Hold the Cheese: How to Photograph Your Kids as You Actually See Them

by ParentCo. September 07, 2017

kid with rabit ear headband

Feature image: Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved.

I have a wild child. She's a free spirit, a free thinker, often pants-free, and she never sits still for more than 30 seconds at a time, max. She has long golden curls that hang to just above her bottom but you wouldn't know it if you saw her in action because they are always flowing out horizontal behind her as she runs here, ducks there, or scoots away from me when I try to scoop her up and back into her bedtime routine. I could say part of the reason we don't have as many pictures of her hanging on the walls as we do of her older brother and sister is because she's the third baby, doomed from the start to a lifetime of missed opportunities for the careful chronicling of firsts, lasts, and major milestones. But that's only half of the truth. The other half is this: When she sits quietly for a second or two with her hands in her lap and smiles a gap-toothed, head-cocked smile at me, the result might be a gorgeous photograph, but it's not her. It's not who she is at heart, deep in that space where she's always a little bit on fire and molten and always, always moving. We cleaned out the attic the other day, me and her, and she helped me sort through a box of the kinds of things attics are made for: old pictures and odd mementos, baby clothes I can’t part with, and the rare cast off jeans that might once again fit someday. Stuck to the bottom of the box was a picture of a girl, caught mid-stride in a run, her curls straight out horizontal behind her and her head thrown back, laughing. "Is that me?" She asked, holding it up to the light. It was starting to curl up at the edges and yellowed in a spot at the corner with age. "It's me," I said, and watched her face as she tried to make sense of that. "I knew it," she said, setting the picture down carefully in my hand and bolting suddenly out of the room at full speed for an undetermined destination. "Just who exactly do you think I got it from?" she called back over her shoulder. So how do you capture that? The essence of these small but mighty spirits roaring into the world?


We asked Tim Topple, whose portrait of his daughter has been shortlisted in Sony’s World Photography Awards for insight.


__ As parents, we want to remember everything. The dimples on the backs of their hands, the T-shirt they wore every other day until they couldn't squeeze into it anymore. But how can you photograph the aspects of their personality that aren't physical? I often focus on the imprints children leave on the things around them and their environment, rather than the children themselves. These things can reveal so much about their personalities; the particular way they left toy animals lined up, the items they deemed worthy of stuffing into one of my pockets before I left for work, other people's reactions to their behaviors, and so on. It’s also good to use your parental instinct – if, say, you took several shots of your child playing or dancing, there may be one that looks perfect, but another that talks to you. It could be something intangible, an expression that to you is just so them, something that radiates their essence. This is the picture I’d choose over the perhaps more visually perfect one. It’s these little pieces of magic that make family photographs special.
 Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved

Parent Co. partnered with Kickee Pants because we know the most precious memories are fleeting.

__ How do you best capture a moment without ruining it? Because of the nature of my work I’ve always used small, inconspicuous cameras. It also helps to get to know your camera extremely well so you can use it without too much fuss. Nothing stops people acting naturally more than when you leave the moment to fiddle with settings, point a big camera in their face, or stare at the screen to review the photos. Learn to take pictures without drawing attention. Also, kids soon get used to being photographed if it's not a big, distracting event!
 Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved
__ What are 3 simple tips for non-photographers to help them take better photographs? 1 | Stick with one camera and one (non zoom) lens – this way you get to truly know your camera and using it becomes second nature. And sticking with one focal length/lens helps you learn how to predict how a picture will look without using the viewfinder or the screen – great for candid shots. 2 | Applying filters or heavy processing won’t make a bad photograph into good one. If the picture has nothing interesting about it to begin with, no amount of processing or filters will change that. Keep it simple. And, I know it’s often repeated, but what I consider the most important tip is: 3 | Spend money on photography books instead of equipment. The best way to improve is to look at others’ work, think about what you like about it and why it grabs your attention or makes you think. Spending on new cameras because you think it will somehow make you a better photographer is perhaps the biggest mistake. Image quality, sharpness, megapixels – none of these have any bearing on what makes a great photograph!
 Tim Topple Photography. All rights reserved
__ Given that we're living in the age of the iPhone and most people are never farther than arm’s length from a camera, how do you suggest we resist the urge to photograph EVERYTHING? To spend all your time taking pics leaves no room for considered reflection. Think about what you want to photograph – what gaps in the story of your family need filling – and work towards capturing those moments. By all means, be prepared and ready to photograph at all times, but do so with a purpose. If you do find yourself with hundreds or thousands of pictures at the end of a month, then I recommend spending time editing, deleting, cutting down to a manageable number. And then repeat! No one will bother looking back through folders on a computer with thousands of images in them, but to edit down to a few dozen or less a month and spend a few pennies on getting prints will pay huge rewards in the future. And although it may seem some people DO photograph everything, it’s mostly the pretty, positive, and Instagram-friendly aspects of life. In this age of social media, it’s become a sad norm to curate our own lives and put a dishonest spin on how we live, but to look back on a lifetime of fake or overwhelmingly positive images would be a hollow experience, in my view. Don’t shy away from capturing the less happy aspects of family life!
photography tips from Parent Co.

Pick a focus. Get specific with tight shots or depth of field.

Consider composition and be deliberate about when you click the shutter.

Try a different perspective.

Chase the good light and something interesting will often happen.

Childhood is in the mundane and the candid moments too.

Parent Co. partnered with Kickee Pants because we know the most precious memories are fleeting.



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