Riverside, CA

Take Heirloom Quality Portraits of Your Children in Riverside

Heather Monroe

Follow these tips to take better photographs of your children while exploring our city

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Child at Pedestrian Mall, Downtown Riverside/Heather Monroe

The pandemic has affected just about every industry out there, and portrait photography is no exception. Not only has it been unsafe for photographers to get close enough to take a meaningful photograph, but some families are suffering financially and can't afford it.

This article aims to help. You can't learn to create the magical images of a professional photographer in just one article. But, you can learn a few valuable tips and tricks to take lovely portraits that you will want to frame or mail to the grandparents.

Manage Expectations

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Siblings at Fairmount Park/Heather Monroe

Professional photographers are working with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and years of experience, which is why they can be expensive to hire. That's not to say talent doesn't account for the beautiful images they produce because it absolutely does.

That said, a hobbyist or novice can achieve quality photos using the camera they have. As they say, the best camera is the one in your hand. In most cases, this is a phone or an entry-level DSLR. For that reason, the examples I give here will either be taken with a Galaxy Note 10 or an entry-level Canon Rebel T3.

Going into it with these tools, understand that your phone will typically produce images that are perfectly acceptable for sharing on social media or printing up to an 8"x10" photo. An entry-level DSLR might be able to do an 11"x13," but for the sake of good results, let's shoot for smaller prints and Christmas cards since larger ones will lose quality.

If you desire beautiful, frame-worthy photographs of your children with the beautiful city of Riverside as a backdrop, this article is for you. It is alright that you haven't spent a small fortune on gear. You can learn a few fundamentals and tricks that will transform how you photograph your children—even if you aren't a natural photographer.

Techy Talk

The following tips are universal and will improve your results, no matter where in the world you are.

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Exposure Triangle/Wikimedia

The key to taking a beautiful photograph is understanding the exposure triangle. This triangle describes three components of a shot that work together: Shutter speed, Aperture, and F-Stop. It sounds complicated, but it isn't.

Let's talk about shutter speed. The faster your subject moves, the higher the shutter speed you'll need. A low shutter speed will cause your lens to stay open longer, and anything moving will be blurred. Since you are photographing children in an outdoor setting, we can safely use a shutter speed between 100 and 500.

The next component is aperture; this is how wide your lens opens. You might hear this referred to as an F-Stop. A low F-Stop, below F-3.5, allows your subject to stay in focus and the background to blur. The lower the number, the blurrier the background.

The final component is ISO. Although ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization, this hardly describes its function. ISO, as it pertains to photography, describes your camera's sensitivity to light. A low number causes minor light sensitivity, and a high number lets in as much light as possible. For outdoor photos in natural light, you want an ISO of around 100-400, depending on the quality of the light. If you're using a camera or the pro setting on your phone, the light meter should read dead center or slightly above.

Your DSLR camera and most camera phones offer a jpeg or camera RAW format. Choose RAW. This format captures all of the information in your viewfinder; a jpeg loses pixels. Shooting in RAW will be helpful if you miss the mark as far as exposure goes. Still, a low-light photo will almost always turn out grainy when you try to brighten it up during editing.

Getting the Shot

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Siblings, Downtown Riverside/Heather Monroe

To get a memorable shot of your children, do not pose them. Sounds counterintuitive, right? Allow me to clue you in on a long-held secret—children do not like to be photographed. Shocking, I know. They do, however, like to play.

If you sit back and let your child play, you will get the pose you desire. Offer gentle instruction, such as, "Can I see your hands?" or "Look at your silly brother!" to get them in the position you want and be prepared to shoot.

Another common no-no is asking your children to smile. The "say cheese!" method often leads children to expose their lower teeth with their mouth turned down ala Chandler Bing. Instead, illicit a genuine smile. Tell knock-knock jokes. Tell secrets. Do the things that truly make your child laugh. Or just watch and wait. A smile will happen.

The most important posing advice is this: put some distance between your subject and the background, and keep the child in focus. Ideally, you want equal distance between your camera, the child, and the background to create a beautiful depth of field.

When the facial expressions and body positions align, make sure you are shooting correctly. Do not shoot up the child's nose or with the soles of feet facing the camera. A straight or slightly downward shot is more flattering and will usually bring the best result.

Time your photo shoot so it corresponds with "golden hour." This is the hour before sunset, when the sun is close to the horizon, and not directly above your subject. During that magical hour, the light is a warm yellow tone that casts long shadows, perfect for portrait photography.

