This article was originally published on November 8, 2016 and has been updated to include current product information.
There is so much information available about taking photos of your children, and how to become a better photographer. Another important factor to keep in mind when you’re working to be your family’s historian is to make sure you’re documented as a part of their memories.
For times you don’t have someone around to help take nice photos of you and your kids together, it’s nice to know you can do it yourself. In this article, I’ll outline the tools you need to take self-portraits so you can get out from behind the camera and into the shot with your kids.
I like taking self-portraits at home, where I’m most comfortable, and where I have the freedom to set up my gear whenever I like without being tied to time or space restraints. It’s nice to be in a place where my kids are comfortable too when I’m getting in the photo with them. This could be anywhere from my bedroom, to the playroom, to the kitchen. I prefer to choose places where my kids won’t try to get too far away from me to play with something more exciting. Often that ends up being on my bed or a couch.
Obviously a camera is the first tool you’ll need to achieve this. A Wi-Fi ® enabled DSLR is a great tool when it comes to taking self-portraits, allowing you to use Live View on your smartphone to help take your photo—so you’ll need a smartphone in this scenario, as well as the Canon Camera Connect app (free in the app store) if you're using a Wi-Fi-compatible Canon EOS or PowerShot camera.
If your camera is not Wi-Fi enabled you can use a Canon RC-6 wireless remote to control your camera.
You’ll also need a tripod or something to balance your camera on that is level to where you’ll be seated.
As I mentioned, one tool to getting a good self-portrait is a using a tripod. You can mount your camera on it, and position it exactly where you’ll be sitting. If you don’t have a tripod, that’s ok too. Knowing how quick kids are, sometimes it’s easier to just set your camera down on a table, mantle or desk at about eye level to where you will be sitting, or you can set it down on a flat surface and prop up the lens and position it to make it level so you are all in the frame.
If you’re indoors, it’s nice to pick a place that has a lot of light. Try setting the camera on a window sill and facing it back toward where the kids will be. You'll often have more beautiful natural light hitting them, and this can directly lead to better pictures.
Try to do all of this setup before asking your kids to join you, so you can get more cooperative photo subjects.
Even if your camera doesn't have the latest Wi-Fi technology, you can still often fire it remotely -- making it a lot easier to include yourself in the picture! On my older EOS 5D Mark II, for instance, there's no Wi-Fi connection to a smartphone. But simply changing its Drive Mode to the Self-Timer setting -- usually the one with the 2-second delay -- means I can easily trigger it remotely, pressing the button on an inexpensive accessory infrared remote controller like the Canon RC-6. On Canon EOS cameras, you can tell if this type of infrared remote is compatible by looking carefully at the self-timer icon on the camera's LCD panel -- if you see a small remote transmitter pictured next to the clock icon, you have infrared remote capability.
With your Wi-Fi enabled DSLR, setting up the wireless shooting for the first time means going into your camera settings and enabling Wi-Fi, then following the prompts to allow connection to your mobile device.
Once Wi-Fi is enabled on your camera you can go into your wireless settings on your phone and connect to your camera’s Wi-Fi signal.
Next, you’ll open the Canon Camera Connect app and you’re ready for shooting.
Remote Shooting with Wi-Fi
The nice thing about some recent Canon EOS models, like the EOS M-series, or Rebel models like the T6i/T6s or T7i, and the mid-range EOS 70D and 80D, is that they have a tilting or even vari-angle, rotating LCD monitor. These are great for seeing your composition as you are getting yourself into position.
Once you open the Canon Camera Connect app you can click “remote shooting” and you’ll have a live image of what you would be seeing from the viewfinder on your camera, right in the palm of your hands. Now you’re ready to take some pictures!
Once you’re in position, tap your finger to the face you want (on the phone screen) so your camera will automatically focus -- make sure the AF/MF switch on your lens is set to "AF" for autofocus.
I like to set the camera drive mode to a two-second delay. This is so I can click the shutter button on my phone, then have a couple seconds to hide the phone and get ready for the shot.
Using the Canon Camera Connect app you can also control your camera's settings from your phone. So if your image is looking too bright or too dark, you can change the ISO, shutter speed and aperture from the app.
Remote Shooting Without Wi-Fi
If you don’t have a Wi-Fi enabled camera, you can still get in self-portraits with your kids but it’s a different process and involves more trial and error.
First, you’ll want to pre-focus. This can be done in a variety of ways. One is to set your lens to manual focus, then place a doll or stand-in to where you will be sitting. Focus your camera on your subject. Then replace the subject with yourself and your kids, press the remote shutter release and hide your remote during the two-second delay.
The other option is to leave your lens in autofocus, setting your focal points in the camera to where you’ll be standing, then hope that your lens focuses on you when you press the remote button.
Don’t feel the need to be cautious with how many photos you’re taking. This is the time to just keep snapping, and not worry about checking to see what you got after each frame. Take a bunch then worry about checking and deleting the outtakes later.
Let your kids help
When I get my kids in the process of picture-taking it’s a lot more fun all around. This can vary from asking them to direct the photo shoot for a little bit, or handing over the remote to snap the photo, or having them help hide it.
Keep that shutter speed up and aperture closed down
If you and your little ones are moving around a lot or being silly while taking the photos, you’ll want to make sure your shutter speed compensates for that so you’re not left with a blurry shot. 1/500th second or above is a great place to start. In dim areas of the house, it will be difficult to achieve shutter speeds that high, especially with the lens aperture set at a higher number, so don’t be afraid to raise the ISO. This will make the camera’s overall sensitivity higher and perhaps come close to the setting I recommended above.
In addition, with more than one person in a photo, especially more than two, you’ll want to raise your f-stop to make sure you get all of you in focus in the photo. Starting around f/3.2 for two or more people is a good place to begin.
Sit close together
Get snug! Hug, touch, cuddle, tickle and keep snapping during it all. I personally tend to like the more candid photos with my kids. Even though I’m taking the photo myself we can still achieve that candid look by having fun and not focusing on the camera when we are taking the photos. Just press the remote shutter every few seconds and keep on snuggling.
The idea of a portrait is to get a great shot focusing mostly on the face, however when you’re taking the photo yourself with a group, it may be easier for you to back your camera up, or zoom out a little to give yourselves some room to move around freely. You can always crop down the shots where you’re sitting close together later when you’re editing.
This is about capturing the fun in ordinary moments with those you love most. Don’t stress about getting that perfect Christmas card photo because chances are you’ll treasure some of the hilarious outtakes just as much.
Want to learn more about capturing stunning photographs of your kids? Check out this Canon Online Learning course by Jennifer Borget.