A full frame: 7 Tips for photographing multiple children creatively

Any mother with multiple children knows the challenge of getting a picture of everyone together. No one smiles at the same time. No one looks at the camera at the same time. And it seems as if they all take turns boycotting the photo experience altogether!

I was in the middle of my fourth 365 project when I managed, quite by accident, to make photographs three days in a row that included all four of my girls.

While I didn’t necessarily need another project on my hands, I loved the idea of challenging myself to get them all in the frame. I set out with hopes of completing one hundred photographs that included all of my girls.

And I did it! The results were a lovely series of photos that tell the story of one season in our family’s life. In addition, I got the added practice in composition, storytelling, and creativity by shooting daily.

I learned a lot of lessons along the way that I know you can use in your own daily shooting. Regardless of style, these tips will help you successfully capture multiple subjects in your photography.

Think outside the box

Especially when you are photographing children, it is unrealistic to expect cooperation 100% of the time. You may be able to bribe your way into getting a posed portrait once every few weeks, but that tactic won’t work for 100 days straight!

Keep your camera nearby at all times and be ready to pick it up anywhere, anytime. In the car, at the park, at the frozen yogurt place, at church, in museums, on a ropes course, at the grocery store, a   t restaurants: these are all great settings in which to get everyone in the frame.

I shot every room in our house! These places are the settings of my girls’ everyday life and so they became the backgrounds for the photos that documented their lives. The photos are far from traditional portraits, but they are realistic portrayals of our crazy life.

Layer

When the frame is filled from back to front, it makes for a more interesting photograph. Look for elements that add to your story. These could be your subjects or inanimate objects like furniture, playground equipment, or trees. Use those as layers to help provide context.

While I love a blurry background, it is often difficult to shoot wide open when you have more than one subject. Someone will be out of focus if you are at f/1.4! As I was shooting my four girls, I rarely opened my aperture wider than f/8. This allowed me to keep everyone more in focus even when I had multiple subjects in the foreground, middle, and background.

Microcompose

If you want to elevate a picture from a snapshot to a truly great photograph, you will need patience and intention. You can practice those two skills through microcomposition.

This technique means that you compose the scene before shooting. Then, you simply wait for your subjects to move or interact in an interesting way. Once you see something you like, continue to shoot through the moment. It’s hard to predict exactly what will happen next and you don’t want to miss the perfect shot!

Be sure to give each subject his/her own space within the frame so that you don’t have any overlapping that takes away from the story. Change your position (your angle, your height, your distance) until there is as little merging as possible.

This helps to draw the viewer’s eye around the frame from one person to another and lets the viewer see the story first instead of hesitating to try to figure out which limbs belong to which kid. Of course this is not always possible, but it’s something to aim for!

Step back and go wide

Especially if you are dealing with lots of subjects, you may find yourself quite literally backed into a corner in an attempt to fit everyone in the frame. I actually ended up purchasing a fisheye lens a couple of weeks into the summer for this exact reason! I love the flexibility it gives me to stay a little closer to my girls while still capturing all the action.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different focal lengths depending on your subjects and your surroundings. The fisheye allows me to stay close to my girls and still make photographs that do not seem too close. I also enjoyed using it when the girls were spread out or even in different rooms of the house.

Hint: your cell phone camera may actually have a fairly wide angle lens that you might want to try! Most iPhones have a lens that is equivalent to a 35mm.

Show scale

There is a 5-1/2-year age difference between my oldest and youngest. While the girls spend a lot of time together, they are at different stages developmentally and socially. I want to make sure I document their ages as they relate to each other.

Do not feel like you have to have everyone in the frame doing the same exact thing! Show how they participate differently in the same activity and you will be much more likely to have success behind the camera.

For example, at the grocery store checkout, my oldest daughter helps to load the groceries into the cart. Meanwhile, my 4-year-old is still fascinated by watching the cashier push all of the buttons. And the twins? They just wait in the shopping cart seats with their snacks.

Tell the story from different perspectives

As you approach a scene that catches your eye, go ahead and take a shot or two as you see it first. Then stop and think about how else you might capture it.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to mix up my approach:

  • shoot from above
  • position yourself below the subject
  • shoot as subjects face/approach you
  • photograph as subjects walk away
  • move farther away
  • move closer
  • focus on one feature of the subject(s) (i.e. feet, hands, ponytails, etc.)
  • focus on the shadows or silhouettes of your subject(s)
  • use reflections to shoot subjects in front and behind you in the same frame

Think inside the box

Yes, I realize this is completely opposite from my first piece of advice! However, after 100 days of photographing all four of my girls, I learned that I was not going to be able to pull off a super creative photo that was full of energy and emotion every single day. And so I learned to be satisfied with what I could get.

Sometimes that means taking a “boring” photo and that is okay! Don’t let your desire for an original, amazing photo get in the way of one that shows the people you love all together.

Most importantly, know that capturing people together allows you to capture their connections. No matter how you choose to do that, the results will be priceless and will be worth your efforts behind the camera.

About the Author:

Laura Beth Davidson is a family documentary photographer in northeast Tennessee. She and her husband have four daughters. Laura Beth seeks to document everyday life with wit and candor.

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