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Child and Family Photography 101: Guide for Parents & Beginners

Photo of a boy sitting on his scooter in the park. Master child and family photography as a beginner.

Five years ago, Nikita’s birth ignited my passion for photography.

With just an iPhone for quick snaps under my belt, I decided it was time to take my photography to the next level by investing in a Sony A7III.

To some, diving into professional photography as a new parent might seem daunting. But, I can assure you, with the right direction, it’s not only manageable but also deeply rewarding.

In this comprehensive guide to child and family photography, I’ll share everything you need to delve into the world of photography. I’ll assist you in selecting the right photo gear, teach you the fundamentals of photography, and provide additional resources to further enhance your skills.

#1. Choosing the Right Camera for Child and Family Photography

When it comes to child and family photography, gear matters. But you don’t have to splurge on the newest model to get quality shots. Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a camera:

  • Mirrorless Over DSLR: Consider a mirrorless camera with an interchangeable lens. They’re typically lighter and more compact than DSLRs. Plus, the ability to preview your shot on the screen or viewfinder before taking it is invaluable.
  • Size and Ergonomics Matter: You don’t want a camera that feels like a brick. Its size and weight should be manageable, especially if you’re on the move. How it fits in your hand, its build and its portability can determine if it becomes an everyday tool or stays on the shelf.
  • Avoid the Newest Hype: Camera tech doesn’t leap dramatically from year to year. My five-year-old camera still works wonders. By opting for an older model or a second-hand camera, you can get more bang for your buck.
  • Prioritize Auto-Focus Speed: Children rarely sit still. A camera with swift and reliable autofocus ensures you won’t miss those fleeting moments.

For more detailed tips and insights on picking the right digital camera, you can dive into my dedicated article on camera selection for new parents.

My Top 3 Camera Recommendations for Child and Family Photography

Sony Alpha A6600

Amazon rating: 4.7 out of 5, based on 534 individual reviews

Canon EOS M50 Mark II

Amazon rating: 4.7 out of 5, based on 1725 individual reviews

Fujifilm XT30 II

Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5, based on 104 individual reviews

Sideniote:

I personally use two different cameras for capturing my family photos:

  1. Fujifilm X100V is a compact mirrorless camera equipped with an APS-C sensor and a fixed 23mm lens. While it’s currently receiving a lot of attention and can be hard to procure regardless of budget, its lens is non-interchangeable. Despite this limitation, it remains my go-to camera for capturing everyday moments.
  2. Sony 7C is my second mirrorless camera that I use for professional work and video recording. It’s a fantastic camera with a full-frame sensor. However, it’s not as compact as the cameras I previously mentioned and is also more expensive.
My Fujifilm X100V and Sony 7C mirrorless cameras.
My Fujifilm X100V and Sony 7C mirrorless cameras.

#2. Lens Selection for Child and Family Photography

Once you’ve chosen your camera, the next step is selecting the right lens. The lens you choose can dramatically affect your photos.

Before you even look at lenses, identify if your camera has an APS-C or Full Frame sensor.

Typically, entry-level models like those listed above use APS-C sensors, while more professional and expensive cameras use full-frame sensors. 

A quick Google search or glance at the product description on Amazon or B&H will provide this info.

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First Lens Recommendation for Child and Family Photography

  • For APS-C sensors: Aim for a lens with approximately 16-70mm focal length.
  • For full-frame sensors: Look for a lens with approximately 24-70mm focal length.

These short telephoto lenses are versatile, capturing everything from close-up shots to wider family group photos. However, they can be a bit on the heavier and bulkier side.

If you’re after something more lightweight and affordable, consider a prime lens. Prime lenses refer to lenses with a fixed focal length (e.g. 50mm lens), as opposed to zoom lenses, which offer a range of focal lengths that you can adjust.

