We’ve all been there: It’s a milestone moment in your kiddo’s life, and you just want one good photo to mark the occasion. You push your way through crowds, to the front of the “Happy Birthday” chorus line or the stage edge at the school play, but you’re either a second too late, someone is blinking, or everything just looks like a blur. And then you find yourself comparing your photos to all of the perfect ones on Instagram—and you fall into the trap of thinking your life is less amazing than it truly is.
Taking a good photo isn’t rocket science, but sometimes it feels like one when we’re in the whirlwind of motherhood. A good photo can feel as elusive as chasing fireflies with your bare hands. You can tip the odds in your favor, though, when armed with a handful of tips to use in any of these common picture-worthy scenarios.
Scenario #1: The Birthday Party
By the time you get to your kid’s birthday celebration, you’ve likely spent hours sending out invites, picking coordinating party plates and napkins, stuffing goodie bags, and baking a cake (or picking out just the right one at the last minute from the local bakery and then driving like a madwoman to pick it up on time). Once the party starts, you’re playing hostess to your guests and making sure none of the kids wander out of the building at the bouncy castle/trampoline park/arcade extravaganza. Your mind is flying in a million different directions, and you’re lucky if you remember to take out your camera phone.
Before you know it, the birthday cake is out and everyone’s ready to sing, and you snap to it to capture one good photo of your little Johnny as he’s making his birthday wish. You elbow your way through the line of kids and hold the phone down at just the right angle while still trying to sing along and make the right amount of eye contact with your little wish-maker. But when you look down at your screen afterwards, the only pictures you captured are of Johnny with his eyes half shut looking like he ate a special brownie, or the candle smoke is obscuring the birthday boy’s face.
Don’t be afraid to ask your kiddo to pose with the candles lit before blowing them out—or even before your guests sing if your kid is not one to wait for wishing. And claim your photo-taking space! Don’t be afraid to bump those toddlers out of the way so you can sit directly across the table. It’s your kiddo’s birthday, and you can take a photo if you want to! This is one of the few occasions where it’s understandable (and acceptable) for parents to pause the festivities so they can get that once-a-year photo. Extra tip: If you can manage to turn the lights out when the candles are lit, have the birthday boy lean in towards the cake and adjust your camera to the flame for a beautiful glowing portrait.
Scenario #2: The School Performance
Sweet Suzie has been practicing her clarinet/holiday songs/two lines of Shakespeare for weeks on end, and the night of the big show has finally arrived. You get there in a flurry only to find that the best seats left turn her into a mere speck on stage. When she’s up for her solo you hover above your seat with your arm at an awkward angle and pinch-zoom the screen on your phone so you can actually see her in the video—and then you take a screenshot as a photo from that later on. You’re so focused on holding your arm up to keep the video from shaking—and keeping Suzie in frame—that you forget to look directly at her until the audience breaks into applause. You scramble to stop the recording and rub your strained neck after clapping wildly.
Unless you have an incredible DSLR or super-fancy smartphone that doesn’t totally pixelate your darling daughter during her performance, skip the recording while she’s in the spotlight. Sit back and live in the moment. Take a picture of the entire class as they bow on stage at the end, and get a picture of Suzie close-up with her roses and her beaming smile after her debut.
Scenario #3: The Bluebonnet Field
You finally found the perfect day when the weather, your schedules, and family outfits have all aligned for the best bluebonnet photo opp. After driving around for an hour trying to find the giant field where you remembered taking bluebonnet photos years ago, you settle for the side of the highway with a billboard for Billy Bob’s Beds in the background. You herd the kids to the one spot where there’s just enough bluebonnets to look like they are, in fact, in a giant field of the photogenic state flower, but then the sun rears its ugly head out from behind the clouds, your kids are squinting like they need glasses, and the baby keeps toppling over.
Forget trying to set up your mini-phone tripod with the timer to get everyone in the picture. You’re ready to throw in the towel, stuff some cheese sticks in your hangry kids’ hands, and hire a professional photographer next time around. You’ll just crop and paste the best pictures of each kid together to make it look like they were all smiling at once.
As soon as you spot the first glimmer of blue petals while you’re carpooling across town, take to the Facebooks to ask your tribe of mamas about the best spot to take bluebonnet photos. Let the alpha mom do the dirty work of driving around in desperate determination—and send her a box of chocolates for being the bluebonnet pioneer of the year. That, or just take a day trip up to Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, where they’ve got a whole darn field of bluebonnets to serve as your perfect family photo backdrop. Just make sure the kids aren’t wearing their neon Minecraft shirts when you do go.
Scenario #4: The Soccer Game
Much like the school performance, only this time instead of standing still on stage the kids are darting back and forth across the field. You do your best to take a photo while your superstar happens to score a goal, but you end up catching him in an awkward collision with one of his teammates as he tries to give her a high-five. You’re determined to grab a shot of him whenever he runs by you on the sidelines, and your phone decides to take its sweet time to open the camera app each time.
Shoot that game in burst mode. Keep your phone in hand and hold down your finger on your smartphone shutter long enough to make a stop motion video of the entire game. That, or just take a photo of your little guy posing with his foot on the ball by the goal before the game. That way you can sip on your coffee and catch up on the latest with your best mama friend while intermittently screeching, “Kick the ball the other way!”
Scenario #5: The Family Vacation
You’ve penny-pinched and planned by scouring the internet for every possible tip on the best hotel/restaurants/once-in-a-lifetime activity to do while you’re on the first big family vacation you’ve taken in five years. You’ve managed to take some pretty darn good photos of your kids building sandcastles and burying Dad on the beautiful white sand beach. You even got a special underwater camera case so you can take pictures of the kids snorkeling and playing tea party in the crystal clear waters.
But no family vacation would be complete without a photo of the whole family, which means you need someone else behind the camera. In an effort to get away from it all, you also managed to get away from any other vacationers who might be willing to take a snapshot for you. The cabana boy kindly offers to take one, but the only thing in focus is the distant ocean horizon. And all you have is a six-inch Gorillapod to take photos of your feet—if you could get it to stand up in the sand.
Invest in a Selfie Stick before you embark on your vacay. Or, if you’re already there, find another vacationing mama who’s just as eager to get a family photo in paradise as you are. No worries if you don’t run into each other until you’re in line for the bathroom on the way back at the airport; you’re technically still on vacation until your face hits the pillow of your own sweet bed.