How to capture better digital photos of your children and other adults, using natural light

In this brief guide I am going to share some tips I have learned from professional photographers, and from a number of courses and private lessons I have been on.

Before I even start, the first and foremost thing worth mentioning is the importance of “practice, practice, practice”. There is nothing better than that, to help put into practice any learning, whether it is about your camera’s settings, using the camera in manual mode, lighting, posing, etc.

These tips apply when you want to take photos of your or other children, or other adults, using natural light.

1. Being good at ‘people management’ is the first rule of thumb. Building a good rapport is important as that will allow people to feel at ease and be natural.


2. When photographing your children, be ready to “capture the moment” of your kids in their natural environment. That is when they will give you their most interesting expressions.


3. Positioning is key for great photos. This may mean for you and the subject moving around and trying a few positions and poses.

Or getting down to the kids level, if they are busy playing.

Or use the “bird’s eye” perspective and capture children or babies from above.

Clapham photo club meets for the first time with Charlie Round-Turner photographer

If there is a nice background in your location, make the most of it, if not change your location or move your subject around to find the best background.

4. Lighting or otherwise the essence of photography. In simplistic terms the elements that you need to care about the most and that will help you produce better photos, are:

a. The quality of light with “soft” light generally being more flattering than “hard” light. However hard light can be used to create dramatic effects.

Lighting on the subject is “soft” when the source of light is near the subject and diffuse in its distribution. For example the light coming from a window. Lighting on the subject is “hard” when the source of light is removed/far from the subject or is a strong “not-covered” single source of light. Think about the sun or a single lighting source above your subject’s head.


Soft light


Hard light

b. The direction of light, which is the direction from which the light falls on to the subject. Lighting from the side is usually better and more flattering for portraits.

Lighting from above is less so, for .e.g. midday sun is not very flattering and can be harsh.

The Easter egg hunt - was my photography assignment achieved?

However if you can’t identify the source of light or there isn’t a clear ‘direction of light’, the most important is for the subject to be well lit.

c. Contrast, defined as the difference in lighting between the “well lit areas” of the subject and the “not so well lit” ones. The smoother the difference in lighting between these areas, the less contrast will be in the photograph.

A reflector can help reduce contrast or using more than one source of light (which I didn’t have here in this photo).

5. Clean backgrounds are important as they do not distract away from the focus of the photo. If you can, try and move things that are in the way, toys, tables, chairs etc. Or place your subject in front of a clean wall or a use a backdrop if you have, that’s even better.

What you can do indoors/a home environment?

– Use the window as your light source and place your subject next to it

– Shoot in the doorway, that is another great location, as light is interesting. Also the background becomes black or blurred if you use a wide aperture (e.g. f4 or f2.8).

– Increase the ISO settings on your camera to 800 or more and use a wider aperture (my lens goes to f4 but other lenses can go down to f1.8, f2). However if you have a high ISO the pictures may look a bit grainy. And if you use a wide aperture (f1.8 for e.g.) you will have very shallow depth of field on everything else, other than your focal point. For e.g. in this image the focus is on the mum, and the baby and the dad are out of focus due to the very shallow depth of field.

What you can do outdoors?

– Look at where the light is coming from and try and place your subjects where the light falling into them, is most flattering.

Use sunlight to light the subjects hair from behind, giving the photo a magical hazy effect.

– Have your camera settings ready. If you are used to working in full manual mode or in one of the priority modes, whatever works for you have them ready to capture the moment. F5.6 will be my go to f stop for outdoors and I will adjust ISO and shutter speed. Or f4 for portrait, as it will create a shallow depth of field and a blurry background. If you’re using one of the priority modes, have the settings ready for aperture and ISO (f5.6 and ISO 400) ready and only adjust shutter speed.

‘Make your photo’ rather than ‘take your photo’

A lot of effort goes into beautiful images, the location, lighting, posing, clothes, emotions so the more of these you use the better your photos will be.

As mentioned at the beginning, this is a very quick overview of some of the key elements that you can start using today, to take better photos, using natural light.

Professional photographers will use external light sources and light modifiers, more professional cameras and lenses etc.

However by using the tips above, you will be able to take better photos with whatever equipment you have, something I am a fan of as opposed to buying lots of new gear and equipment.

Have you found this useful? Do you have any other tips you find useful? I would love to hear from you.


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