Child Photography Projects: Turn Your Family Snaps into Art

As a photographer, your natural impulse is most likely to take pictures of your own family – including your children – at every possible opportunity. But even if you work as a professional, you will likely find that you end up taking the same kind of camera phone snaps as anyone else! How can you turn those family snaps into something that is worthy of being called art?

It’s simple – by turning them into mindful projects, rather than pointing and clicking at whatever you see. By understanding the aims of your project, you can produce images that are more artistic, better thought-out, and more worthy of sharing alongside your professional portfolio!

Here is what we will cover:

  • Creating a Documentary Series
  • Creative Dress-Up and Set Dressing
  • Seasonal Photoshoot Ideas 
  • Mythical Creatures and Fantasy
  • Telling a Story

Creating a Documentary Series

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Photo by Tommy Van Kessel | Black and white documentation of pivotal moments can lead you to seek out more interesting frames and compositions

Sally Mann is known as one of the most distinguished child photographers of all time – and she did it by taking pictures of her own family. 

How can this help you? Try creating a documentary series about your family, rather than thinking of the images as private snaps for yourself. This will push you to select only the best shots with good technical composition and quality. It could also prompt you to take an artistic decision such as only shooting in black and white. If you remove your emotions from the equation, it’s easier to take photographs that are artistic – rather than snapping away every time your child does something cute! This will also help you to filter down from thousands of shots to just those few that deserve to be showcased.

Key Lesson:
Seeing your children as subjects for a documentary series instead of your loved ones will allow you to make more subjective decisions about your images, thinking from a technical point of view rather than an emotional one.

Creative Dress-Up and Set Dressing

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Valeria Zoncoll | Colored towels stand in for sand and waves to make this fantasy beach shot!

We’ve all seen these shots on social media, and the truth is they’re totally genius!

Using items around your home, you can get creative to put together a set and costume for your child that turns the mundane into the exciting. There are endless possibilities with this concept, and you can keep creating week after week. Towels or single-color items of clothing or bed sheets are ideal for background elements, and you can create costumes out of whatever you may have. The more magical and fantastical the scenario, the better! You can create flat lays to give the illusion of a child flying through the sky or swimming in the deep blue sea.

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Key Lesson:

Create a set within your home using just what you have on hand – and devise a playful illusion that puts your child as a character in another time or place!

Seasonal Photoshoot Ideas

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Photo by Gigin Krishnan | This shot makes a perfect prototype for Easter sessions

If you’re working as a family photographer already, you may offer seasonal packages to your clients which capture the spirit of annual events. Easter, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas – there are lots of possibilities out there for themed sessions.

What better way to practice, prepare for, and promote those sessions than by using your own family? You can put together shots that capture the essence of all kinds of different holidays as part of your marketing materials. And remember, you don’t have to shoot them in the season unless you plan to shoot outside. There’s nothing wrong with using your newborn to shoot as many different types of sessions as you can come up with, and having those shots in the bank for when the right season comes up later on!

Key Lesson:
Creating marketing materials for upcoming seasonal sessions will give focus to your project, and will help you earn more in the future. And you’ll have cute shots of your family for the bargain, too. That’s a triple Mommy win!

Mythical Creatures and Fantasy

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Paige Cody | This image would be nowhere near as arresting if the pattern of the berries wasn’t broken by the one interloper

Kids love the idea of fantasy and magic. Just look at how easily they believe in fairies, Father Christmas, and all sorts of magical Disney stories!

Using Photoshop, you can transform ordinary portrait sessions into something a lot more magical. You can edit fairy wings onto your child, or give them a magical aura that follows them as they cast a spell. You could even create an illusion in post-production which has them meeting a griffin, taking a ride on a unicorn, or looking under a bridge for trolls. This will take some artistic skills… maybe. You can also find different producers of Photoshop plugins and actions out there who can give you the tools to easily add on fantastical elements without having to be able to draw them yourself, or even collaborate with a local artist!

Key lesson:
A portrait session can be beautiful, but you can take it up one notch even further by using Photoshop trickery to turn real life into magic.

Telling a Story

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Photo by Annie Spratt | This image suggests the beginning of an adventure: a hunt for treasure? A lost boy? Or just a camping trip without Mom and Dad?

A great longer-term photography project to work on with your child is to tell a story. You can create multiple short stories over time, or even develop a longer-running narrative as they grow up. The amazing thing about this project idea is that it can truly go on to become its own form of art: you could put together a gallery display or even a book with the images.

The challenge is to tell everything needed in the story without adding words or motion. Each photograph must express a new part of the story, giving a clear twist to the tale. None of them can feel superfluous, and if your audience doesn’t understand what is going on then the series won’t work. It’s a good idea to start with storyboards and an impression of what should be in each shot. This way, you can create every image that you need without missing anything or making any mistakes. That’s especially important if you’re shooting in such a way that you can’t go back and do it again later!

Key lesson:
Telling a story through a series of images can keep you occupied as a much longer ongoing project. This is a great way to bond with the whole family and create something really special you can all look back on later!

Conclusion

There are lots of photography projects you could come up with to turn your family snaps into art, but these are our key ideas:

  • Turn your important life moments into a documentary series
  • Try seeing your images through a professional and artistic lens rather than one of love
  • Anything in your home can be a fantastical studio setting with a bit of work!
  • Seasonal-based images can be a great way to market future family sessions
  • Photoshop can help you create something truly magical
  • Telling a story can help you make a longer-term project that lasts for weeks, months, or even years

Self-Check Quiz

  1. How can you adjust your images to make them seem more artistic?
  2. What’s the best way to look at your family snaps to stop them from being banal?
  3. What kind of scenes can you create from just towels and bed sheets?
  4. How can you use seasonal-based images in years to come to help you earn more money?
  5. What editing tool could help you turn ordinary photographs into magical ones?
  6. How can you create magical edits if you’re not very artistic yourself?
  7. What’s a great way to collect your images after finishing a story-telling project?

Learning Assignment

You have a few options here to help you create a photography project that will elevate those family snaps into something really worthy of hanging on the wall. But how do you narrow it down?

Start by thinking about the suggestions included in this guide. Do any of them catch your eye as being something you could really work on? Maybe one of them sparks a completely different idea in your mind? If there’s something you think you could try, then there’s no time like the present.

Start by planning what kind of shot or shots you would like to take, and what you need to make them come to life. Then you can get stuck in and take the shots, edit them, and see what you’ve got.

Still not artistic enough? Don’t worry! Keep trying – just as with any style of photography, you’ll get better at it the more you practice and the more shots you have experience with.

Cover Photo by Gift Habeshaw via Unsplash

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