Photos with Soul: Capturing the Magic of Your Child


We all want photos that capture our child's spirit. Photos that make us feel and provide physical memories of their little selves even as they are growing into their bigger selves. We also know that asking them to smile and say cheese doesn't get us very close to that authenticity. As a professional photographer my mission on every shoot is to tell a family's story and catching those authentic moments is the only way to do that. Here are my favorite strategies for saying goodbye to the cheese and hello to the magic.  

It’s All in the Details

We all love a photo of our child smiling their biggest, toothiest smile. My challenge to you is to explore other angles and focus on the details. Little fingers figuring out how to hold a crayon or practicing writing her name. Bitty toes tucked in while curled up with his favorite book. There are strong memories attached to these details and spending a few moments photographing them as they are today is a gift you’ll be so grateful for down the road. Bonus: it doesn’t require your child to do anything other than whatever they are already doing.

Inspiration: Capture them creating art, with the focus on their hands and art instead of their face. For the under two crowd, get those wrist creases! They go away, catch them now as she clutches her favorite lovey.  


The Little Moments ARE the Big Moments

Most of us are really good at photographing big moments: birthdays, vacations, holidays with grandparents. We often forget to capture those parts of child’s life that happen every day: the art projects taking up our kitchen table, our two year old ‘playing’ with the dog, the six year old helping us bake cookies or our tween’s laser focus on Minecraft. I encourage you to catch those moments too – they make up so much of our lives and years from now will remind us of what our child was interested in and show us how much they’ve grown.

Inspiration: Snuggly reading time on the couch, soccer on the front lawn, learning to brush teeth or pour her own bowl of cereal. 

Play, Play, Play

If you’re reading this, I know that you’re right there with me in your desire to capture your child in real moments of joy, not the canned cheesiness that inevitably comes when we ask them (or anyone) to smile. I believe the best way to get those photos is simple: create the emotion first, then capture it. While it can sound like more work than just instructing your kid to say cheese, I promise you it is actually easier.

Here’s how it works: get your camera ready, ask your kiddo(s) if they want to play a game with you and set some ground rules. Depending on what I’m going for, I might tell them that the game only works if they are looking at the camera or if I’m asking them to race I’ll set the start/finish line, etc. Launch your game with great enthusiasm and start snapping away. Shoot through the moment, sometimes the best laughs or sweetest looks come after you think you have the shot.

Inspiration: Ready to play? For more than one child, it works well to set up a competition. See who can jump the highest, laugh the loudest, count to ten the fastest. For one child, engage them in a game of opposites – you say up, they say down, you say quiet, they say LOUD, etc. See how far they can blow dandelion seeds or where they will lead you in a bug hunt.


Choose Your Own Adventure

My daughter LOVES a good adventure. A monster-hunting hike or a sunset trip to our favorite beach almost guarantees shots that I will love. She’s excited and willing to be photographed (or doesn’t really notice because she’s so engaged in playing) and I find new inspiration in the gorgeous spaces around us. These photo shoot adventures are also much more than that. I find they help me set aside time to really engage with my daughter and be present. I’ll have my camera out for 15 minute chunks, then stash it away and enjoy the time and pick it up again when the scene or the play changes.

Inspiration: Go on a color-finding scavenger hunt. Take advantage of whatever crazy weather is happening and get out in it. Snow is the loveliest white back drop and nothing beats puddle stomping (plus rainboots and umbrellas are pretty cute).


Work With the Light You Have

There is great light to be had right in your house, I promise. First, consider the orientation of your home and identify those windows that face north and south. These tend to be a photographer’s go to for reliable, easy lighting because you’ll never have direct sunlight shining through the window. Sliding glass doors and floor to ceiling windows work well because you can get your subject close to the light source. You can also try setting an older child (safely!) up on a counter or chair. Once you’ve located one or more of these ‘easy’ lighting options, set up a place for your child to play, facing the window and 1 to 3 feet away from it. Place yourself between your child and the window to take the photos. This will give you even light across their face and, hopefully, prevent underexposure if you're using an automatic setting on your camera.

Inspiration: Find those great windows and set up a dress-up station next to them for the afternoon. Photograph your dinosaur-pirate-princess-cowgirl.


I hope I’ve given you some new ideas. If you're ready for more tips, check out this post. I’d love to hear your experience with any of them or any questions or feedback. Feel free to comment here or email me directly at Happy shooting!


Kristin LunnyComment