Nature, grass stains and muddy faces are synonymous with childhood.

But what if you don’t live in suburbia?

Maybe a concrete jungle surrounds you instead. Living in a metropolitan city has a unique set of obstacles when it comes to photographing children like not having a backyard – let lone a front-yard! Raising my family in San Francisco forced me to get over my ideals of photographing them in idyllic locations. Embracing where I live made me realize how special it is to raise my family here. Backyard or not, capturing your urban lifestyle will make for cherished photos.

Here are a few tips on how to photograph your children living in a big city:

1. Look beyond the frame

How does your family exist within your city? Look beyond your immediate focal point and incorporate more of your environment. What surrounds you will tell the story of your life, after all. It’s easy to want to crop out buildings and gritty sidewalks from your images because it’s not nature. But that’s city living’s version of mud, tumbleweeds and trees. Remind yourself that you’re a historian of your life. If you’re choosing to raise your family in a city – it’s for a reason.

picture of siblings in San Francisco by Tarah Beaven

2. How to find the light

One of the trickiest parts of living in a big city is that golden hour really only happens at the city outskirts, such as the beach. By the time golden hour rolls around, the high-rises will have obstructed it and now your location is in full shade. Check out this nifty app, Sun Surveyor, and problem solved! It gives a live-view of where the sun will be at your exact location in a 24-hour period. You can also use it remotely by typing in an address for a map view.

tween photo around some trees by Tarah Beaven

3. Combat the full sun in the city

Speaking of buildings obstructing the sun. To get softer light and sunbursts in full sun, use a building to filter it. By shooting with the sun partially clipped by a building or wall, it will soften the highlights and shadows on your subject.

backlit picture by a red wall by Tarah Beaven

4. Incorporate the architecture

Big cities have some of the best architecture. Strategically intertwine your subject within the environment to bring it to life. Shoot with a wide lens, 24mm or wider, to show scale and to fit everything in the frame.

child portrait around city buildings by Tarah Beaven

5. Go on an adventure

It’s easy to forget what makes your city special and unique. Take advantage of what your city has to offer and plan adventures with the kids to see some of your favorite iconic and local places. It may seem like a hassle now, but having photos of your children in these iconic places will be a nostalgic reminder of growing up in the city.

picture of people looking out windows of a parking garage by Tarah Beaven

6. See the texture

Metropolitan cities have interesting textures everywhere, be it an art installation or unique exterior/interior design elements. Contrasting textures, smooth verses ridged, make photos pop. For example, look for opposing elements like bricks and leaves. Remember to get in close for these portraits so you can see the texture. Wide shots are fun too, but the contrasting texture will soften the farther you move away.

tween portrait against a wall by Tarah Beaven

7. Embrace the grit

Ah, city grit. Love it some days, hate it most others. Broken glass on the sidewalks and streets – not fun. But funky wall murals or rundown buildings? LOVE IT. There’s something freeing and rebellious about city grit, like graffiti – maybe because kids know they’re not allowed to color on walls. Have fun and play-up the mood of the grit, be it silly, nefarious or serious. Remember, playing up the mood is key to a successful portrait.

pic of kid by a grafitti wall by Tarah Beaven

8. Find hidden treasures

Finding you in a metropolitan city is so important. It’s easy to forget what your identity is amidst the hubbub of tourism, commerce and over population in a big city. What makes your heart sing? Find those small nooks within your city that you and your children love. Maybe it’s a community garden or at the beach. Go there and connect with each other.

photo of girl on a swing overlooking San Francisco by Tarah Beaven

Calling all urban dwellers, what do you love most about photographing your children living in a big city? I’d love to hear your city living experiences, comment below and let’s chat.

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