How to naturally create and photograph frame-worthy memories with photographer Nicki Sebastian

It’s the season to stay close to home and really soak in the little moments that matter most. To help naturally create and keep those frame-worthy memories, fellow mama and the mother of photography, Nicki Sebastian, is sharing her tips for perfectly capturing these moments in photos.
  • Kelli Sullivan
  • October 28, 2019

It’s the season to stay close to home and really soak in the little moments that matter most. To help naturally create and keep those frame-worthy memories, fellow mama and the mother of photography, Nicki Sebastian, is sharing her tips for perfectly capturing these moments in photos. Read below and happy memory making! 


1. Light reigns supreme

When creating a successful image, lighting is key: great light can make an image, poor light can break an image. Turn off any overhead/artificial lighting and seek out natural sources (soft window light, streams of sunlight hitting the floor of a room, direct, shadow-casting sun in the backyard, open shade on a front porch; the possibilities are many). Once you find the light that makes you tick, learn how to manipulate it and understand how it effects your subject matter—you can do this through experimentation with inanimate objects, before you're finding yourself chasing a moving target (aka antsy toddler) with your camera. I always tell clients up front that they may find themselves in the most unsuspecting places in their home if I find a patch of light that moves me, so no need to worry about that pretty formal dining room with zero windows--I'll probably have you crouched in your bathroom in a stream of sunshine and the resulting image will speak for itself.

2. Toss out the cheese

Gone are the days of sitting still and stiffly smiling for the camera—families generally want authentic moments captured, and that awkward, forced grin is usually not one of them. If a kiddo is feeling serious or pensive or even somewhat somber, these moods are still fodder for beautiful imagery, so feel free to make kid-friendly conversation with little ones (ask them about ice cream flavors or favorite toys or Halloween costumes), or just let them be, but try to resist the urge to make them "say cheese." Continue snapping away even if they're not beaming from ear-to-ear—some of my favorite photos are of the more quiet moments that often get overlooked. 

3. Stick to the script—sort of

While I try to make my images look as natural as possible, I'm totally willing to admit that I give cues to families and often tell them exactly what to do so the resulting photo is a reflection of the idea that I have in my head. Candid moments don't have to be completely serendipitous. For example, you pile the family in a patch of light on the couch, tell the dad to lift up his daughter while the mom gives her son a huge, closed-eye smooch, and then have them "act out" the scene while you click that shutter button. Chances are, they'll even use some poetic license and add in their own sweet interactions while they're executing your explicit directions—families just generally need some guidance so they're not a herd of deer in headlights once the camera comes out. And, this goes without saying, if your actors don't necessarily succeed on the first take, feel free to ask them to create the scene again until you're satisfied (or until a kid revolts). 

4. Switch up your perspective

Photographing families head-on is certainly one way to capture some worthwhile moments, but sometimes little ones (and adults too) need a change of perspective so the session remains fresh...and fun! If you find a patch of unobstructed sky, have a parent lift or toss a kiddo above their head and lay on the ground to capture that unabashed joy of being airborne, or have your subjects lay on the grass and ask them to hold hands, tickle each other, or glue their ears together. You're guaranteed to get some laughs, and the best part is that your camera becomes an afterthought because it's now in an unassuming place (either above or below your subjects versus lens-to-face).

5. Let things get in the way

Much like a shift in perspective, don't be afraid to play around with windows, objects, or even other family members positioned between you and your subjects. If the light is right, I love shooting through windows to add texture (and make families forget that I'm even there), or I often find colorful flower petals, leaves or even a toy off the ground to hold in front of my lens to create depth and a more dynamic photo. Similarly, don't worry about siblings trying to ham it up or jump in front of your shot while you're snapping away—a blurry face or form in the foreground can really add to an image and make the viewer think (or chuckle).

6. Be the kid you wish to photograph

I can't stress this enough: if you're going to photograph children, you should probably learn to act like one. When capturing a family, my focus is on the little ones, and I could care less about how I appear in front of the adults, which means my dignity goes out the window, and I'm perfectly willing to get down on their level and get weird. I love a genuine kid laugh, and that usually requires some sort of bathroom noise, funny voice, or ridiculous song—so pay less attention to your adult peers and instead make the children feel completely at ease, because a comfortable kiddo undoubtedly results in a much more relaxed parent.

7. When in doubt, laughing contest

Not every day is going to be your funniest and not every kid is going to think you're a stand-up comedian. So when you've exhausted your scatalogical joke repertoire, you can always resort to the Laughing Contest. Whether you've got two or twenty people in front of your camera, a little competitive laughing usually produces successful results. Count to three, and ask all participants to give you their best chuckle while you're simultaneously taking photos and "judging"—just be sure to always award the kids with the proverbial trophy for Best Giggler(s).


8. But also, the parent(s)

I realize that the majority of this article highlights my focus on the kids, and while those points are still valid, I also like to make time at the end of a shoot for the parents—sans children. I can say with almost complete certainty that the last time most of my clients were professionally photographed was on their wedding day, so a casual at-home portrait of the folks is often one of their most treasured images—even if, when you suggest it, they awkwardly position themselves as if they're at a middle school dance. Take this moment to let the kiddos off the hook, give them the treat that they were most likely bribed with, and give your couple (or just mom, or just dad) centerstage. At this point in the session, they're so thrilled to have survived, that a few extra snaps (and a comment about how they seem to have forgotten how their kids were made) will produce a relaxed, genuinely loving portrait complete with laughs and sighs of relief.

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