offering the storybook option. Just download the software to design the book yourself, and then they will print it and send it back to you. It’s great fun, completely addictive and a gorgeous thing to receive in the post.”
‘Always remember to have people facing towards the light, rather than with the light behind them’