Please don't forget the importance of focus. We all want that gorgeous creamy background, but the subject should be perfectly sharp. The eyes being the focal point, try to get the image so sharp that lashes are distinguishable.

Riverside Locations

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Boy outside of Mission Inn/Heather Monroe

You might haven't noticed, but we live in a pretty photogenic city. The beautiful architecture in downtown Riverside spans over a century of style. If you are looking for photographs with a more rural feel, we have no shortage of farms, orchards, and parks.

You can photograph your children in a thoughtful, modern setting or a rural, nostalgic one and never have to travel more than a few miles. The Arcade building offers the same arches as the Mission Inn but almost no pedestrian traffic.

Another great location is the pedestrian mall. There are a lot of people there, sure. But we live in a city. Embrace it! Shoot at F-2 or lower to create bokeh—a blurred background that will obscure strangers and distractions and focus on your child. Just remember also to adjust the other elements of the exposure triangle.

One unique outdoor setting that offers a rural backdrop is California State Citrus Park. Here, you'll find rows and rows of citrus trees, old farm equipment, and even a gazebo. Please visit their website for rules concerning photography, as there is a nominal fee to take professional photographs.

Create dramatic, moody photographs at Fairmount Park. The entire park has a dreamy quality with its giant, wispy willows overhanging Lake Evans and several fishing piers jutting out over the water.

Sneak a pic in the Mission Galleria Antique Mall! If you don't have brilliant lighting set up and desire background props.

Speaking of props, the holidays are approaching, and you must resist the urge to purchase holiday photo props. Why should you, when Mission Inn, and all of downtown, decorate so very beautifully. Many downtown stores have themed windows your children can peak through while you snap away. There is something simple and magical about holiday lighting in child portraits.

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Christmas Portrait using props found around town/Heather Monroe

Editing

Pictures straight out of the camera might need a little finessing. Your computer's built-in photo editing software can crop and straighten photographs efficiently.

When cropping, try to remember the rule of thirds. Imagine a grid of three horizontal and vertical lines over your shot—or use your software to show an actual grid over the image. Place your child so that he occupies 1/3 of the frame, with his eyes where two lines intersect. Painted portraits, and even movies, use this technique to draw the eye to the subject.

If you intend to print your photos, edit them in Photoshop or Lightroom. Your image might need minor adjustments in color or saturation. Use a light hand when editing. There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. Heavily edited photos hardly ever print well.

There are no rules that say you can't play with more intense editing, but until you know exactly what the printed result will look like, it is best to keep it simple.

Some editing styles don't age very well. Remember the glamor shots of yesteryear? One editing style that should go by way of the Dodo Bird is Selective color—when everything except the subject is in black and white.

If you aren't comfortable editing your photographs, do not worry. Use overlays and preset edits, such as those offered by world-renowned child photographer Meg Bitton.

Suppose you do not desire to participate in editing, head on over to Fiverr and outsource the job for little cost.

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Girl in Fairmount Park, edited for exposure and skin tone/Heather Monroe

Safety

Have you ever seen an image of a fresh newborn sleeping peacefully with legs stretched forward and hands holding up its tiny head? How about a baby snoozing away inside of a hollowed-out pumpkin?

These photographs are not straight out of a camera but the work of experienced, specialized photographers and editors. The baby was never left alone. Instead, there are many "spotters" ready to catch the baby if it tumbles. Throughout the shoot, assistants are safely holding the newborn's head and rump at all times.

The magic happens when several images are spliced together to create these popular poses. No froggy poses or anything that balances a delicate newborn. Explain how this is done. Never on the train tracks. Never in the street.

A popular photography location choice is train tracks. I get it. Train tracks have beautiful leading lines and offer lots of posing options. You should also know that posing on train tracks has resulted in fatalities. Still, I don't need to explain why this is dangerous.

We're trying to create precious moments, not tragedies.

Above all, let your photoshoots be fun! Don't get too caught up in backgrounds, poses, or clothing. Instead, try for a portrait that captures the spirit of your children as they are today because these moments will not last. Before you know it, you will wipe dirt off your child's face for the last time. Soon, they will lose curiosity in feathers or stones. The children will get older, and so will you. When the time comes, you will all appreciate authentic documentation of their child-selves.

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I am a freelance writer, mom, and genealogist from California. I adore rock hounding, and living my best RV life.

Los Angeles, CA
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