We are thrilled to haveCrystal Wilkerson from Crystal Wilkerson Photography joining us as the first guest blogger in our newAsk the Photographer series! With this new blog series, we hope to provide you with some expert tips for getting the most out of your family photos and capturing your children's precious memories. If you have a question you'd like to have answered by our panel of professional photographers, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org!
How do I choose the best location for a photo shoot with my kids?
Have you ever heard that the first rule of real estate is location, location, location? Well, the same is true when it comes to childrens photography. When booking a photo session with a client, one of the first issues we address is where the photographs will be taken. The location of the photo shoot plays an important role in setting the look and feel of the final product - the photographs.
If you are working with a professional photographer, let her recommend a few locations, as photographers often pre-scout and know where to find nice backgrounds, lighting and colors for your photos. But dont be afraid to do your own location scouting and get behind the camera to take photos of your kids - youll be surprised at what you can accomplish once you know how to find the right location. Here are a few guidelines to help you plan your own photo shoot with your kids.
I like to base the photo location on a few different factors: (1) What is the purpose of the photo shoot? (2) What type of background do I want in the photographs? (3) How is the natural lighting at the location?
Purpose of the Shoot
The location of your photo shoot should fit the purpose or occasion for the photos. For example, I chose the location above, Gabrella Manor in Irondale, Alabama, because it is where I was married, and I planned to give the photograph of our children to my husband as an anniversary gift. In that case, the purpose of the shoot dictated the location.
Every photo session has a purpose - some more significant than others, but each special in its own way. Are you taking photos of your children in preparation for making your holiday photo card? Maybe a casual, woodsy location would be best. Is a milestone event being celebrated - like a first birthday or baptism? Then a more formal botanical garden location may be just right. Public gardens and parks are great locations for photo shoots, and there is usually no charge for photographing your own children (although some locations do require professional photographers to pay a small membership fee).
In the photo above, taken at Birmingham Botanical Gardens, notice how the concrete path and wading pool, together with the garden wall create a formal scene for a first birthday photograph. Below is another photo taken at the same location, but cropped tighter to put more emphasis on the birthday girl.
When choosing your location, keep in mind that the mood set by your location should match up with the purpose you have in mind for the photographs. For example, going with a more urban setting can create a fun and unique atmosphere.
Be aware of the background choices at your location. I like to choose locations that offer at least a few different scenes, giving the photographs from the shoot a little variety. The best backgrounds are those that are simple, avoid clutter and offer nice depth, texture and color. For example, I love the colorful trees in the background of these photos, taken at Heardmont Park in Pelham, Alabama.
The photos below were taken at the same location as the forest photos above, just a short walk away in an open field.
This photo is a great example of why you should be aware of your background. Here, the kids look great, but in the back you can see some of the parks fencing and a utility building. Not the best background. Simply by turning the kids to face the opposite direction, and moving myself to the opposite side, the background is completely changed, giving the photograph an overall much nicer look with less clutter.
As a general rule, unless there is something special about the location (such as the wedding location above), you should try to find backgrounds for your images that are just that - background. Let your child be the most interesting thing for your eye to see in the photograph. To do this, choose a location for your photos that has non-obtrusive backgrounds. Look for open fields of grass that are lined with trees or tall shrubs. Put some distance between your children and the background. This will allow your children to be in sharp focus, with your background being more soft (how to get that great bokeh in your background is for another day, another blog post). Here are some good examples of using a simple background to keep the focus on the child.
It is also good to pick a location that offers nice lines from the foreground to the background, which gives your eye some direction as it views the photograph. Youll often find these leading lines in staircases, pathways and fences.
The Secret Ingredient - Natural Light
Even if you have the most scenic, beautiful location on earth, if that location does not offer good natural lighting, then your photos will probably turn out poorly. You need to consider the lighting conditions at your location before you commit to it. Your best light for taking photographs outdoors typically occurs in the hour or so after sunrise and then again during the hour or so before sunset.
Of course, these times may not work best for your childs schedule (or yours!). If you are lucky, you may be blessed with an overcast/cloudy day and you will have no lighting troubles. The clouds in the sky will serve as a giant light diffuser giving you perfect soft lighting for your photos. But perfect overcast days are few and far between.
You need to know how to find a location that will let you work with the light that is available during the midday hours, when the sun is high in the sky. This requires you know how to find open shade so that you can avoid harsh shadows and extreme bright and dark spots.
Open shade is basically a photographers term that describes a magical place where perfectly soft light can be found. However, no magic is needed to find open shade! Basically, you are looking for the spot where the bright light meets the dark shade. Usually, this can be found under a structure or at the edge of the shadow from a tree line. The photo below was taken in the shade of a covered trellis on a fairly sunny afternoon.
Your child should be placed just inside the edge of the shade, facing the light. In the photo below, you can see that the birthday girl is sitting in dense solid shade,right in between two sections of very bright light -- I was standing in the light, shooting toward the shade.
Just being inside the shade isnt enough though - the face and eyes need to be facing in the right direction, toward the light source. Your safest bet for open shade is under a structure, but that is not always available. When relying on trees for your shade, you need to be very careful of dappled light - where bright light sneaks in between the branches of the trees. The two photos below were taken in the same location as the above photo.
In the first photo, the faces are not facing the light source and are under dappled light, and you can see the resulting shadows and light/dark spots on the faces. However, by turning the subjects faces about 45 degrees directly toward the light source, and by having mom step out of the dappled light, the shadows and light/dark spots vanish and a nice even lighting is achieved.
Always remember to be safe. Never take your children to a dangerous location for photographs. From time to time I have been asked to take photographs of children alongside railroad tracks. I love the classic old time feel that comes from a railroad track setting. However, I also understand the inherent danger of active railroad tracks. So, I only take photographs of children using a railroad track location when I know for certain that the track is not active (e.g., this does NOT mean looking both ways and not seeing a train - in my view, an inactive track is one that is not being used for passenger travel or commercial freight, period). For example, there is a train museum near my home that has a couple different sets of tracks that are either completely inactive or that only run a single train engine for museum patrons on a one-way track, at set times scheduled by the museum.
Use What Youve Got!
Last, just remember that you dont have to travel to an extraordinary location to take great photos of your kids. You can find nice photo locations right in your own back yard and home. Just remember to be mindful of your backgrounds and your lighting. The photo below was taken in my side yard (shared with a neighbor who is a wonderful gardener) in open shade.
When shooting indoors, just place your child in front of a window - about three feet away from the glass, and position yourself between your child and the window. As your child looks at you or out the window, you will capture wonderful light in the eyes.
Even your garage can be a great photo location. With the garage door up, sit your child just inside the shade facing the light (once again, open shade is more valuable than gold). Remember to position yourself between your child and the light, with the light on your back, and you should get nice results.
And, one last tip: Shooting at ground level is usually the best way to get good composition in photographs of children. However, sometimes when shooting in open shade, it helps to have the child look up at the camera, letting the light pour in to their eyes - use the grass for background. This is another shot taken in my own front yard.
Crystal Wilkerson of Crystal Wilkerson Photography is a family photographer specializing in newborn and childrens photography. She loves vintage style and using her creativity to create stylized photo sessions. In her former life as a copyright attorney, she learned the importance of attention to detail and has carried this over into her photographic work. She lives in the Birmingham, Alabama area with her husband (now the only practicing lawyer in the family) and her two children, ages 5 and 2. Crystal wants to thank her photography clients for helping support her addiction to Smocked Auctions! Crystal Wilkerson Photography will be celebrating its one year anniversary later this year.