My wife and I disagree about exactly what women want. Fortunately for you, my male companion, I KNOW what they want and that could be very helpful information for you this Mother’s Day.
They simply want pictures of themselves with their children. I aim to help you give them to her.
It doesn’t really matter how old the mother is or how old the kids are. It’s never too late to take a picture of a mother with her children. My plan is to walk you through step-by-step how to take a beautiful photograph of this special relationship for your special mother. (Trust me, she doesn’t have enough of them. Women are shooting somewhere close to 90% of the family pictures in the U.S. now and the result is lots and lots of mothers without substantial photographic documentation of their motherhood. They’re not in the pictures—they TOOK the pictures—and guys like you aren’t helping much, I might add! And YOU have albums full of pictures of you with HER children. Shame.)
What you’re going to do is get your hands on the family/her camera, learn how to use it, and have a practice session with the kids before Mother’s Day. Then on the big day you’re going to shoot a portrait of mom and the children. Easy.
It may be a while since you touched the family/her camera. If you need a refresher on its functions you can find the instruction manual on the Internet. They are all there. Simply Google the name of your camera with the words “instruction manual”.
At the beginning of that manual there is very likely a quick start section. It might be a good idea to spend a few seconds glancing at it.
Here’s the basic formula I want you to follow. Don’t ask why, just do it.
1. Figure out how to turn off the flash. A flash produces a harsh, unromantic light. It’s the signature look of an amateur snapshot. We are going to try and do something better than an amateur snapshot. We’re not going to get all artsy here, but the flash isn’t going to cut it.
2. Figure out how to put the camera on automatic exposure. If you want to get really fancy, use the automatic exposure function called A for Aperture Priority. Then, if you think you can handle it, put the f-stop/aperture on the lowest number your camera has. Don’t ask why, just do it. ( If you really need to know, the lowest number is the largest opening, and the largest opening will help put the background out-of-focus. Women love out-of-focus backgrounds, trust me. They think it’s very romantic. And at the risk of sounding a little girly, I have to agree with them.)
3. Make sure the battery is charged. Duh. Fabricate whatever lies you have to to get your hands on the recharger. Like: “Sweetie, may I borrow your camera battery recharger. My lawnmower uses the same recharger! What are the odds?!”
4. Have a secret practice session with the kids BEFORE Mother’s Day. Position the them next to a window or doorway where there is some beautiful natural light coming in. You don’t want direct sunlight. You want beautiful soft light that doesn’t have harsh shadows. If you have a front porch on your house, that can make a beautiful natural light studio. Maybe your neighbor has a porch. It would not be unreasonable to ask if you could use his porch. (Wait until he’s done taking his Mother’s Day photo, of course.) The whole idea with the practice session is to get all the technical kinks worked out before the big photo shoot with mom. This could take you a while. You might even want to have a pre-practice session alone with a teddy bear before you have the secret practice session with the kids. I’m just saying.
5. Make sure the battery is charged. Duh.
6. We’re going to try and keep things simple. I want you to get everyone’s heads as close to each other as possible and have everyone look into the camera. That may sound very snapshotty to you, but if you find the right light for this photograph I think you may amaze yourself—and the mom. Mostly the mom, as a matter of fact.
7. Zoom the lens in/telephoto about half way. Make the lens a telephoto lens. Then, position yourself so you can fill the frame with faces. If there are feet in the picture you are not anywhere close to close enough to the subject. Think head-and-shoulders here. We want to see those faces. You may need to act like a little movie director and get all their faces touching—cheek to cheek.
8. You may be tempted to shoot this portrait in the bedroom when you and the kids give mom breakfast in bed. Don’t go down that rat hole. Bedrooms are often dark and you’re going to need some decent light with the flash off, trust me. I’m certainly not saying that you shouldn’t photograph breakfast in bed, but breakfast in bed is not going to be the money shot this Mother’s Day.
9. Shoot lots and lots and lots and lots of pictures. If you have squirmy kids or squirmy anyone you need to increase your luck factor by shooting lots of pictures. (Screaming and yelling at squirmy kids is probably to be avoided on Mother’s Day. Screaming and yelling can be a buzz kill for sure when you are trying to take a lovey-dovey photograph. Trust me, I’ve tried. Save the screaming and yelling for Thanksgiving.)
10. Get the pictures onto the computer and pick the best frame. Mom should be involved in this final and extremely important decision. The best frame may be obvious to you but, trust me, logic flies out the window when you are choosing the best frame of mothers and their children.
11. Finally, get a beautiful print made, put it into a frame, and wrap it. Yes, that’s right, I said wrap it. I know that wrapping gifts is a pain in the patooshky but like I said I KNOW what women want and they want wrapped gifts.
That should do it. Here’s one minor glitch. As I told you my wife and I disagree about what women want. I read my wife this master plan for an extremely thoughtful Mother’s Day gift and she told me that women don’t want photographs of everyone looking into the camera. They want the everyday moments of life photographed in a spontaneous loving way. They want pictures of themselves and their children in light and situations that would satisfy only Michelangelo himself.
So to test my wife’s theory, we put out an all-points-bulletin on our Facebook page and asked mothers to send us photographs they’ve taken of fathers in the way they would love to be photographed themselves. I’m sad to report that essentially my wife was correct. Apparently, women do want pictures of themselves nuzzling their children and kissing their fat little tummies—the kid’s tummies, not the mommy’s tummies—and throwing them up in the air to dangerously high Michael Jackson-like levels.
Here’s the deal. Let’s keep it simple this year. Let’s do it MY WAY this year. If you can pull this off, then maybe you’ll be ready for the spontaneous action photojournalism approach next year. Let’s get a simple portrait of all those beautiful faces looking into the camera and loving each other under our belts before we go hunting for big game. If you want to practice before next Mother’s Day you have my permission.
Finally, if you completely mess this up—like it’s a total train wreck, OK?—she’s still going to love it. Thoughtful gift-giving can go a long, long way even if the finished homemade product looks like it was handmade by a complete idiot. Women LOVE that stuff.
Charge the battery. Wrap the gift. God speed.
P.S. If there is a mother in your life with a young baby she’s in a category by herself. She desperately wants pictures of herself with her little baby. If you provide that mother with lots and lots of pictures of her with her little baby you are going to save yourself decades of analysis about exactly why you dropped the photographic football when the kid was young. Even professional photographers make this mistake. Trust me on that one.