The Best Way to Capture Magical Moments

OHbaby! photographer Sam Mothersole shares her advice on how to capture your precious family on camera. 

I spend a lot of my time looking at the world through a lens and it never ceases to amaze me how the simplest of moments can be so beautiful. I am obsessed with light and am even more obsessed with putting people into that light.

While there’s a place for professional portraiture, there are many other magic moments that only a parent can capture, for no other reason than that you are there on the spot. You’re with your children more than anyone else, so you can become a documenter of the little moments.

I run workshops specifically aimed at giving mums the tools and knowledge to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. The first thing to be aware of is that you need to treat your young models differently depending on their age.

Here is some of what I teach about capturing the best of your precious children as they grow.

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Newborn tips

  • Issue 24Photos2Newborns are most easily photographed within the first two weeks when they’re sleepy a lot of the time.
  • Keep the room warm and cosy.
  • Don’t attempt to copy tricky poses you see done by professionals as most of these required more than one pair of hands or even some cutting and pasting from other images to get the final shot. Newborn safety is so important so keep it simple. Swaddle baby and lie her on a bed.
  • Watch for the light source and be careful not to light your baby straight on or up the nose.
  • Don’t use your camera flash directly on baby as her eyes are still so new.
  • Close-ups of tiny toes and fingers show just how fragile and precious your baby is. 

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The first year

One to four months

  • Babies are tricky to pose at this age as they can’t sit up or hold their heads up. Instead, photograph them lying down and capture them as they discover their hands.
  • For tummy time shots put her on your bed and get down to her level. But don’t let her roll off!
  • Occasionally move your camera to the side of your face so that you can get eye contact, and talk to keep her engaged. Capture those rewarding first smiles.

Four to nine months

  • Get shots of her playing with her feet, rolling over, and proudly sitting.
  • By now, your baby will be able to focus on objects if you hold them up. So hold a toy right next to the camera to get a shot of her looking straight at you. Noises and silly faces are great. Basically, use whatever works to get the cutest reaction.

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Nine to 12 months

  • Baby is on the move so patience is key. She will stop if she finds something 
    interesting to engage her though. Lots of “What’s that? What does it do?” will help keep her distracted for a second or two. These guys can move fast! But remember, there’s nothing cuter than that little nappy bum as it crawls off at speed down the hallway.
  • Remember to change your perspective to capture how baby sees the world and get down low to her level.

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Toddlers and older

  • Toddlers never seem to stop so sit your child on or in something so he can’t run away.
  • Not every image needs to show eye contact. The thinking ones are just as beautiful as they illustrate concentration and being deep in thought.
  • Once you “lose” him, let him play and do his thing for a while before trying to win back his attention.
  • Get a conversation going about some of your child’s favourite things. This helps to relax and distract him.
  • Coax out different facial expressions. Say things like, “Show me your funny face, now show me your grumpy face, now funny face again…” It will lead to fits of giggles. Ask if he can see the monkey hiding in your camera to capture intrigued or “Don’t be silly, Mummy!” faces.

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People often mention how hard it is to photograph siblings together. The “cuddle trick” and the “pull faces trick” are key in my repertoire. And it’s all about how you ask, for instance, “Now, Beth, can you show Mummy your special big-girl super cuddle for your little brother?” Or, “Do you think you would be able to kiss him on his nose? That’s a tricky one!” Snap the cuddles and the proud face afterwards.

If your children are older, I find it’s best to start with the “Pull some faces at your sister” request. Once they get laughing at each other you can capture that interaction. 

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If you have several kids try some games. Think along the lines of “Simon says...” but it’s “Mummy says... jump!” 

Another tip is to get them to run while holding hands. Then try the “big stretchy arms” game. See how far they can stretch while holding hands in a line. “Can you reach the water? Pull, pull... oh, no, you’re going to break!

Once you’ve got them relaxed and smiling and captured some natural, fun shots, you can grab the opportunity for a cuddle shot. “Lucky, last one guys! Squish closer together, like you’re stuck together with peanut butter!” And done. 

Snapping  on the go
You don’t always need a fancy DSLR camera to get a fabulous picture. Your smart phone can work some pretty amazing magic. My favourite apps for editing my images are Matte Box, VSCO Cam, Snapseed, and Camera+.
     If you’re an Instagrammer, I encourage you to take your photo on your camera phone instead of through Instagram. The original will be of a much higher quality. You can then import your photo and edit it in Instagram. 

The selfie
Issue 24Photos8Perhaps my most valuable piece of advice is come out from behind the camera and put yourself in the picture.

US blogger Allison Tate wrote in The Huffington Post: “Our sons need to see how young and beautiful and human their mamas were. Our daughters need to see us vulnerable and open and just being ourselves — women, mamas, people living lives.

“Avoiding the camera because we don’t like to see our own pictures? How can that be okay? I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.”

Damn straight! So, use the self-timer function on your camera, practise the art of the selfie and give the camera to someone else sometimes to capture childhood, Mum included. 

Keeping track
Finally, a few words about keeping your photos in some order. The beauty of taking pictures with a digital camera is that you can take literally hundreds. But the problem with that is you end up with far too many photos on your computer.

Here’s my advice:

  • Organise your photos into albums as you upload them to your computer. Do this by month — December 2013, January 2014, February 2014, etc, and be diligent in deleting photos you don’t want to keep. In fact, be ruthless! Select two or three photos from each set to blog and share.
  • From each event or month, select a few special photos that you really, really like and copy them into a “Best of 2014” folder. At the end of the year you will have a folder of fabulous images that you can then turn into an album.
  • Back up! An external hard-drive is great if your computer dies but won’t be so flash if you’re hit by burglary or fire. The other option is to back up online.

Sam Mothersole is OHbaby!’s official photographer and also runs Love & Soul Photography Workshops for mums. She has two children, aged eight and six. For more info go to



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