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At least once a year, many parents will go out and pay a portrait photographer or a mall portrait studio too much money for mediocre photos of their children. It's not even something they really even think about it. They just assume it's just one of those things that parents are supposed to do. And when they get the mediocre photos back, they somehow end up thinking that the photos are decent because, after all, they did pay good money for them. And of course, they do it all over again the following year.

There are also parents who opt to take photos of their children themselves, but also end up taking mediocre-to-bad photos because they're unaware of a few basic camera and lighting principles. They'll see a great moment with their child, grab the camera, point and shoot, and then later wonder why the picture didn't come out looking anything like it did in person.

If you are one of these parents, then you've made your way to the right lesson! Here, you will learn about some simple, affordable and highly effective ways of creating beautiful photographs of your children that you will treasure for a lifetime.

(Click on any image below for an enlarged view.)

Topics Covered:

  • The shortcomings of built-in flash lighting
  • Using a reflector as a fill light
  • How to set up your camera for optimal results
  • The advantages of shooting at home

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.


Lighting Equipment

  • Photoflex MultiDisc 5n1 / 32"

You see it everywhere, particularly around the holidays: bad photos of adorable children. So why are the common, everyday snapshots of children (and adults, too, for that matter) so mediocre? Two words can sum it up: built-in flash.

The built-in flash in your camera is designed to light your subject so that your photo will be properly exposed, but unfortunately it is also a very unnatural looking light source. Unless you happen upon a deer, caught in your headlights, where else in nature do find lighting conditions like this?

Now it is true that in some situations a built-in flash is not terribly intrusive, as when you are shooting in daylight conditions and need to illuminate the areas cast in shadow, but these are not the images you are going to treasure in the years to come. There are, however, much better ways of dealing with dark shadows than by activating your flash.

Figure 1

Let's take a look at some examples. On a recent afternoon, I decided to take some photos of my 9-month old son, Aidan, using a few simple lighting techniques. First, I took a point-and-shoot digital camera, activated the built-in flash and took a shot in the Program (automatic) mode. Again, this is how most people go about taking indoor portraits (figure 1).

As you can see, this result is a typical point-and-shoot photo. While the background is being helped out a little by the sunlight coming through the windows, the built-in flash has illuminated Aidan and the plants behind him in a very flat and unnatural way. Notice how he has that deer-in-the-headlights-look? It's unavoidable. And because the light is traveling in the same direction as the lens, it is difficult to get a sense of shape or dimension to the elements of the shot.


You don't need to own expensive lighting equipment to take great photographs. In fact, you can use simple light reflectors to bounce sunlight into the shadows of your subject.

For the next shot, I set up an Olympus E-1 digital camera on a small tripod, moved in a little closer and framed up Aidan through the viewfinder while he was busy playing in his play station. I wanted to see as much of his eyes as possible, so I filled most of the frame with his face.

Before I shot a new picture, I set the camera's program settings to the following:

I then pulled out a 32" Soft Gold/White LiteDisc and angled it with my left hand so that the sunlight coming through the windows would bounce into the shadow areas of Aidan's face. I first used the White side of the LiteDisc for a soft, neutral fill light. This type of reflective lighting is much more natural than that of a tiny built-in camera flash, as it simulates light bouncing off a wall or coming through a window (figure 2).

Figure 2

I wanted the background to be out of focus so that the viewer's attention would be directed straight at Aidan's face, so I set the aperture to f/3.5 for a limited depth of field, and set the shutter speed to 1/80th of a second to accommodate a good exposure. I waited for a few moments, and once he looked into the lens, I took a shot (figure 3).

As you can see, the result is dramatically different from the first snapshot (figure 4).

The light from the LiteDisc bounces smooth, even light across Aidan's face and renders the shape of his head more naturally. And because it is such a relatively large light source, the LiteDisc creates large bright reflections in Aidan's eyes, similar to the way a window light would. By coming in close, we're able to see more of Aidan's face and the background in thrown nicely out of focus.

Next, I decided to warm up the fill light a little and add a little more sparkle to Aidan's eyes. To do this, I simply flipped the LiteDisc around and used the Soft Gold side to bounce warm light into the shadow areas of his face. Keeping the same camera settings, I waited until I could get Aidan to laugh, and then took another shot (figures 5 & 6).

As you can see, this simple light reflector has made all the difference. Here's the lineup of the different result shots:

Figure 7

Equipment Used:
You can click on the blue links below for more info.


Lighting Equipment

  • Photoflex MultiDisc 5n1 / 32"

Recommended Links

  • To learn more about Photoflex equipment, go to www.photoflex.com
  • For more tips and techniques on lighting and cameras, visit www.webphotoschool.com and sign
    up for access to the Member Lessons.

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