Compact and lightweight Fujifilm mirorless camera with retro looks
  • For APS-C cameras: A 35mm focal length is ideal, translating roughly to 50mm on a full-frame.
  • For full-frame cameras: A 50mm lens is a classic choice, closely mimicking the human eye’s perspective, ensuring naturally framed shots.

Equipped with the right photo gear, you’ll be well on your way to capturing family memories that will last a lifetime. Remember, gear is just a tool—it’s your vision, patience, and love for the subjects that will make your photographs truly shine.

#3. Essential Camera Settings for Child and Family Photography: ISO, Aperture & Shutter Speed

Fujifilm digital camera

Capturing those candid and precious moments of your little one requires more than just a good eye. Familiarize yourself with these fundamental camera settings, and let’s start with the first one:

ISO: Adjusting Your Camera’s Sensitivity Like Dimming Lights

Imagine you’re in a room with adjustable lights. When it’s bright outside, you might keep the lights dim or even turned off because you have plenty of natural light. 

But as evening approaches and it gets darker, you gradually increase the brightness of the lights to see clearly. 

ISO works in a similar way; it controls your camera’s sensitivity to available light.

Low ISO (e.g., ISO 100 or 200):

This is like having the room lights dim because there’s plenty of sunlight coming through the windows. With lots of natural light, your camera doesn’t need to be super sensitive, so a lower ISO setting will yield clear, noise-free images.

Portrait photo of my wife and my son
Shot with Sony 7C & Sony 24-70 2.8 G Master II lens. Settings: ISO 250, f/2.8, 1/160sec.

High ISO (e.g., ISO 1600, 3200, or higher):

This is like turning up the lights in the evening. When the environment is darker, you need to boost your camera’s sensitivity to light by using a higher ISO.

However, just like lights can sometimes be too bright and glaring, higher ISO settings might introduce graininess or “noise” into your photos.

Portrait photo of a boy laying on a couch at home.
Shot with Sony 7C & Sony 24-70 2.8 G Master II lens. Settings: ISO 1600, f/2.8, 1/125sec.

Why ISO Setting Matters for Child and Family Photography:

Whether it’s a sunny day in the park or a dimly lit birthday party, knowing how to adjust your ISO helps you ensure that those priceless moments with your child are always well-lit and clear.

Pro Tip:

Always start with a lower ISO and increase it only when necessary. Higher ISO values can help in low-light situations, but it’s always best to keep it as low as possible for crisp images.

Aperture: Controlling the Eye of Your Camera

Imagine the human eye. On a sunny day, our pupils get smaller, letting in less light because it’s already so bright. On a darker night, they expand, capturing as much available light as possible, allowing us to see in dim conditions. 

In photography, the aperture functions like the pupil of an eye, adjusting to control the amount of light entering the lens.

Wide Aperture (e.g., f/1.8):

A wide aperture means the lens opening is large, allowing a lot of light in. This results in a shallow depth of field, blurring the background (creating bokeh effect) and making your subject stand out. It’s an ideal setting for those close-up shots of your child, where you want to focus solely on their features and expressions.

Portrait photo of a child in the park
Shot with Sony 7C & Sony 24-70 2.8 G Master II lens. Settings: ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1600sec.

Narrow Aperture (e.g., f/16):

On the other hand, a narrow aperture indicates a small lens opening, limiting the light that enters. This provides a deep depth of field, keeping both the foreground and background sharp. It’s great for group family photos or when capturing landscapes during family trips.

Wedding group photo

Why Aperture Matters for Child and Family Photography:

Aperture doesn’t just control light; it allows you to creatively play with focus. By adjusting it, you can decide whether to highlight your child against a blurred backdrop or have everyone in the frame sharp and clear. 

It’s about creating mood, depth, and drawing attention to what matters most in your photo.

Pro Tip:

When starting out, try using Aperture Priority mode (often denoted as ‘A’ or ‘Av’ on your camera dial). This allows you to set the aperture while the camera automatically adjusts other settings for optimal exposure. It’s an excellent way to familiarize yourself with the effects of different aperture settings without getting overwhelmed.

