Getting decent photographs of little ones can be a tricky business. But capturing the right moment can mean it is immortalised in print form forever.

The nation let out a collective “aaah” recently when the Duchess of Cambridge shared photographs she had taken herself of her six-month-old baby girl, Charlotte.

Professionals criticised but many agreed she had captured beautiful moments of her baby that only a mother could encourage, which included the little princess playing with a stuffed toy.

There are ways you can follow suit this festive season in a bid to create keepsakes for the future.


Essex photographer and journalist BARRY KIRK has spent his life snapping the good, the bad and occasionally the ugly.

Barry, a former Essex newspaper editor, began his professional photographic career in Liverpool during the Sixties, photographing the Beatles amongst others.

Since then he’s snapped just about everyone and everything you can imagine.

Barry, who has just written and produced his own photographic travelogue about Florence, gives us some tips on how to get those family images right this Christmas...


THE first thing to do when photographing children is hide their mobile phones, then at least you will get their undivided attention.

Children and animals are usually high on the depression list of most professional photographers as the subjects soon get bored and make attempts to escape.

The old press photographer’s trick to keep talking and moving usually works.

Three things to do first – set the camera on auto exposure, select portrait focusing if the subject less than three foot in front of the lens, and check there’s lots of free space on the memory card.

The reason for the last tip, particularly if you are going into unknown territory, is using the basic law of averages by keeping pressing the shutter button as youmove and talk in front of the subject, you should get some decent shots.

History has ingrained the need to conserve expensive film and make each picture count. It does not happen, so get used to the idea that the vast majority of pictures taken in a frenzy of index finger pumping will be no use, but what is left can be magic.

You can always delete the duff pictures to make more space on the card for the next session.

The best camera setting for this activity is Auto which will give a result every time as long as the movement is kept to slow and slight. If you jump around, the pictures with be blurred by the movement as shutter speed can be quite low, depending on the lighting.

If your camera will let you, set the speed dial “S” at 60 or 100, which are fractions of a second, the higher being the one that stops a lot of movement.

The resulting proportional difference between speed and aperture just means that if the focus is on the face, the background will be out of focus.

That’s ideal for portraits, but if you want it all in focus, use the Auto setting.

Lighting is vital if indoors and subdued light pouring through a window gives a rich and soft contrast. Put the subject as if looking out of the window with the camera at the side, then tell them to turn their head slowly to face the camera if you want a full face, or a more acute angle if you want the moody stuff.

Auto is the best setting for this unless the subject is fidgety – in that case, invest in a length of rope and nail the ends to the window ledge.

The danger of using this lighting is it can be extreme and expose for low or high light, giving bleached out or solid black shadows.

As most cameras set the focus and exposure every time you press the shutter, keep the centre point in the viewfinder on the nose of the subject as they turn.

This keeps the focus on the face and only exposes for the light falling on the nose and cheeks, which is usually a good average.

If, on the other hand, you brave the elements outdoors, you can get the effect by using the same camera setting of “S”, zooming in on the head and shoulders and getting the subject to turn slowly.

Trees and telegraphs can fall into obscurity, though it is best they are not there in the first place.

The television is also a good source of light, and as the youngsters seem to virtually sit with their nose touching the screen, a portrait can be quite effective.

Using the same set of angles with the camera to one side, keep pressing the shutter and get the subject to slowly turn their head towards you. It is natural for a smile to spread.

With family groups, leave the setting on Auto. Just because there is a wall, they do not necessarily have to stand by it as if about to be executed. This is howmost of these pictures come out, particularly if time is taken trying to work out which end of the camera to look into.

If you have a big group, don’t give them the chance to chat while the camera is set up. Stand in front and go down on one knee and invite them to keep leaning over. The effect is amazing as gravity takes over, so keep pressing the shutter.

If you are kind, stop them before the angle goes critical. But if you are mean, like me, I let them reach the tipping point and adjust the speed to catch the basic instincts of survival that take over – the prefall ridiculous expressions are priceless. A good example will sit in the family archive forever and constantly be referred to.

One last treasure trove of youngsters’ expressions is to lay on the floor in front of them while opening their presents.

Interest in the camera soon dissolves as the air is filled with ripped shards of paper and Sellotape. Just keep pressing that button and don’t stop.

That is what makes Christmas family photography so magical.


ROB Sambrook, owner of Rob Sambrook Photography, specialised in school and nursery photography in north Essex, as well as individual portraits of children and families.

He says: “Through this I have realised how many parents really struggle to get any photos of their little ones that they are happy with.

“These days most people have a decent camera and I know from my own experience most mobile phones also now have very good cameras.


“This is fantastic and means everyone now has the tools to create and produce beautiful photographic memories of their own.”

And he has a few tips of his own which will help parents and relatives get the best snaps they can.

“As I have said, great photos can be achieved with most cameras now and the first trick is to really think about where you are placing your subject.

“Use natural light as much as possible.

“Sit your subject in front of a window – french doors, if you are lucky enough to have them, would be even better.

“And you can also experiment with throwing open the front door and sitting the subject in the hallway. It’s all about the light. Look for it and you can find it in most situations.

Move your subjects to where the light is.”

Rob says you should direct the subjects of the photos.

“People are much happier and more relaxed if you take control.

“Avoid taking your photos with light behind your subject, as I am sure a lot of you have found out, you will end up with a dark subject and a bright background.”

His other tips include:

  • Look out for distracting backgrounds – a beautiful smiling child with a Christmas tree poking out of their head won’t look great.
  • Try to look for backgrounds where your subject and the background do not clash.
  • Don’t be afraid to move in close. So many people shoot photos very loose with lots of unnecessary elements in the photo. It can be very distracting and will reduce the impact of your image.
  • Try to shoot from different angles – experiment a bit. Try laying down to photograph a small child who is sitting on the floor, for example.

Rob says the recent photos of Princess Charlotte show how simple portraits can be achieved, using a little natural light, attention to clothing and background, and basic understanding of composition.

Echo: Princess Charlotte with her cuddly toy dog taken in Anmer Hall in Sandringham early November, in Norfolk

“The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, has also used a favourite cuddly toy as a distraction for Charlotte and snapped away as she happily plays.”

And he says as well as health benefits, getting out and about over the festive season can do wonders for your photographs too.

“Get out of the house and go for that Christmas or Boxing Day walk.

“Take your camera and you will get some fantastic photos of your family.”