I took the girls out for a shoot this morning so I'd have some examples. We have an amazing place here called Kingwood Center. It has amazing grounds and beautiful gardens - perfect for taking photos. Which leads me to my first point.
You may not have a Kingwood Center near you, and that's OK. Beautiful nature surrounds you, you just have to look for it. My cousin, Megan Dill took these AMAZING photos of my cousin Kim and her family in their parents' backyard. Last year I took the girls downtown where there are brick streets and parking lots. Even with my photo of Audrey here, just a tree makes great scenery. And don't forget to keep your eye on the background behind your subject. It's much easier to move your subject if the background doesn't look good, than to try to take it out after the picture has been taken.
When taking outdoor shots I try to either do them before noon or in the evening when the sun is setting. When noon hits and the sun is directly overhead it makes harsh shadows (yuck!) and it will make your subject squint (also yuck!).
Get them comfortable.
I've heard mom's yell at their kids when they don't smile for the camera and I'm pretty sure yelling at them is not going to fix the problem. I don't know about you, but my kids aren't big advocates of doing what I tell them to do. So when we go out for a shoot I encourage them to make goofy faces. It gets them comfortable with the camera and with me snapping pictures behind it. It also helps to have a camera with a fast shutter speed so once you get that goofy picture, you can get the one a second or two later when they're laughing about it. Who doesn't love a picture of a kid laughing? And you know what? I LOVE the goofy pictures too. Isn't Natalie going to love us when her dad and I show her boyfriend this picture when she's in high school?
It's OK to be serious.
While we're talking about facial expressions, let's talk about smiling. Or better yet, let's talk about not smiling. It's natural to see a camera and want to smile. I think it's embedded in our brains from when we're little that when you see a camera, you smile. But when I see my kids day in and day out, I see them smile maybe 10% - 20% of the day? When I'm 90 and look through my photo albums I also want to remember what they look like without their mouths stretched out to their ears. I love the simplicity of normal. So when I'm taking photos I often tell my kids not to smile so I can remember what their normal looked like someday.
Don't look at me. Look at anything BUT me.
Your kids may think you're crazy when you tell them NOT to look at the camera, but sometimes you can get the best shots that way. For the same reason as above, I love shots like these. I want to remember them this way. Don't get me wrong, I get LOTS of smile photos. During a normal shoot I take between 200-300 photos. Normally 10-20 are keepers (if I'm lucky, a few more than that). But those shots I do get are SO worth it.
My camera zoom is my best friend. How else would I be able to see all of those missing teeth of hers? Or the front tooth that just started coming in? The beauty is in the details and it's so much easier to see them when you get close to your subject. And the closer you get, the less you have to worry about your background, because there's less room for it to show.
Move the camera.
One final note is that you don't have to have a big, fancy SLR camera to take great pictures. Sure, it helps, but I can get fantastic photos with my $99 point and shoot Kodak camera too - it's all in how you frame the photo and what you make of it. To process my digital photos I use Adobe Lightroom and a whole bunch of free presets that come with the program and that I downloaded from the internet. It's a fun program to play with and adds so much to your photos. I'm sure you'll be seeing more from the shoot today in my My Digital Studio projects in the future - so beware! :)