Taking Family Photos Like a Pro

We are excited to have an amazing professional photographer, Andre Neising, share some "secrets of the trade" with us for taking great shots of our kids. First, he shares about finding the right camera, and then about capturing the best shot. Enjoy!

Lets get it straight here ladies, as a professional photographer and a quasi-shameless self promoter nothing will compare to photos of your kids taken by a pro. BUT that doesn’t mean your own snap shots have to be poor quality, awfully lit and out of focus. With point and shoot cameras, we’ll call them PASs, getting better with higher image quality with more user –friendly functions, and with SLRs getting cheaper and easier to use, everyone should be able to take a good picture.

I get asked a lot of questions about my photography, my style, my gear, etc. But lately, new moms are always asking me about their first camera purchase. “What camera should I get?” “How much should I spend?” Which lenses do I need to buy?”

There are clearly two ways to go. Point and shoot, or SLR. (SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex and refers to the big cameras with detachable lenses and big fancy buttons and dials. (Great examples are the Canon Rebel or Canon 40D.) I am of course referring to digital cameras here only. Unless you are a purist or nostalgic, its pretty much archaic to shoot a roll of film these days. Now there are some hybrid cameras out there that are PASs with SLR capabilities, but don’t let them fool you. You will never get the same depth of field, flexibility, versatility or speed with a PAS. Some examples are the canon G series, which are great for on the go, “wish I had my camera with me” convenience. With these you have manual exposure mode and flash hot shoes.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to get a SLR, you can still use your PAS to get great shots and memories of your kids. I personally love the Canon SD series cameras.

I have owned three of them, and the only reason I needed to replace them is because I dropped a few of them on their lenses. Don’t get me wrong, they are tough little suckers, but can’t withhold direct impact on concrete with the lens open. Overall they ARE light, compact, built strong, and easy to use. Not to mention excellent in image and true color quality. These days don’t’ settle on anything less than 10.0 mega pixels and at least a 2.5” screen.

One of the main setbacks on PAS’ is the shutter lag. I know we have ALL experienced it. You try to shoot something quick like a laugh or giggle, or even a naked baby running down the hall, and sure enough that shutter lag causes you to miss the real moment. Train your finger to focus before you shoot. On almost all cameras, you have to push the shutter button down halfway to allow the camera to focus on the subject. In many cases, it can take up to 3 seconds from when you hold down the shutter button, to when the actual photo is taken. From now on, focus on your subject immediately by holding it down half way, and then when you are ready to capture a moment, push it all the way down, and BAM! you’ll catch your moment.

Now there’s the flash. A lot of people are terrified to shoot in anything but fully automatic mode. And that means that unless you are shooting into the sun, the flash will fire. I dare you, nay, URGE you to try shooting with the flash off, especially in bright situations. Flash is great and fill light can enhance all your subjects detail, but sometimes you want that natural, earthy look. Try it and see what happens. You’ll definitely have to deal with the occasional blur, but its worth it to get that one great shot.

When you’re ready to take the plunge into the SLR world, get yourself a camera with good resolution, (high mega-pixel count), and a giant LCD screen (don’t’ settle for less than 3 inches. If you’re not shooting at a professional level, you needn’t worry about ISO, or dual-card writing, or any of that. Shutter speed might be of interest to you if you want to shoot your children in action or playing sports. Most new SLRs come equipped ready to shoot 4 or more frames per second.

My two recommendations, depending on budget are the Canon EOS D40, ($1100 with no lens) and the Canon EOS Digital Rebel XSi (about $600 for a kit). Both have high pixel counts, 3 inch LCD screens, great image quality and all the flexibility you’ll need capture any moment. The 40 D is more durable with a larger, magnesium body, where the Rebel is a hard plastic. The 40D will take twice as many pictures per second, 6.5 fps for the 40D and 3.5 for the Rebel. Now like I aid earlier, 3.5 is plenty if you are not planning on shooting at a pro level.

Lets talk glass. Lenses come in all shapes and sizes. Not to mention prices as well. They range anywhere from $100-$3000 for the average consumer. When you buy the Rebel it will come with a kit lens. Usually a less expensive wide to mid-range zoom level. This is a great starter lens. I would recommend in addition to that purchasing a telephoto lens. Something that zooms to at least 200mm. The canon 75-300mm lens is great for portraits and less than $600. This will allow you to step back from your subject and get great depth of field. With the 40D however, you have to buy all lenses separately and that can be a whirlwind of confusion to the novice.
Honestly what good is it to have a expensive competent camera, if you don’t even use it to its potential? (I know…it makes you look like a hotshot at parties.) Don’t always pose your children or wait for them to look at the camera. Some of the best shots I have taken are completely candid when a child is, well, being a child. Pretend you camera is an extension of your eye, and just follow them with it. Remember, its digital! So it doesn’t cost you a penny to shoot quickly and randomly. Catch them in the moment, i.e. being mesmerized by the blue sky, or chasing a puppy.

Zoom, zoom, and then zoom some more. Don’t always think you have to see their whole entire body, and even face in the frame for that matter. Zoom in and catch their facial expressions. Even in the middle of action. Example: if your little guy is swinging a bat at a tee-ball, don’t just zoom out and shoot his entire body. Get in there and get the details like his face or his grip on the bat.

Like I said before, A professional is trained at capturing moments and dialing in perfect exposure and color balance. However all of the above is great advice for someone who wants to take better pictures of their kids either around the house, at Disneyland, or running around on the beach. There is no reason to settle for boring blah photos you yourself wouldn’t be proud of. Hopefully after reading this, the photos you will take will capture the moments in your children’s lives you’ll want to remember forever.

Andre Niesing is a professional photographer in Newport Beach, CA


  1. I got the Canon 40D for Christmas but I am still on auto b/c I have no idea how to use all those functions..yes, I have read the book but I still am unsure!
    -sandy toe

  2. With baby #2 on the way we are thinking about a new camera...this was super helpful! As were the "capturing the moment" tips...Thanks :)

  3. Great camera recommendations! I have a Powershot SD (older one) and it's only now wearing out. I also just got a Canon EOS XTi. I had a 35mm Canon Rebel and loved it so I wanted to stick with what I know. I love my new camera. If you're shopping around check Ebay. I got mine factory refurbished after it had been floor model and you would never know. It came with the kit lens and I'm able to use the lens from my 35mm as well.

    Anyone looking for a good tutorial about the manual functions should check out www.pioneerwoman.com. She has great layman's term explanations for how to use the other settings.

  4. Thank you SOOO much for this, I've been going over and over and over this choice again and again as to what I should get, what is important. This helps me SO much! Thank you!


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