I recently scrolled through the ever-growing cache of photos on my iPhone, and was dismayed to find an utter lack of frame-worthy photos of my kids. Quantity, it seemed, was the name of my game. Quality? Forget it.

In my trove of photos, I’m hard-pressed to find a photo that doesn’t have a blurry leg, or a toddler refusing to look at the camera, or my daughter’s “smile” resembling something like the grimace of a serial killer.

~Jessica Zen

And I knew I couldn’t possibly be the only one. So I consulted Seattle-area photographer Angela Carlyle (www.angelaandevan.com) about this dilemma, I walked away with some solid tips.

Angela, a mother of two adorable boys, is a well-known local photographer who specializes in weddings, family photos, and commercial work. She kindly summed up her thoughts for our readers and classified them into in three distinct elements:


This is all about finding the spirit of the image. Capturing your kids’ childhood is about portraying their personalities, not getting them to freeze a smile on their faces in a stiff, posed family portrait.

According to Angela, the delicate balance lies in knowing when to play along versus observe.

With smaller kids, engaging with a little tickle on the foot might get the delighted shrieks going—at which point, you quickly step out of the frame and snap away. Other times, you might have a kid contentedly running around the yard, and the best thing you can do is to stand back and wait for the moment to come.

Have your camera poised and ready, and don’t be afraid to take a lot of shots—we live in a digital age, after all! It doesn’t cost you anything to snap away.

Lastly, make it fun!

According to Angela, the worst family shoots are when everyone is stressed, upset, and/or crying. You’re not going to get a perfect holiday card photo if you’re screaming at your kid to stay still and stop untucking his shirt.

So keep it loose, and try to pick a time where no one’s on a super strict timeline. Candids often capture the sweetest moments to look back on.


Lighting makes all the difference. Your best bet is natural, even light—turn off those overhead lights; they make everyone’s face look shadowy and weird!

Mixed lighting (e.g. lamps plus natural sunlight) should also be avoided.

To find the best direction for everyone to face, hold up your palm to face you. Slowly rotate around in a circle, and see which position creates the fewest shadows in your palm creases—that’s how your photo subjects should be oriented.

If you’re shooting outside, aim to do it during early morning or sunset.

If that’s not an option, find what’s referred to as “open shade”—a completely shaded spot surrounded by sun, such as the shadow of a large tree.

In open shade, you will get the benefit of the natural light without the bright glare of high noon, nor will you have weird shadows on everyone’s face.


Do you ever take a great photo and then notice a pesky garbage can in the background?

As any Instagram enthusiast knows, the framing and background of a shot make all the difference. Try different vantage points and aim for plain, simple backgrounds.

If your house is anything like mine (a constant mess of kids’ toys and laundry piles), try designating a specific spot (with good natural light!) as your photo spot. Keep it relatively uncluttered, or perhaps have it be a spot where there’s a couch or chair you can just push back when you want to take a photo.

Lastly, remember the oft-referenced rule of thirds—this will help you define your photo composition in a visually appealing way.

Many thanks to Angela for her tips! I highly recommend that you check out her work at www.angelaandevan.com for some inspiration. The “Portraits” section is filled with stunning images of kids and families. Happy snapping!

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All Photography by Angela Carlyle, and images are owned and copyrighted by Happy Mom Life Lab.

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