One photo skill you need to make better images of your kids

February 16, 2020

The baby sat on the living room floor, while his older sibling perched himself nearby on the couch.

“Okay,” I said to my oldest, an 8-year-old. “Do your thing.”

My oldest son then began to grab the baby’s attention with something like a primordial roar, a gurgling sound that a wounded dinosaur might’ve used to express displeasure (or annoyance if another wanted to eat off the same plant).

Whatever. The baby thinks it’s funny so just roll with it and snap some photos.

Baby reaching out for a toy
Understanding the direction of light is key to elevating your photography skills.

Capturing a happy, smiling 8-month-old is no easy feat because babies are so unpredictable. They rarely smile on cue or do that adorable thing they do when you want them to. It’s like they’re cognizant of the camera and get shy even if they have no clue what a camera is.

My baby waves, and when I try to capture it with the Boomerang app on my iPhone, he knows Daddy wants to make a video and he’s like, “Talk to my agent. I don’t work for free.”

The most important thing I want to point out from these images, though, is the importance of understanding the direction of light.

Whether the baby smiles or not, it’s incredibly important before snapping a photo to get a read on where the light is coming from. In this case, I have window light in our living room providing a natural, soft illumination.

Source and direction of light
If something makes the baby smile, position it so the baby turns toward the source of light.

For several minutes, our baby wouldn’t turn his face toward the light, and if I had snapped a picture then, most of his face would be in shadow. That’s not what we want.

Don’t force a bad image. Take your time. See the light, and wait for your subject, even your baby, to turn toward it.

That’s why I asked my oldest son to sit on the couch by the windows and prompt the baby to laugh. With his face turned toward the light and a dark background behind him, I’ve made a portrait that attracts your eyes to his face. We naturally want to look at the brightest object in the photo.

This is applicable for any camera, even cellphone cameras.

Move around if you have to, or move your subject. Make sure you have an accurate understand of where the light comes from and the direction it flows, and decide what should attract the eye of the viewer. This goes for window light, chandeliers, lamps, flashes, any source of light.

If you’re taking a photo of your child, more often than not, you want the person who views your image to look at your child’s face. Make sure then the face is illuminated.

Dave Pidgeon is a writer and photographer who has more images of his kids than the Library of Congress has books. He lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife, Alison, and their three sons. You can contact him at

More about Dave Pidgeon

Dave is the author of and lives in Lancaster, Pa., with his wife and their three sons.

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