How Not to Take Crappy Baby Pictures

Do most of the photos of your kids look like this?

Or this?                                                                                        . . . or perhaps this?

As JJ has become increasingly mobile, I’ve gotten increasingly frustrated with the lack of angelic portraits…the kind I used to get on a regular basis. Before he could walk. I had sadly resigned myself to albums full of blurry, oddly-angled, poorly-lit photos of my son’s formative years.

Then I remembered… “Hey, I know a lot of awesome photographers! Why don’t I ask their advice?”

So I polled my fave photogs (as well as a few recommended to me), and got tons of excellent feedback on everything from lighting to distraction techniques to iPhone tips. I compiled and edited (and included some photos from these great shutterbugs) and am thrilled to present to you…




Most of us non-pros probably use a “point-and-shoot” camera, best suited for natural light. The ideal times of day are early morning or just before sunset, aka “the golden hour.” These times give the softest, warmest light (and least amount of squinting).

On-camera flash tends to be harsh and ugly.  -Jim Judkis, Pittsburgh, PA

Flash on point-and-shoot cameras often wash out… and don’t make natural looking exposures.  -Michele Corbman, Bethesda, MD

Photo by Piper Watson
Photo by Michele Corbman


If you want your child to look at you, you gotta get in their face. Getting down to their level helps you see the world through their eyes.

It helps to get down so the camera is on their eye level, even if you have to get on the ground and crawl around. -Cade Martin, Bethesda, MD

Getting on the child’s level makes them more inclined to work with you, to give you a smile or a giggle for a great photo, since you’re not towering above them.  -Piper Watson, Annapolis, MD

Photo by Lindsey Lissau
Photo by Jim Judkis


How many more cheesy, overly-posed photos does the world need? You’ll look back and think, “When did my child ever look like that?” Capture an authentic moment or expression by allowing your child to be him/herself.

Forget the canned smile…you really won’t enjoy those images in 15 years! Instead, look for those expressions that will fade away sooner than you expect: the joy of seeing Mommy/Daddy coming through the door, the grumpy face from being told “no” for the 100th time, the sleepy smile after their favorite bedtime story. These are the images that remind us of what it is to be a parent.  -Holly Dawson, Austin, TX

It’s not always about that moment that you’ve directed or told them to do; it’s about the moments in between where you can catch them giggling or acting silly. -Lindsey Lissau, Memphis, TN

Photo by Cade Martin
Photo by Piper Watson

Think of ways to engage your child and keep their attention. Sing a favorite song (JJ’s is “Old Macdonald” — animal noises are his thing right now), ask about their favorite sport, TV show or best friend, play “Simon Says.” You can also use the element of surprise (toddlers love to be startled — at least mine does) to get a fun reaction out of them!

Have a helper act as a “tickle monster” and sneak up behind the subject. This creates great moments of anticipation and laughter, so keep your eye on the camera and your finger on the shutter, and let it rip.  -Cade

Put your camera on auto, turn off the flash, get out in the sunlight and play with them! Kids are happiest when interacting with their favorite people — all the technical stuff goes out the window when you snap a photo of a genuinely happy child looking directly at you/the camera.  -Piper

Sometimes I’ll pretend there is something inside my camera and ask them if they can see it through my lens. Of course, this can sometimes backfire if you’re close to your subject and leave you with a fingerprinted lens!  -Yony Kim, Dallas, TX

Photo by Piper Watson
Photo by Yony Kim

Be attentive to what’s in the surroundings. You don’t want to spend an hour taking photos and then realize there was a pile of dirty laundry in the background of every shot.

For more creative photos, always check your background, image composition corner-to-corner, different perspective, and good color combinations.  -Michele

If you’re shooting someone in front of something, whether it’s a bike, a house or the Washington Monument, don’t have them stand directly in front of it. Put them way in the foreground, close to your camera so that you see their faces and the entire object off in the distance.  -Yony

Photo by Cade Martin
Photo by Yony Kim

Digital? Disposable? Camera phone? Whatever you’re using, know its features AND its limitations.

The very best camera is the one that you’ll keep with you at all times. So shop for something that you like the feel of and that isn’t intimidating to use or carry in your pocket.  -Piper

For people with more advanced camera set-ups, learn your manual settings. It will help you achieve what you want. You work the camera, not the other way around.  -Lindsey

It’s best to use SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras for quick-moving targets, like toddlers! Point-and-shoot cameras have a delay in the shutter release and the moment is often lost.  -Michele

iPhone idea: after taking a shot with ShakeItPhoto (my app of choice), I use Adobe PS Express to do mini-edits. My next steps: increase the exposure a bit, lessen the contrast, go into effects and use vibrant or vignette blur, lessen the saturation, then sharpen a tad. After that, if I really want to get crazy, I will open the image in Pic Grunger and add texture or an additional border. I love the editing process even if it’s just with my phone!  -Yony

Photo by Holly Dawson
Photo by Yony Kim


Even the most chaotic shot can become timeless by converting it to black and white. It can also help simplify an overly colorful photo and focus on what’s most important — your kiddo.

Black and white has a classic quality. It cuts through the extraneous imagery and gets to the core of the shot.  -Jim

Photo by Michele Corbman
Photo by Lindsey Lissau

Consider taking photos of your child in motion on purpose. This is how they are most of the time, so why not capture their true identity? Give them a favorite toy or sporting equipment (or frying pan) and let them do their thing.

To “freeze” your child in the midst of the action, set your camera to a fast shutter speed (higher than 1/125) or the “sports” setting. For images that spotlight a blurred subject, slow the shutter down or focus the camera on a stationary object and have your subject move into frame.  -Holly

Whatever your kids are into right now, use those items as props or incorporate them into a few photos.  -Lindsey

Photo by Jim Judkis
Photo by Holly Dawson

This might go without saying, but don’t schedule a photo session during nap time. If you’re planning on taking that perfect family Holiday photo, make sure you allow enough wiggle room so your kiddo doesn’t dissolve into a ball of exhausted frustration. We learned this the hard way.

Consider your child’s typical day, and aim to have a session 30 minutes after eating and an hour prior to scheduled naps. Being a model is difficult work, so don’t be surprised if the 60-minutes you have in mind is reduced to 30-45 minutes; you will know pretty quickly when the child is completely done. Not even the best of bribes will work once your child reaches this point.  -Holly

Photo by Michele Corbman
Photo by Cade Martin

Hopefully these tips were helpful for all those everyday moments that seem to be literally racing past. But keep in mind this advice came from pros who know their stuff — they can do the best job when a really great photo is called for. So please consider giving them your business!

Some specialize in child photography and portraiture, some do commercial and editorial work, but all are top notch and have the Designer Daddy Seal of Approval!


Michele Corbman | Bethesda, MD

Holly Dawson | Austin, TX

Jim Judkis | Pittsburgh, PA

Yony Kim | Dallas, TX

Lindsey Lissau | Memphis, TN

Cade Martin | Bethesda, MD

Piper Watson | Annapolis, MD

(PS: Hey parents — I’d love to see some examples of your crappy baby photos!)

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