Shutter Speed: Freezing Moments or Capturing Motion

Imagine flipping through the pages of a book. If you flip through the pages rapidly, you’ll only get a quick glimpse of each page, similar to a fast shutter speed that freezes a fleeting moment in time. 

On the other hand, if you slowly turn each page, you have the opportunity to absorb more content from each page. 

Shutter speed works in a similar way; it determines the length of time the camera’s sensor is exposed to light, either capturing a split-second moment or letting in light for longer to convey motion.

Fast Shutter Speed (e.g., 1/1000s, 1/500s):

  • Freezes fast-moving objects in the scene.
  • Useful for capturing sharp images of children running or playing sports.
boy playing with toy plane
Shot with Sony 7C & Sony 24-70 2.8 G Master II lens. Settings: ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/400sec.

Slow Shutter Speed (e.g., 1/30s, 1s, or longer):

  • Shows motion blur, emphasizing the movement and flow in the image.
  • Great for capturing the dynamism of a child’s dance or the gentle movement of a child playing with a toy.
a girl riding a scooter. Photo with a motion blur effect.

Why Shutter Speed Matters for Child and Family Photography:

Adjusting shutter speed allows you to decide between freezing a memorable instant in perfect clarity or artistically conveying the motion of a moment. Whether it’s the stillness of a sleeping baby or the animated excitement of a toddler’s first steps, shutter speed plays a pivotal role in child and family photography.

Pro Tip:

Generally, your shutter speed should be at least twice the lens focal length.

For instance, with a 50mm lens, you should use a shutter speed of 1/100th sec or faster. Similarly, with a 75mm lens, aim for a minimum shutter speed of 1/150th sec.

Also, if you intend to use a slow shutter speed, especially anything slower than 1/60s, it’s recommended to use a tripod. This helps stabilize the camera and prevents image blur due to unintentional camera movements. A tripod is particularly essential for nighttime photography or capturing light trails, where slow shutter speeds are often used to get the desired effects.

Balancing ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed: The Photography Triangle

Understanding ISO, aperture, and shutter speed individually is the first step, but photography truly comes alive when you learn how these three settings work together. 

They form what’s often called the “Exposure Triangle,” each corner affecting the overall exposure of an image. 

It’s a delicate balance, with each setting compensating for changes in the others. Think of it like a dance where every step and move is interconnected.

exposure triangle diagram

Practical Tips for Choosing the Right Camera Settings:

  • Crafting Your Shot: Before diving into adjustments, visualize the image you want. For instance, if your goal is a portrait of your child with a blurred background (shallow depth of field), you’ll prioritize the aperture. Opt for a low f-stop number, like f/2.0, or even lower if your lens allows. This decision sets the tone for the other two settings (shutter speed and ISO).
  • Considering Light: Once the aperture is set, evaluate your light. On a sunny day or in a well-lit room, you can set your ISO to a lower value (e.g., ISO 100 or 200). This ensures minimal noise and optimal image quality.
  • Final Touch with Shutter Speed: With the aperture and ISO the shutter speed becomes your tool for achieving the right exposure. Simply increase or decrease the shutter speed until the image on your camera display or in the viewfinder looks right (not overexposed or underexposed).

Pro Tip:

  1. Semi-Automatic Modes: For those just beginning, the semi-automatic modes, such as Aperture Priority (often denoted as ‘A’ or ‘Av’) and Shutter Priority (‘S’ or ‘Tv’), are invaluable. In Aperture Priority, you set the aperture, and the camera decides the shutter speed. In Shutter Priority, it’s the opposite. These modes let you focus on one aspect while getting a feel for how it impacts the other. Plus, observe the settings the camera selects; it’s a learning opportunity! Learn more about semi-automatic modes in this article.
  2. Momentary Analysis: Before adjusting settings, pause. What’s the mood? Do you want to freeze a moment or embrace movement? Such questions can guide your settings.

