Secrets of Taking Good Pictures: Children, props

Photography expert Tom Langford gives you tips on how to improve photos of your children by introducing props.

Rachel 2 (photo credit: Rachel Jacoby)
Rachel 2
(photo credit: Rachel Jacoby)
Tom Langford is a commercial photographer, professional retoucher, and a website designer.
Taking family snaps is easy, but taking good, interesting pictures of your young children or grandchildren is quite a challenge. Every now and then we all take a lovely snap of a cute expression - this is fine for the family album but not satisfying if you are a photography enthusiast, especially if it has distracting background details. Here some tips that may help you to capture a superior children’s picture.
Your first concern should be to select an uncluttered location for the shot.
A tidy area of floor and wall, patio or garden would be good. Next choose something simple that might occupy the child’s attention. In the shot below Rachel Jacoby (from Israel) has used packs of kitchen rolls.
Child (Rachel Jacoby)Child (Rachel Jacoby)
Rachel has caught an excellent expression looking up at the camera, but I would like to take the process one step further – after taking pictures of the child, try taking pictures of the child’s involvement with the props.
It’s a good idea to imagine a few possible variations and compositions before you start. If you can visualize how a picture will look from a variety of angles before you take a shot you can move into position to take the best pictures without wasting time playing about with the camera.
For example, let’s suppose we used the same kitchen rolls and encouraged the child to build a castle with them. A good way to develop your photographers imagination is to try and sketch different ways in which you could shoot this - don’t worry how good your drawings are, but try to fill the frame and roughly indicate the composition. Most probably none of these shots will materialize, but the ability to pre-visualise them will help you to spot other opportunities and variations as they arise.
Sketch 1 (Tom Langford)Sketch 1 (Tom Langford)
Sketch 2 (Tom Langford)Sketch 2 (Tom Langford)
Sketch 3 (Tom Langford)Sketch 3 (Tom Langford)
I roughly retouched one of Rachel’s other pictures to indicate a shot I visualized:
Child 2 (Rachel Jacoby)Child 2 (Rachel Jacoby)
There are benefits to using props with young children: If the child becomes absorbed in what they are doing they will forget about the camera, and your pictures will show cute expressions of innocent concentration – lovely mementos of their childhood.
Simplicity is the keynote with pictures like these: A clear background and simple props help to keep the focus of attention on the child. By visualizing the best angles beforehand you won’t need to waste time walking around and trying to find a good shot. Instead you can focus all your efforts onto what is really important: enjoying yourself taking Good Pictures of children enjoying themselves.
If you are aspiring to develop your photography skills, send me a picture and I will publish one at the end of my next article with some constructive feedback.  

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Tom teaches photography courses for beginners and advanced. Details of his courses and field trips at: