Photography tips and tricks

You might not be a pro photographer, but you can get great photos with whatever camera you have – from an iPhone to a SLR – capturing photo memories of your child can be easier than you think. We hope this guide by Michelle Tibbils of Bugs and Butterfly Photography helps you maximize your “hit rate” – as photographers say. After all, your child won’t be a tot forever.

Get in the Mood

It's amazing what nice light can do!

The use of light is one of the most important elements of a photograph. It isn’t easy to master it. In fact, professional photographers are constantly striving to continually improve how they use light to accent their subjects. Rather than trying anything fancy, I am going to suggest using natural light when possible, rather than allowing your on-camera flash to fire while taking the picture. Try to avoid using your flash as much as possible. Is there a place in your home where you can read to your child without turning on a light? That’s good light. Do you have a nice, big picture window or a window that runs from floor to ceiling? Good! Put your child adjacent to it (90 degree angle) and try taking a few images. You should be standing across from your child, also at the same 90 degree angle to the window. Half of your baby’s face will be illuminated and the other will be in shadow. Try taking these images when the sun isn’t shining brightly through the window onto your child, but when the light is a bit more filtered, so it illuminates your child. If there is too much shadow on your child's face, keep turning them a bit more toward the light.


A child looking outside a playhouse.

Many people think that it is ideal to photograph outside in the sun, but it isn’t unless you've had lots of practice and place them so the sun is behind them. But if you are not careful with how you position them and kids do move a lot, they will be squinting and the light will be too harsh. The glare can ruin an image and puts funky shadows across faces. That said, a candid image of a child playing on a playground is great (which are often in the bright sun). When possible, seek out evenly lit or shaded areas.

Smiling child.

Engaging Your Subject

Once you get that smile, you'll be hooked!

It can be challenging to engage your child for long periods of time. This is completely normal. Don’t sweat it! One option you have is to forget about a completely posed image and take candid images of them, engaged in an activity they enjoy. They may look up from time to time, glancing your way and their expressions are typically very cute as you catch them doing something.

Be creative with your camera angles. Get down to their level when talking to them—you might kneel down or lay down as you are taking their picture. There will be times you should engage them in conversation and times you’ll get much better images by just observing and waiting. Take cues from your child. Some children love to be photographed while others freeze and produce a fake smile when they know you are taking their picture. Making them laugh by being goofy is fun and can work nicely. Tricks like pretending to be a favorite character of theirs or asking them if they can see you inside the lens usually elicits great expressions. Tell them a joke, ask them a silly question, or sing a song they like with the wrong words. That gets them laughing, and you’ll have fun too.

No one knows better than you how to get your child to smile. If you are having a rough time eliciting the expressions you’d like on a particular day, don’t force your child to cooperate or smile. Don’t admonish them, or over time they will eventually decide they don’t like having their picture taken at all. Some of my favorite images of my kids are those in which they aren’t smiling. Some children really enjoy seeing the image you've just taken on the back of the camera's screen. This is called "chimping." When my son was younger, he would love to run over right after I took the exposure and ask to see the image on the camera’s screen. Then, he would want to pose again, for another, and we would repeat the drill. Hey, whatever works, right?

You can also use your significant other to help elicit the type of image you’d like to capture. And you should be capturing interaction between all the family members anyway, not just taking images of your children by themselves. I love to look at images taken of my brother and sister and I when we were kids. It brings back fond memories of my carefree childhood and the fun we had together. I also cherish the images I have that include my mom and I or my dad and I

Walking in the woods.

Capture the Moment

Time is precious. Sometimes you are in a less than ideal situation — the background is cluttered, the lighting is off, your child’s face is dirty. But go ahead and capture the moment anyway. You’ll be glad you did.


Other Ways to Capture

Think outside the camera box.

You don’t have to include your child’s face in every photograph. You can take a picture of just your baby’s feet or hands. Put them down on a soft blanket, outside or next to a window, and try taking some close-ups of those body parts you love. Ask your child to look up and capture that inquisitive expression, with their eyelashes perfectly positioned.

Get Close and Personal

Tight in on the face.

When you look through the viewfinder, try to make sure there isn’t anything distracting in the background of the image. Do you see anything behind your subject’s head like a tree or sign? If so, take the image from a different viewpoint so that the item does not look like it is protruding from behind their head. You need to practice taking in the whole scene from behind the lens. If you fill your frame with your subject, you will be happier with the results. So my advice is get close, really close, as close as your lens will focus.


Understand Your Camera

Take your tech knowledge further.

What picture modes can be used on your camera? Which modes can you shoot in without using the flash? Which mode produces the best portraits? Which mode will capture moving targets and action best? I highly recommend reading the camera’s manual, even if it puts you to sleep. You will probably learn a thing or two before you drift off. Experiment with the different features of the camera and note the impact of trying the different features and settings.

What makes a picture?

Before you press the button, your camera evaluates three important elements to make the best picture it can.

Aperture icon


This element controls how much light is let in, and the depth of focus.

Shutter speed image

Shutter Speed

This element controls how fast the light is viewed. A faster speed is better for action.

Film noise


This element controls the chip sensitivity. A higher number means more little specks.

Framing your shot

How to frame your subject can make a big difference in the image. A simple method is the rule-of-thirds. Imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically). Many cameras can even show a simple rule-of-thirds overlay, while you shoot. Placing subject on these lines help tell the story of what’s going on. If your child is looking to the left, they should be on the right horizontal line (and visa versa). Having their eyes on the upper third of the image can create a visually pleasing and harmonious photograph.

A visual representation of the Rule of Thirds

Steady Hands

It’s important to stay as still as you can when you press your camera’s shutter button. I hold my breath after I compose and then I press my camera’s shutter. If you continually get blurry exposures, you are either moving too much when taking the image, your shutter speed is too slow, you are shooting in low light or a combination of these. The best remedy for this would be to try taking images in brighter lighting (outdoors) and practice being as steady as you can while you take the image.

It is all in the eyes.

Six Bits

Small things that make an impact.


Focus on the Eyes

Sharp eyes create a captivating image. The eyes are what pull you into a picture.


Change Perspective

See the world from their view, for a fresh perspective.


Get Close

Show more than the wide angle. Hands, feet, and more can make great images.


Let Them Be Them

Make sure your child’s spirit comes through the frame. If you’re having fun, they will too.


It's in the Angle

Move beyond head-on shots. Be creative with what angle of your child you capture.


Watch the Distance

Take in the whole scene. No one wants to see a trash can in the distance.

A smiling child.

One-Up Yourself

Getting better comes with time.

The more pictures you take, the better you will get. If you spend some time at it and come away disappointed with your results, try to learn from your experience. What don’t you like about the photographs? Work on addressing that the next time you use your camera. If they aren’t in focus or are blurry, take note of how you hold your camera. Are you steady or is your hand wobbling while you press the shutter? Maybe your camera focused on the wrong item in the picture. Pay attention to where your camera’s focus points are and how to use them. If you don’t like the composition, pay more attention when looking through the viewfinder and take the same image from different angles and perspectives. If there are any photographers you admire, figure out what it is that you like. You can try to emulate their style and technique.

This article was written and photographed by Michelle Tibbils of Bugs and Butterflies Photography, a portrait photography business specializing in maternity, babies and children’s portraits. Visit her website