As you practice, remember, that photography is as much about art as it is technique. While these guidelines help, don’t be afraid to experiment, make mistakes, and discover your unique style.

#4. Essential Composition Tips for Child & Family Photography

Composition is the artful arrangement of elements within a photograph. Just like how a chef arranges food on a plate or how a painter decides where to place different elements on a canvas, photographers use composition to guide the viewer’s eye and tell a story. 

When it comes to child and family photography, mastering a few essential composition techniques can elevate your photos from ordinary snapshots to memorable moments. 

Here are some key composition techniques to get you started:

1. Rule of Thirds

Instead of placing your subject right in the center of your frame, consider dividing your frame into nine equal segments, like a tic-tac-toe board. 

The rule of thirds suggests placing the subject along these lines or at their intersections. This technique can add balance and intrigue to your photos, drawing the viewer’s eye naturally to the main subject.

rule of thirds composition
Rule of Thirds: Notice how the subject is placed along the right vertical line.

2. Get Down to the Child’s Level

Shooting from a child’s eye level creates a more intimate and engaging perspective. It immerses the viewer into the child’s world. Instead of looking down at them, you’re capturing moments from their viewpoint. This is especially impactful when capturing their expressions or showcasing their interactions with the world around them.

portrait photo of a baby playing with a toy
Sony A7III & Sony FE 85mm F1.8. Settings: ISO 64, f/2.0, 1/640sec.

3. The Weight of Color

Bright and colorful objects tend to capture our attention immediately. When composing your shot, be aware of how colors interact within the frame

A bright red dress or a vibrant blue toy can act as a focal point, drawing the viewer’s attention. Use this to your advantage, but also be cautious; overly colorful backgrounds or objects can sometimes distract from the main subject.

nikita playing with red ball toy
Sony A7III & Tamron 28-75mm. Settings: ISO 80, f/7.1, 1/500sec.

4. Natural Framing

Using elements within your environment, like archways, trees, or windows, can naturally frame your subjects. This not only adds depth to your images but also focuses the viewer’s attention right where you want it – on your loved ones.

Whether it’s a family photo under a large tree or a child’s portrait framed by a window, natural framing enhances the overall aesthetic of your photograph.

Natural framing composition technique in a photo. Portrait photo of a child.
Shot with Fujifilm X100V. Settings: ISO 250, f/4.0, 1/640sec.

5. Embrace Negative Space

Negative space refers to the empty or open space around the main subject. Instead of filling the frame with objects and details, sometimes less is more. 

The use of negative space can emphasize the subject, create a sense of scale, and add a minimalist, clean look to your photographs.

a boy standing near the sea on the beach in Jurmala. Negative space photography example with a kid.
Shot with Sony A7III & Tamron 28-75mm. Settings: ISO 80, f/7.1, 1/500sec.

For those eager to delve deeper into the art of composition, I’ve written four comprehensive articles that can serve as additional resources:

By implementing these composition techniques and continually practicing them, you’ll find that your child and family photographs will take on a more professional and refined appearance, capturing memories in the most beautiful light.

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#5. Understanding Lighting in Child & Family Photos

Light plays a magical role in photography, particularly when capturing heartfelt moments between families and children. Natural light, with its subtle nuances and gentle warmth, can breathe life into your photos. 

Here’s how you can harness the power of natural light to create stunning child and family photographs:

1. The Magic of the Golden Hour

The time shortly after sunrise and just before sunset, known as the golden hour, bathes the world in a soft, warm hue. 

This magical light casts gentle shadows, gives depth to images, and provides a flattering glow. If you’re aiming for heartfelt, dreamy photos, the golden hour is your best friend.

Two portraits of a boy taken at different ages during the golden hour time
Examples of portraits taken during the golden hour, featuring soft and very pleasing light.

2. Indoor Lighting: Utilizing Windows

Even when shooting indoors, natural light remains your strongest ally. Position your subjects near windows to make the most of the available daylight. Window light provides a soft illumination, smoothing out facial features and avoiding harsh contrasts.

Two portrait photos of a kid near the window. Indoor portrait photography of a child

3. Avoiding Harsh Indoor Shadows

Directional overhead lights, commonly found in homes, can create unflattering shadows, especially under the eyes. These shadows might make your loved ones appear tired or even give them an eerie look. 

Whenever possible, turn off overhead lights and rely on window light or other ambient light sources. If you must use overhead lighting, try to balance it out with light from other sources.

4. Soft vs. Hard Light Outdoors

On bright sunny days, direct sunlight can create stark shadows, particularly during midday. If you find yourself outdoors in such conditions, look for shaded areas like under trees or canopies. This provides a more diffused light, creating a balanced and flattering look.

Portrait photo of a boy sitting on a bench under tree
Shot with Sony A7III & Tamron 28-75mm. Settings: ISO 80, f/3.5, 1/125sec.

5. Making the Most of Overcast Days

While cloudy days might seem gloomy, they offer the advantage of even, diffused light. This cloud cover acts like a massive natural softbox, distributing light evenly and ensuring your subjects are well-lit without harsh shadows.

Remember, photography is as much an art as it is a science. While these guidelines offer a foundation, trust your instincts and play around. Different lighting conditions can evoke different moods and emotions. And if you’re keen to further improve your photography skills, I’d recommend diving into:

#6. Practical Exercises to Elevate Your Child & Family Photography

To master any art form, consistent practice and experimentation are key. While reading photography tips and understanding photography techniques are essential, putting those theories into action will solidify your learning. 

Here are some practical exercises tailored for aspiring child and family photographers:

1. Play with Lighting:

  • Objective: Understand the nuances of natural light and how it can transform an image.
  • Exercise: Choose a well-lit room in your house and take photos of a child or family member at different times of the day. Observe how morning, afternoon, and evening light affect the mood and quality of the photos.

2. Focus on Expressions:

  • Objective: Capture raw emotions and candid moments.
  • Exercise: Engage your subjects in a fun activity, like playing a board game or baking together. As they get engrossed, silently capture their reactions, laughter, concentration, and interactions.
Capturing raw emotions of a child
Shot with Fujifilm X100V. Settings: ISO 200, f/2.0, 1/800sec.

3. Experiment with Composition:

  • Objective: Enhance your understanding of different composition techniques.
  • Exercise: In one photography session, focus only on the “Rule of Thirds.” In another, concentrate on using negative space or natural framing. This way, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for each composition technique.

4. Change Your Perspective:

  • Objective: Learn the importance of angles in storytelling.
  • Exercise: Instead of taking photos from your usual standing position, try shooting from a child’s eye level. Alternatively, lie down and shoot upwards, or find a vantage point and shoot downwards. Notice how the narrative of the photo changes with each angle.
Portrait photo of a child taken from below perspective.
Shot with Fujifilm X100V. Settings: ISO 1000, f/2.0, 1/160sec.

5. Mastering Movement:

  • Objective: Understand how to capture subjects in motion and play with shutter speed.
  • Exercise: Encourage children to play, jump, dance, or run. Try freezing their motion in one photo and creating a deliberate blur in another. This will help you understand how shutter speed can be used creatively.

6. Color Challenge:

  • Objective: Understand the role of color in composition and mood setting.
  • Exercise: Choose a dominant color (e.g., red) and create a photo series around it. It could be a child in a red dress, red toys, or a picnic with red fruits. Observe how that color influences the photo’s mood and storytelling.

7. Continuous Story Series:

  • Objective: Enhance storytelling through a series of images.
  • Exercise: Document a day in the life of a child or a family. From morning routines to bedtime stories, capture moments that string together to tell a day’s story.

