I’m not a professional photographer.  I’m a teacher who documents children’s learning.  Over the years, many smart people have told me my pictures were horrible and gave me suggestions on how to make them better.  I’ve gone through my notes and distilled these lessons down to 5 tips that help me capture the everyday brilliance in my classroom.

  • 1) FOCUS — Every picture should tell a story. Why are you taking this picture?  Is it the look on the child’s face? What the child is doing with her hands?  The way two children are engaged in conversation?  If you have a clear idea about why you are capturing the moment, your audience will as well.

My focus in this series was to document the different strategies a child uses to climb over a skate ramp:

  • 2) PERSPECTIVE — Get down on the child’s level so the picture is taken straight on.  If the camera is above the subject (while flattering for selfies), the child will appear smaller and less engaged. Getting eye to eye makes the photo seem more conversational. Don’t be afraid to lie down on your belly to get the perfect shot of that baby’s curious expression.

  • 3) SUBJECT — Pictures of smiling children aren’t interesting.  Most children can look into a camera and smile on command.  Opt for natural smiles and show why they are smiling.  Is a book hilarious?  Is a friend being entertaining?  Remember, every picture should tell a story.  Here are two pictures of my wife: on the left, she is hard at work on a cooking project.  On the right, she’s staring at the camera. Which one is more interesting? Which picture shows more about her?

  • 4) BACKGROUND — What’s behind your subject?  Clutter?  A pile of dress-up clothes that’s been sitting around since last month?  A blank wall?  Don’t let it distract from your subject and don’t let it give the wrong impression of your environment.  Have the background enhance your subject.

  • 5) EDITING & SHARING — Before sharing a photo with your community, spend a few minutes editing your shot.  Programs such as Google Photos allow you to crop and and automatically adjust balance, color, and exposure with a few quick clicks.  Bad photos are bad; a little editing can make them look great. The photo on the right was edited in three seconds (I timed it) and looks 300% better.

  • BONUS TIP — If you aren’t comfortable posting pictures of children’s faces on your website, consider taking pictures of children’s hands or artwork. Far too often I see children’s backs and the tops of their heads, obscuring anything interesting.

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