You see a precious moment that you want to capture... yet when you go back to look at your photos you are disappointed.

Why is that?!!!

My free 7 day challenge to take better photos of your kids (using just your smartphone) takes you through many of the reasons why.

The day four challenge addresses one of the most common reasons, and shows you what to do about it.

A common reason why your photos are disappointing when you go back and look at them... and what to do about it

Eliminate background clutter

I’ll be the first to admit that our house is cluttered, but whether you are more naturally a clutterer or a declutterer, it is very easy, even in the most minimal of environments, for background clutter to creep into your photos without you even noticing.

Think of two types of background clutter in your photos:

There is the background clutter you don’t notice at the time but becomes glaringly — and disappointingly — obvious when you look at your photos.

And then there’s the background clutter that you may not even consciously notice in your photos but is still contributing to your general feeling that the photos you take just don’t do the moments justice.

Whether you notice it or not, background clutter doesn’t feel good. It distracts visually and emotionally from the moment you are capturing and the story you are telling.

This is particularly true with smartphone photos, or any photo where things in the background are just as sharp as things in the foreground. This is because, in real life, your eyes naturally focus on the object of interest and everything else is more blurred. This is why you may not notice objects in the background when you are taking a photo, unless you train yourself to look for them.

When you eliminate background clutter, you can capture photos that are more true to how the moment felt.

This doesn’t mean eliminating elements in the background that contribute to the feel of the moment that you want to capture.

And it doesn’t mean eliminating background clutter from your life — which would be impossible!

It means watching out for extraneous clutter that does not add to your shot and in fact only detracts from the moment.

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 LOVES sitting on benches. I had to zoom in pretty close to get rid of all the clutter around her." - Kara Hazen

Hi Kara,

Day for photo by challenge participant Kara Hazen

Day for photo by challenge participant Kara Hazen

 Zooming in was a great strategy here to eliminate background clutter and look at those beautiful eyes - just gorgeous! I’m curious as to whether you zoomed in before taking the photo or cropped after the fact. I find it easier to crop after the fact rather than messing around with the zoom controls on my phone while in the moment, but then I also prefer fixed lenses on my DSLR rather than zoom lenses, so your preferences may vary - just something to think about.

I’m also curious as to what was surrounding the bench that was too cluttered. If she loves sitting on benches, you could also look for benches in less cluttered areas and then get a shot of her on the entire bench so that you can commemorate this obsession!

Your day one and three photos have beautiful window light coming in from the side. The light in this situation is a little more tricky as the background seen through the bench is so bright. We don’t get into editing until the 30 day challenge but a little editing would really make this pop! There are of course tons of photo editing apps but I like Camera+ - here is a blog post I wrote a while back for Mom365: Learn how Camera+ can liven up your baby photos.

"I decided to challenge myself today and get a shot of my oldest, who is the king of silly faces for the camera. Here he is at the Botanic Garden, with as little background clutter as possible at the gardens." - Wendy Cox

Day four photo by challenge participant Wendy Cox

Day four photo by challenge participant Wendy Cox

Hi Wendy,

I love that you set out to challenge yourself yesterday and got a great shot! This is the perfect example of how eliminating background clutter doesn’t have to mean eliminating having anything in the background at all.

Context and environment are often a big part of the story we are telling about our children’s lives, such as in this moment, so you did a great job of capturing that without having anything in the background that distracts or competes with our focus on your son. A very minor point, but you could crop out the brown vertical piece on the right hand edge of the photo to truly be distraction free.

Love that you are down low and that he is off center - we feel right there in the moment with you!

I know from your survey that background clutter is one of your biggest frustrations so I think you did a great job here, plus you also got natural eye contact and a smile!