Pro Tip:

After each exercise, review your photos critically. Note what worked and what didn’t. If possible, get feedback from friends or family. Continuous reflection and learning from mistakes will significantly improve your photography skills.

Additionally, a great way to receive honest feedback on your photography is by submitting your photos to the Reddit community. I highly recommend the following subreddit: /r/photocritique. It’s an active community of photographers from around the world. By posting your photos in this subreddit, you’ll receive valuable feedback that can help enhance your photography skills.

Screenshot showing Photo Critique Subreddit
I often share my photos on Reddit to receive constructive feedback from the community.

#7. Efficient Child and Family Photo Organization: Keeping Memories Safe and Accessible

Once you’ve taken those heartwarming family photos, the next critical step is ensuring they are well-organized and safeguarded for years to come. Here’s a guide to best practices in photo organization and storage:

1. Adopt a Consistent Naming Convention

Whenever I import my photos into software like Adobe Lightroom, I’ve found that the best approach for me is to name and organize folders in a way that makes them easy to locate later on. I always begin with the year and then a descriptive name that tells me exactly what’s inside. It looks something like this:

Diagram showing how I organize my photos inside of Adobe Lightroom

2. Back Up Your Family Photos Regularly

The worst nightmare of any photographer is losing their photos due to unforeseen circumstances like a hard drive crash. Ensure you have multiple backup systems in place:

  • External Hard Drives: Regularly transfer your photos to an external drive.
  • Cloud Storage: Utilize cloud storage solutions like Google Drive, Dropbox, or specialized photo storage platforms to keep an offsite backup.
  • NAS Systems: For those with vast photo libraries, Network-Attached Storage (NAS) systems provide an excellent solution for local and remote backups.

I personally use three different Hard Drives to store my photo library:

  1. LaCie Rugged Mini (4TB) Portable External Hard Drive
  2. LaCie MOBILE DRIVE 4TB Portable External Hard Drive
  3. LaCie Porsche Design 2TB USB-C Mobile Hard Drive
My three hard drives for storing and organizing family photos
My three hard drives that I use for storing my my Adobe Lightroom library dating back to 2014.

3. Metadata and Tags

Most modern cameras embed metadata into photos, which include details like aperture, shutter speed, and date taken. 

Use this metadata to your advantage by ensuring you always set the correct date and time on your camera. Additionally, software allows you to add tags, making search even more straightforward.

4. Ensure Long-Term Preservation

Beyond just backing up, think about the longevity of your photos. Consider printing and storing them in quality photo albums/books or uploading them to online photo services, such as Google Photos and Dropbox.

With the above practices in place, you can be assured that your cherished memories are organized systematically and protected against most eventualities. 

Remember, those photos are irreplaceable moments frozen in time – they deserve the utmost care and attention.

Photo of a photo book with photos from the trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy.
Photo book that I created with photos from our trip to the Amalfi Coast in Italy (2022).

Child and Family Photography: Final Words

Child and family photography is more than just pressing a button on your camera; it’s about capturing the essence, emotion, and precious moments of your loved ones. By understanding essential camera settings, mastering composition techniques, making the most of natural lighting, and diligently organizing your photos, you’ll be well-equipped to capture memories that will last a lifetime.

As parents or budding photographers, we always strive to immortalize moments that tug at our heartstrings. Remember, it’s not always about perfection but about the memories, feelings, and stories that photos evoke. Armed with the knowledge from this article and a bit of practice, you’ll be creating breathtaking photographs that your family will cherish for generations.

Lastly, don’t forget that continuous learning and practice are key. Take the time to explore and play with your camera, and always be on the lookout for those candid, fleeting moments. Your family’s story is unique and ever-evolving; make sure you’re always ready to tell it through your lens.

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Aleksandrs Karevs

Aleksandrs Karevs

Hi, my name is Aleksandrs and I am a full-stack digital marketer passionate about digital photography. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V. Read full story here.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

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