Every new parent is going to get the advice that “they grow up so fast.” It’s a well-worn cliche, but it’s still true. Capturing some great photos of the kids as they grow is a way to slow things down for a moment and bring back memories that would otherwise quickly disappear forever into the sleep-deprived fog. With three little kids ourselves, one of my first pieces of unsolicited advice to new parents is to take lots of photos.
So here’s a rundown of some of my favorite books on taking photos of kids and the family. With a notable exception, these are mostly designed for parents wanting to take photos of their kids rather than for photographers looking to expand their skillset, and the best of them are very much written for parents; they’re accessible and can be consumed in bite-sized pieces in those rare moments of calm like when the baby’s napping. And their objective is to create photos to be family keepsakes, not as award-winning critical artworks.
One of the biggest challenges with writing books like these is finding the right balance between technicalities and creativity, and some books handle it better than others. The problem is that a better understanding of the technical side can help enormously with creativity. Knowing that fast shutter speed helps freeze action, for instance, can make the difference between a sharp photo and one that’s an indistinct blur. Knowing that a large aperture blurs the background can make the difference between a cluttered photo where the eye doesn’t know where to look and one that draws the eyes precisely where you want them. But new parents don’t have a lot of time or, probably, patience for that, so it has to be rationed. And if they’re excited about taking photo of the kids, they probably want to drive right it.
So the books that I think are the best for taking photos of kids and family are the ones that factor in real-world parenting, that provide practical examples of the types of photos you actually want to take, and most importantly, they make it fun! Whether you’re looking for something for yourself or a gift idea for others, here are some suggestions.
Best for New Moms and Dads
Your Baby in Pictures: The New Parents’ Guide to Photographing Your Baby’s First Year, by Me Ra KohThis is one of my go-to gifts for friends and families with newborns. The focus might seem narrow–only the first year?–but it’s one of a series written by Me Ra Koh (aka “the photo mom”), with the others focusing more broadly.
And the narrow focus makes sense. There are distinctive things about taking photos of children of this age. They’re not going to even learn to smile for a while, and they certainly can’t and won’t do it on command. And there’s not a lot of running around on sandy beaches happening or rolling in the snow.
What this book does, then, is give creative ways to get good photos of an age where the kids are cute but probably not especially animated. That doesn’t mean going into full-on Anne Geddes mode, but there are some tips and tricks to getting heartwarming photos that are unique to this age.
Ms. Koh has an engaging and fun style. She also has a knack for practical and fun examples that are just the right level of practical and ambitious for sleep-deprived parents of newborns.
Best for Parents of Toddlers and Older Kids
Your Family in Pictures: The Parents’ Guide to Photographing Holidays, Family Portraits, and Everyday Life, by Me Ra Koh
Me Ra Koh is a woman of many talents but has made a career for herself as “the photo mom.”Several things appeal about this book. The photos in it are great and offer useful practical examples. It covers a wide variety of situations, from posed family portraits to spur-of-the-moment fun to the holidays.
Each example comes with instructions for both point and shoot and DSLR cameras, so it doesn’t assume you’re using fancy gear. And there are a bunch of useful tips for capturing everyday family life and making it fun to boot. It all comes in an attractively produced book that also makes for a great gift idea.
One of the strengths of this book is that it sees photographic opportunities in unusual places. Wondering how your kids playing computer games could possibly make for an interesting photo? A very good and practical example. Wondering how to get a hang-on-the-wall-worthy photo out of breakfast? This book has you covered.
I’ve previously posted a detailed review of Your Family in Pictures.
Capture Your Kids in Pictures: Simple Techniques for Taking Great Family Photos with Any Camera, by Jay Forman
This one is a little older now–it was published in 2004 when film cameras were still common, and there are references scattered through it related to film–but because it doesn’t dwell much on on gear it still remains current.Its focus is very much on what it says in the subtitle: simple techniques. And each is a bite-sized snippet. There’s one on lighting the eyes, for instance, so they’re not in shadow. There’s one on avoiding the mugshot look. Another on finding frames within the frame. And so on.
Something I particularly like about this book is that it shows examples of how not to do it and what you’re trying to avoid. So rather than just talking about it, he shows examples (that may or may not be how your own photos are coming out) and then has side by side with that how to turn it into something better with whatever simple technique that section is focusing on. It’s a very useful way of doing it.
Overall, this is another attractively designed book that makes for a nice gift idea. Open any page and you can get cracking–there’s no need to read it from the beginning if you don’t want to.
Best for Starting a Business Photographing Children & Families
Photographing Children: Photo Workshop, by Ginny Felch (2nd ed)This is by far the most comprehensive and detailed of the books here. It’s really aimed at someone wanting to break into the business of family and kid photography. In most cases, it’ll be overkill and probably overwhelming for harried moms and dads just wanting to get some great shots of their kids.
It covers similar areas as the others—inspiration, expression and emotion, and the basics of operating a camera—but it also goes into things like basic studio lighting, light modifiers, and finding your own distinctive style. The focus is on creating the images; it doesn’t deal with the business side of things like marketing and client relations.
Capturing Every Day Life: The no-nonsense, cheese-free, read-while-they-nap, easy-as-pie guide to taking top-notch, world-class photos of your kids, by Jane Goodrich
Jane Goodrich is an established New York-based newborn and children’s photographer. The advice in her book is solid, and the photo examples easy to follow while providing practical inspiration. As the mouthful of a subtitle suggests, the book is broken out into short sections that can be digested as bite-sized pieces.I have two quibbles with this book, though. One is the production quality. It’s a print-on-demand publisher, and in the copy I got the text was very poorly printed and almost unreadable in places. The paper finish also looks and feels like it came out of an office laser printer (the photos are in color, though). That doesn’t diminish the value of the information and advice, but it would make me think twice about giving it as a gift.
My other quibble is that it dwells rather a lot on the technicalities. And they’re front loaded, so you have to wade through them before you really get to the fun stuff. It’s 27 pages in before you get to actually dive in with creative ideas to start taking photos–that section would probably be better moved to the end.
Taking Kids and Family Photos: The Parent’s Pocket Guide, by Erika Seress
This is mostly a portable reference field guide. And yes, it fits in your pocket.The author, Erika Seress, is one of the photographers at The Pod Photography, a well-known family and children’s’ portrait studio in Los Angeles. She focuses on maternity and newborn photography.
This is only a little book–98 small pages long. The first 65 are taken up with technical reference on things like shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, and white balance. If you’re not using a DSLR or camera with manual controls, a good chunk of that isn’t relevant to you. That’s not to say that the information isn’t good–it’s just that I’m not sure it’s playing to the strengths of a pocketable field guide to be used on the fly.
The best parts of the book are toward the end, with practical examples to offer guides and inspiration. I just wish there were more of them and that they really were the focus of the book–more of a photo idea book that could be pulled out to get some ideas on the spot.
Sharing Your Photos
So what do you do with all those great photos you’re going to end up with other than post them on Instagram or Facebook?
I’ve put together some other fun ideas for ways to share them.