A Nest for All Seasons A Nest for All Seasons: How to Photograph Your Family Using the Self-Timer Function

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12 October 2012

How to Photograph Your Family Using the Self-Timer Function

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So you want family pictures, but you don't have the time or money to hire a professional and don't feel right asking a family member or friend to spend an hour taking pictures of you - any amens out there?

I'm here to help you out today.  I have been working on shooting self portraits with my kids for years now and I have a few secrets to share with you.  Prepare yourself for lots and lot of photos and information that will help you successfully "shoot" your family with you in it!

Photo captured for 'A Nest for All Seasons'

Set up the shot before you start making the kids pose.

When you first see the photo above, you would probably think my husband took it.  Good guess, but WRONG.  One of the best times of day to take photos is early in the day when my husband is work.  (Sunset is another great time for taking photos!)  So I needed to get creative.  Between the self timer and my 5 year old son, we were able to get a host of useable photos.   Here is how we did it....

*post previously published on Allenaim Photography by Amy Renea

OOPS!  I need to adjust the focal length!

See that photo above?  That is a set up photo.  I tell the kids to go play with those sticks or wrestle or something and I snap a few photos to get the focus, exposure and aperture right.  When I am satisfied, I set the self timer.  Read your manual (every camera is different!) for tips on how to set your self timer and then set it to the LONGEST time you can.  I typically set mine to wait 20 seconds and then take the photo.  3-5 seconds is NOT enough time for me to run in the photo, comb my hair down and get the kids laughing.  Anyway, get the kids in place (bribe them with a trip to Target later...ooo wait that was for me...ummm anyway...) set the camera on a flat table, set the self timer and RUN.  Come back and check out the shot.  OOPS.  Too far away.  I run back to the camera and adjust the focal length to around 50 mm.  (Focal lengths are relative depending on how far you are away from the subject...just play with it until it is RIGHT!)

We got it!  Everyone is looking at the camera, [kind-of] smiling and the tree is framing us - awesome!
Another note:  Use a zoom lens for this shoot.  It will allow you to zoom in and out instead of getting frustrated with fixed lengths, and keeps you from having to change lenses constantly.  The kids are NOT going to be patient, so give yourself a leg up.  (Most cameras come as a "kit" with a zoom lens that is around 18-55 mm.  If you have one lens, it is probably a zoom so no worries.  If in doubt, try to spin the lens.....does it zoom in and out?  You are good to go!)

Another note on the self timer.  Use the longest setting (2o seconds) and make sure you set it to shoot at least 3 photos each time.  The camera will wait 20 seconds, a little light will blink to let you know the shot is coming and then it will snap-snap-snap.  Some cameras shoot up to 9 or more photos at one time, but 3 was good for us.  Would you like to know why you need 3 shots every time?  Because unlike shooting clients, I can't control when to press the shutter.  The camera might shoot when we are all ready (see above) or within a second, everything can disentegrate...see below.

OOPS - Sorry about the hair in your face babe...

Honey!  Why are you crying??  Is your brother strangling you?
OK.  Breathe a sigh of releif...you've got one good shot in.  Now is the time to relax, but not the time to quit.  You've got yourself and the kids dressed and bribed...take advantage and take more photos!

Relax by taking a few shots of the kids without you.  Let them stick their tongue out, wrestle, run be silly.  DON'T MAKE THEM POSE!  Let them relax and they will forget that they aren't having fun.

Next on the list of possible strategies is to let a child have a go at shooting.  Red decided he wanted to shoot a few photos, so I said yes.  Make sure the strap is secure and wrap it around your child's neck.  Tell him to "find mommy" in the viewfinder and let him click off a few rounds.  You might end up with a lot of pictures of your bum...

...annnnnnnd you might end up with a few keepers (below).  The goal is to keep the kids active, engaged, involved and happy.  Be allowing Red to take a few photos, he became vital to the operation and much more interested.  If your kids are too little to hold the camera, showing them pictures of themselves on the screen accomplishes the same effect.  Just don't get sidetracked.  Kids want to see every single photo and it can derail the photoshoot.  Show them a few to get them involved and then yell "Hey!  Did you just see that groundhog??  Go get it!!".  They will take off running and you can start setting up another shot.

