Alice Young (Mum to Ralph and Winnie) is no stranger to creating beautiful content for Instagram, but recently found herself wanting to take her photography to the next level. Find out how she got on after switching from taking snaps with her phone to using an Olympus PEN camera and lens.

PEN E-PL8 & M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8

In order to successfully manage your expectations of this blog, I would firstly like to clarify that I am by no means a professional photographer. In fact I think describing myself as a ‘photographer’ is a bit of a stretch, but I can say with some confidence that I like taking photos of my children. Which has been handy, given that I (along with the rest of the country) have spent the last 2 months in lockdown with my favourite photography subjects, so I have had a considerable amount of time to practice.

However, during this time I had become increasingly frustrated with the quality of the photos taken with my phone’s camera when compared to others I saw during my early morning/evening scrolls through Instagram. No amount of filters and editing could provide the images I wanted. Fortunately, it turns out the phrase, “it’s not what you know but who you know” is pretty accurate: my friend Ellie Cartwright is actually an Olympus video mentor and she pointed me in the direction of the Olympus PEN. I had always been put off by the ‘language’ of cameras, with their ‘apertures’ and ‘shutter speeds’ causing me equal parts anxiety and confusion. But I needed to try and understand these seemingly baffling concepts in order to properly capture the magic my children find in the everyday; partly so I have some happy memories from this time, but also to help me cope with all the craziness in the world right now.

PEN E-PL8 & M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8

Following a video tutorial from Ellie I learnt the following; children aren’t known for sitting still therefore the shutter speed needs to be fast enough to capture them without unwanted motion blur. In relation to style, to give the photo some texture and depth a low aperture is important. I now had the confidence to actually start taking photos with the PEN which yielded some surprisingly positive results. While I lack the technical knowledge of the seasoned photographer, what I do know a little about is taking photos of children.

Firstly, photos of children need to be taken at the child’s level; I can often be found frantically crawling around the floor of my house in pursuit of an increasingly uninterested 2 year old in order to achieve a perfectly parallel pic. Secondly, you need to engage your child in the photo: I will generally set up any props in a shot before attempting to take the shot, so that when my child enters the room their interaction with the props is genuine. It is also useful to actually talk to the child about the props and their interaction with them. For example, phrases such as, “why don’t you show your cuddly toy the book?”; “please don’t climb up there”; and, “take that dandelion out of your mouth” have come in handy on a number of occasions!

PEN E-PL8 & M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8

Another useful tip is to have some kind of idea of the composition of the photo before you start. If your children are anything like mine, you will have a very small window in which they will be interested in the process before they wander off to find something more engaging. However, sometimes you will have to completely abandon your original composition and embrace flexibility, as your child will likely not give you the exact shot you have imagined in your head. When this happens, just keep taking photos and see what you get. Some of my best photos turned out to be nothing like my original idea, and were all the better for it. Finally, I have found on occasion that having someone else with you when trying to photograph children can be useful. In our house, my husband is begrudgingly enlisted to jingle bells; pick up discarded props; and generally dance around like a lunatic behind me in the hope of entice our child’s gaze in the direction of my camera.

So, if you were like me and are currently ‘on the fence’ about whether to switch from your phone to an actual camera, I would genuinely recommend that you do. While the terminology of the photography world can sound intimidating, it really isn’t as hard as you may think to take beautiful photos of the people you love the most.