Mom’s Guide: Photographing your children at the beach

[Originally written 10/9/2017] While summer might be over, it’s a great time to reflect on all that summer fun!  I love looking at all the pictures we took and reminding myself of all the great adventures we went on.  This year, we took a trip to the North Carolina coast.  During our family vacation, I set aside time to photograph my children and then spent the rest of the week making memories with them.   Since us parents love photographing our kids, I wanted to share these tips with you:

Tip 1:  The best portrait lighting is in the morning or evening.

While you might want to sleep in during your vacation, it’s always nice to wake up early one morning and watch the sunrise rise over the horizon.  You’ll also get lovely even lighting by photographing early in the day or later in the evening.  During mid-day, you’ll be combating shadows and squinty eyes.

Tip 2: Don’t change your lens.

If you are using a DSLR, choose your lens before leaving your hotel room.  Once on the beach, don’t change your lens or you risk getting sand inside your camera.  If you have a filter, keep it on your lens to protect your lens from getting scratched.

Tip 3: Change your perspective.

Photographing from your natural vantage point is great for documenting exactly what you see.  By changing your perspective, you’ll see things from new and more interesting angles.  If you have kids, hold the camera at their eye level.  If you’re feeling especially bold or have a waterproof camera, hold it just above the waters’ surface.

Tip 4:  Keep your horizon straight.

One of the most important technical tips is to watch your horizon.  A straight horizon is calming to the eye and looks more professional.  Also be sure the horizon doesn’t cut through your subjects head.

Most Important Tip!

Take just enough pictures to capture the memories then put the camera away so you can be in the memories!  This is my most important tip, Moms and Dads!  You can spend every minute of the trip waiting to capture that perfect moment: the biggest smile, the best wave, the unpredictable moment when your kids hold hands on their own volition!    But if you spend all that time behind the camera, watching the whole vacation through a lens, you miss out on the most important moments: the moments your child spend with you.

During our vacation, I took candid photos on our first day on the beach.  That first day excitement of dipping their toes in the water.  My daughter running to and from the waves.  All three kids building a sand castle just to stomp it down a few minutes later.  I was happy watching them experience the beach in their own way.

On the second, third, and fourth days of vacation, my camera was tucked away in the hotel room.  I, however, donned my swimsuit and went boogie boarding with my eleven year old.   I let my two year old bury me up to my neck in sand.   Then I walked on the beach, finding seashells with my eight year old.  I was present- physically and emotionally- not just peeking out from behind the camera.

On the last day of the trip, I dressed them in their portrait clothes, dragged them to the beach, and did a quick portrait session.   I had one goal in mind: I needed a good portrait of all three kids, smiling, and looking directly at the camera.  It took effort.  The kids wanted to play in the water.  Sand went flying.  I’d thought I got a photo only to find out that one child got distracted in the split second it took for the shutter to click.  But then it happened.  Those little miracles where all three smile and laugh (usually at my expense and some potty humor).  That one portrait that made me want to pull my hair out, now makes my heart happy.  That’s just how it goes when photographing your own kids.


BONUS!  10 shots of take on the beach

  1. Kids running into waves (away from camera)
  2. Kids running away from waves (to camera)
  3. Posed shot near the dunes
  4. Close up of their favorite seashell in their hands.
  5. Your last name and the year written in the sand.  Bonus points for including everyone’s feet.
  6. Posed portraits under a pier.
  7. Child running to a huge flock of seagulls and the seagulls are flying away.
  8. Action shot of them jumping on their sand castle.  (Try laying in the sand and pointing the camera up towards them for greater dramatic effect)
  9. The moment when the waves crashes into your child’s back.
  10. A “bird’s eye view” image of the kids building a sand castle or digging a hole.

Don’t forget to print these photos.  You can create an adventure wall in your home with images from different vacations or simply tuck them in an album to revisit when the kids are older.

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