As parents, nobody knows better than us that time flies by – way too fast.
Capturing those ephemeral moments of childhood on camera is the closest we can get to preserving the memories; but the precise mood and magic before the lens is often lost because (let’s be real, here) most of us don’t know what we’re doing.
Last year, Elena Shumilova began taking photos of her kids playing in the Russian countryside and at home. Over 60 million views later, the mother of three has achieved internet acclaim, with a ‘family album’ of images that’s both breathtakingly beautiful, and powerfully nostalgic – and now she’s revealing her top tips for photographing children.
The pictures of Elena’s sons, unposed yet perfect, are less about lighting and composition than they are about narrative; each scene, effused with the simple joy of just being, tells a story about the very essence of a child.
The point is simple: keep it natural.
Here are the photographer extraordinaire’s top five tips for avoiding the staged, stilted look of professional shoots, capturing a moment, and making your snaps transcend into timelessness:
1. Make your children familiar with the camera.
Elena recommends photographing them as often as possible, so they get used to having their photos taken.
“To get the most genuine photos, I try to catch them in the moment — when they’re playing with each other and have completely forgotten about the camera.”
Also, the more frequently you bring the camera along with you, the more opportunity you’ll have to shoot everyday scenes — and these are the ones you’ll remember best when your kids grow up.
2. Choose simple clothing.
Elena says the clothing the children are wearing shouldn’t be distracting (which can be quite a task considering that kiddie clothes are designed to grab attention). It doesn’t have to be all whites and blah shades of beige though; but do opt for block colours, traditional prints and sublimated patterns over the cartoony stuff.
“When I started pursuing photography seriously, I actually replaced all their outfits. This took quite a while to do, but now I know that anything I pull from their closet won’t interfere with the photo.”
3. Taking photos of children at different ages requires different techniques.
Elena says as the parent, we have the advantage, as you know your newborn better than anyone. You know the best time of day to capture photos in between the niggling and wriggling.
“Let your parenting instinct help you choose the right moment.”
The Golden Age: two to four years old
Elena believes the age between two and four is when children are at their most photogenic, unrestricted by self-consciousness.
“Kids around this age behave very naturally. They don’t care that someone is looking at them, they don’t care what others think, and they don’t care that a camera is pointed at them.”
Age five and over
Children’s self-awareness begins to increase at this age, which can make them camera-shy (or launch into theatrics).
“The key here is to be very patient. Let them play while you disappear into the background. My best photos always happen at the end of a photo shoot, when my kids have forgotten all about the camera.”
4. Pets don’t follow the rules.
Getting good photos of children and their pets can be tricky. Just like children, some pets don’t like the paparazzi. Elena says there’s no easy solution; you have to get to know the animal’s ‘good side’, and this can mean many hours observing, to see how they move and what angles best suit them.
“I’ve also tried bribing pets with food, but it doesn’t work. It’s almost impossible to get a good picture when they’re chewing or licking their paws. So I’ve learned the hard way not to feed our pets during photo shoots.”
5. Don’t give up.
Elena’s stunning image below, which has been viewed online more than 10 million times, is the result of pure perseverance.
“Before I took this photo, my confidence was at a pretty low point. I had tried for a photo of my son and dog 14 other times — not 14 other photos, but 14 full photo shoots, all failures. I was convinced that my hands were too clumsy, or my dog was not the right dog for it, or my kid was not the right kid for it. I was just feeling desperate that day and didn’t even want to bring my camera.
But something told me to bring it. And on that fifteenth day, it all just came together.”
View Elena’s full portfolio of photographs HERE.