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Momtography 101: How to Get the Best Pictures of Your Kids

Momtography 101: How to Get the Best Pictures of Your Kids

Momtographers Krista Njapa and Adrienne Gray offer their top tips on how to capture the best photos of your little ones.


Just about everyone's made the jump to digital cameras, and why not?

With prices coming down for higher-quality options—and best of all, with the ability to snap, snap, snap with no worries about the cost of developing film—digital photography has become the standard. Even most cell phones are equipped with a basic lens. But who wants to have a hard drive full of boring pictures? Wouldn't you rather be the photo-savvy mom who uploads stunning shots of her kids to Facebook, who hangs a matted image on the wall that everyone mistakes for a professional studio shot?

With the help of two women who call themselves the Momtographers, we've got the best—and most easy-to-follow—advice for getting the most out of your cameras. New York City's own Krista Njapa and her partner Adrienne Gray define a "momtographer" as someone who "announced her pregnancy via status update, tweeted her morning sickness, and now that her bundle of joy is in her arms, wants to learn to take pictures as remarkable as her children." After all, "with the dawn of social networking, not only is mom the family memory keeper, she's also the family publicist."

Without further ado, here are some of the duo's best tips for stunning family pictures—accompanied by examples, of course (what better way to learn than to see what they're talking about?). 


Find your pocket.

Every home has at least one—a gorgeous pocket of light that will reward your efforts every time! A spot that will help you take pictures that just look good. Your job is to find it.

What you're looking for is an area of your home that bathes your beauties in bright, even sunlight. Think of a large window in your kitchen, living room, or bedroom. Kristin Njapa, for example, is lucky enough to have a living room that is ¾-covered in windows (quite the rarity in NYC!). No good windows? Open a door. No good doorways? Open a garage door. Just think bright, bright, bright when you're looking for the spot. When in doubt, snap a picture: The proof will be in the snap.

Sydney, photo by Momtographer Adrienne Gray; little girl making a funny face

Momtographer Adrienne Gray had the window to her back and her daughter Sydney directly facing the light streaming in for this sweet shot. It was taken in one of her favorite pockets of light in her home, a standby location she returns to again and again.


Head out into the "open shade."

Once you have found and mastered your indoor pockets, move outside and start investigating your neighborhood. Weather won't always permit you to be outside, but when it does, it's nice to know exactly the right spot to set the stage for those picture-perfect moments. The outdoors can be a little tricky with ever-changing light, bright sun, and dappled shade, but don't let that stop you. Find a nice shaded doorway or overhang of a building and practice there.

If every day were a bright cloudy day, the world would be yours for the picture taking. But since we haven't yet figured out how to cue the clouds, we have to look for "pockets" of good light to optimize our picture taking conditions, even outside. Enter your friend, open shade.

Just like its cousin, the cloudy day, open shade creates conditions favorable to picture taking because it is an evenly-lit, soft place. When taking photographs outdoors with all-natural light, your biggest obstacles are hard-cast shadows and extreme brights and darks.

Open shade is the place where light and shade meet to create an evenly lit space that is just off of the bright light, but not in it. You find it by looking for the hard line at the edge of the light—and then place your subject totally in the shade, facing the light. (Think garages, doorways, porches, overhangs, and alleyways: anywhere a nice solid, shaded area comes smack up against a wall of light.)

chloe njapa

You would never know by looking at this picture that just in front of Krista Njapa's daughter Chloe was the high noon Las Vegas summer sun. The ottoman she is laying on is right up to the edge of a cabana opening, where she is facing that bright light, but not actually in it. Half a foot back towards the wall and she would have fallen into the dark. Half a foot forward and it would have been too bright for a good picture.



Turn OFF your flash.

Want to see immediate improvement in your photos? It's one of the simplest things you can do, but by far one of the most powerful. Turn off your flash! Slap it down, turn off the switch, find it in your camera menu, do whatever it takes to turn off that flash in favor of more natural, available light (see sample image at right).

Unnaturally bright skin, harsh shadows, unusual reflections...there's more working against you than for you. For crying out loud, the flash bulb is the secret weapon of the DMV! It may prove slightly challenging at first, as it forces you to learn how to "read" the light around you. But that's a good thing. It'll force you to look for places with adequate light and begin to recognize light that will offer outstanding picture opportunities. In no time at all you will be able to gauge the light in a room with little effort.

There are moments when there just isn't enough light or time to compensate for the conditions (4am on Christmas morning, say, when stockings are being ripped apart; or their first evening bubble sculpture in the bath). By all means use your flash in lieu of missing these moments!

baby in hospital


Catch the light in their eyes.

Ever wonder how some kids just seem to always have that twinkle in their eye—like, in every picture? That mom has learned the magic of "catchlights." If you haven't heard the term yet, it's a phrase that gets a lot of play in portrait photography circles, and with good reason.

But what the heck are catchlights? Some sort of magic lighting gizmo that comes with membership to the secret society of expert photographers? Um, no. Quite simply, they are reflections of light caught in your subject's eyes. The key to getting a catchlight is to always have your little one face the light source (a window, door, or sunshine) so that the light can reflect back into his or her eyes. If you can see it before taking the picture, then it's there!

baby vittorio

To capture the "catchlights" in her son Vittorio's eyes, NYMetroParents' managing editor Dawn Roode followed the Momtographers' advice and placed her then 9-month-old facing the light source (here, the midday sun coming through his nursery window).

Once you master this one big tip, you will be well on your way to transforming your snapshots from blah to wow. (And please, we beg you: Resist the urge to fake it. There are so many tips, tricks, tutorials, and software actions out there to create a catchlight where there isn't one—but most of the time your kid ends up looking plain creepy! Besides, why spend your time learning how to fake something that is so easy to achieve for real?)


Break the rules.

There are exceptions to every rule, don't you know. So turn on the flash to capture every moment that may not happen in the right lighting conditions, and by all means snap that shot in full sun if it's unforgettable. Sometimes the pure moment just takes precedence!


Also see: The Momtographers outline your 8 Must-Have Birthday Party Shots and how to get them!


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Dawn M. Roode


Dawn M. Roode was formerly editorial director of NYMetroParents, where she launched the award-winning semi-annual magazine Special Parent. She was managing editor at Parenting, BabyTalk, Child, Harper's Bazaar, and Latina magazines. She is a strategic content specialist and currently writes and edits parenting, health, travel, and special needs features for various media outlets. Roode is mom to one son and recently relocated from Brooklyn to the suburbs of New York City. Follow her on Twitter @DawnRoode.

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