One frustration that I hear over and over from parents is that they struggle to capture in photos the feeling they were experiencing in the moment. 

There are many many reasons for this, and my first suggestion is always to focus on how it feels, not how it looks as you will find that your photos start to become like shorthand notes to yourself about what you are feeling in the moment.

But I know that you want more than that. 

My free 7 day challenge to take better photos of your kids will show you how.

And the day three challenge in particular helps to close the gap between what you experience and what your photos reflect.

Do you find your photos fail to capture what you experienced in the moment? Today's challenge to look for natural light will help.

Look for natural light

You can't beat the vibrancy and clarity that comes from natural light.

You can't beat the vibrancy and clarity that comes from natural light.

Light affects everything, not just how things look - it also affects how we feel. But unless you're a photographer, you’re probably not thinking about the light in your photos, and if you are, you’re probably not sure how to go about finding better light while you’re shooting. I know this because I see photos from parents all the time where light is a big struggle. 

Learning how to use light to its best advantage in your photos, in order to strengthen the moment you are capturing in support of the story that you are telling, is complex, I’ll admit. But one super easy way that you can improve your photos is to look for natural light.

I’m not saying you can’t take good photos in poor light, but as a parent photographing your kids, particularly on your smartphone, looking for natural light is one of the easiest things you can do to improve the color, clarity and focus of your photos. 

When you look for natural light, not only will your photos look better, but they will feel better as well. 

In natural light, it is easier to capture the moment in photos that are true to what you see and experience. In artificial light, your eyes adjust to the lighting in ways that your camera does not, contributing greatly to the disconnect that so many parents feel between the beauty of the moment before them and the disappointing resulting photo.

If you are indoors, look for a window.

If you are indoors, look for a window.

And because our eyes adjust, we may not notice it, but light levels are much lower in artificial light. What this means is, unless you know how to use your DSLR and control your settings, your photos are more likely to be blurry.

Take a look at your most recent blurry photos. Were they in natural light? I’m guessing not!

However, there is an important caveat here. Contrary to popular belief, you do not want to go all the way into direct sunlight where the light and shadows are more harsh.

Instead, go near natural light but stay in the shade. If you are indoors, this is relatively easy — just go near a window but stay out of any direct sunlight. If you are outdoors, this usually means staying in the shade.

5/14/17 update: This challenge is no longer available but check out our new challenge: 7 days to finding joy through photographing your kids.

Featured participant photos

"My daughter is so pokey -- there is always something slowing her down. Today it was a leaf in her croc. Usually frustrates me to no end, but today I decided to embrace it. I also loved the geometry of the wall and the pinks in the brick working with the pinks on her clothes." - Dayna Brandon

Hi Dayna,

Day three photo by challenge participant Dayna Brandon

Day three photo by challenge participant Dayna Brandon

I hear you on the pokey-ness! But what a great way to turn it around and take the opportunity to capture the moment. I love it when photographing our kids can help us slow down and be more in the moment, especially when parenting life feels so hectic. I think we can forget that there are these built in down times!

With regards to feeling like your phone camera is a beat too slow, as you describe in your survey, taking advantage of these “pokey” times is one great strategy.

I’ve talked about this in some of the other hot seats but the key is also to start anticipating moments rather than waiting for something to happen and then reacting. This is not as hard as it sounds - as a mom, you’ll find that you can get a sense for when something interesting is about to happen so you can get your phone ready. And as you practice this approach in your everyday life, you’ll find you’ll get better and it will come more naturally.

Back to this photo, with regards to today’s challenge, the light looks great here, lovely and diffuse and soft (see the softness of her shadow against the wall).

I love that you have her off center too, with a nice clean background (see the day four challenge). We don’t get into composition until the 30 day challenge, but I would also experiment with getting down low at your kids’ level (all your photos so far have been shot from the “grown-up” angle of slightly above). I love to get low and square up against a wall or other Brooklyn/urban backdrop. 

Thanks for your participation! I look forward to seeing more of your photos.

Day three photo by challenge participant Stacy Cosson

Day three photo by challenge participant Stacy Cosson

“I loved the challenge today! I love looking at the way light changes the pictures & focus & overall look of what you are trying capture. It was fun trying different shots in the various light. I had a bunch from today but I choose this one because my son was in his favorite element — outside, playing with water and his buddy Clemson.” - Stacy Cosson

Hi Stacy,

The natural light looks great here, and I love the view from above, square against the wood boards of the deck. The texture of the wood serves as a great background and contrast to your son and the dog, who are captured here in a sweet interaction.