Shot by a 5 year old
While they are running and playing, this is the time to do portraits of each kid.  Pull them aside while they are happy and snap a few shots.  Then let them go play and capture another kid.  (On a side note...this is the EXACT same strategy I use when letting the kids play with the chickens.  One gets to hold a chicken for a few minutes then we let her go and pick on another hen.  It spread out the baby torture a bit...ANYWHO...)

After you have let the kids run-run-run, create an activity.  In this case, it was simply the couch.

"Hey guys!  Come sit on the couch with me!  Let's pet the chicken!"

Camera on a seat in the middle of yard, self timer

Blurry, but still fun -- a true capture of our days, so the blur is OK with me ;)

"Hey guys!  Is that the groundhog again?"

Sometimes distracting them will refresh their focus.  This shot isn't exactly what I wanted (them smiling and looking at the camera would be great), but I am able to get the settings right and the kids are not thinking about how they are sitting for pictures.  Remember, distract, engage and HAVE FUN with kid photo shoots!

After this shot, the world fell apart and they all started running.  All over the place.  Disaster!  What to do?  Join the madness.

"Hey guys!  Want to jump on the couch?"

This allowed me to get lots of great shots of genuine smiles.  if you can't stop the madness join it!

Make sure you use a very fast shutter speed when shooting the kids jumping because the mvoement will cause blur if the shutter speed is too slow.

Next Page --->

*post previously published on Allenaim Photography by Amy Renea

When the kids sit down for a second, ask them questions.  Get them to make the faces that they do in everyday life.  I don't know about you, but one of my favorite things to capture are those little facial moments.  You never know how long those will last, and I want to remember.  That is what these family photoshoots are for -- not just to have perfect smiling photos, but to REMEMBER.  To remember as they are, not what I want them to be...

...but off my soapbox.

"Let's jump again!"

Mommy, can I take more pictures?

Sure honey...try to not make me look fat ok?


Wow baby - good shot!

Hey baby, wanna jump on the couch?

Now remember the photo at the top of the post?  My absolute hands down favorite from the shoot.  We are happy, smiling and look posed.  Yeah -- we aren't.  My 5-yr old is taking the photo and we have just finished jumping on the couch.  The sequence leading up to that photo was this...

Don't give up.  Don't stress out.  
The shot will come if you stay relaxed and keep trying.

Take a few more photos of the kids while they are happy (the "jumping on the couch" drug is still wearing off in these photos) and then hand the camera off to the kids again.  You will end up with quite a few photos like this:

...but then you'll find a few hidden gems like this one....

Your kids will want to take lots and lots of photos of you which is ok.  
Try to act like you are 14 again and actually enjoy getting your picture taken...

 When the kiddos are taking pictures of you, attempt to get in the moment.  Try a few different poses.  try not to make too many "mad mommy" faces when they are jumping off of the porch railings.

Smile with your eyes and smile THROUGH the camera to your kiddo taking the shot and you might end up with a keeper or two.

Mad Mommy face...get OFF the railing boys!

After you indulge the babies, tell them they owe you and make them sit in the same seat.  Make them giggle - tell them jokes, tickle them...the normal suspects and if all else fails, remind them about that trip to Target coming up...

Another note...see that baby in the background?  he is playing because he is done.  D.O.N.E.  He was starting to get grumpy (he and his other brother) and there was no way I would get any more smiles or relaxed faces out of them.  You have to know when to say when when shooting children.  There is a point of no return and if you cross it all you will get it tears.  Quit while you are ahead and then let them play and do something fun for cooperating.

Did you skip to the end of the post?

Good for you...here's the recap.

1.  Set up the shot before getting the kids to pose

2.  Use a zoom lens, not a fixed lens

3.  Use a long time on the self timer (I use 20 seconds)

4.  Use a large bracket on the self timer (I make it take 3-6 shots each time it fires)

5.  After a few bouts with the self timer, let them PLAY.  Don't make them pose the whole time!

6.  Let your children take photos or look at the photos to feel involved.

7.  PLAY some more and take children aside for individual {happy} portraits.

8.  Bring out the activity. (Couch and Chickens)

9.  Be crazy and have fun!  (Wanna jump on the couch??!)

10.  More portraits while they are happy.

11.  Let the kid habve the camera again - you might be surprised!

12.  Quit while you are ahead.  When the kids start to wind down, you know you are done.


Inspire Me Heather Friday, October 12, 2012  

I love this post - so happy, so happy!

Ashley Saturday, October 13, 2012  

Gorgeous photos!! You all look so happy.

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