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For kids, summer is a time for staying up later, catching fireflies and spending sunny days cooling off in the water. But for parents, the jumble of pool days, beach vacations and visits from the ice cream truck can go by in a blur, making the struggle to capture memorable moments in photos real.
In the whirlwind of water balloon battles, summer reading assignments and swim lessons, it can be a challenge to slow down and preserve the precious memories that get packed into the few weeks before a new school year begins. TODAY asked some photographer moms which shots are on their summer photo bucket list, and, because kids run fast through those sprinklers, we also asked them for tips on mastering the summer photo shoot.
1. Beach Babes
Vanessa Hicks of Vanessa Hicks Photography says her best tip for capturing great beach photos is to shoot away from the sun to prevent your child from squinting.
"The best time to shoot beach photos is early in the morning or an hour before sunset," says Hicks. "Try to stay away from high noon, and always make sure their back is to the sun."
Rebecca Wyatt of Rebecca Wyatt Photography adds that on a busy, crowded beach, parents have two options: either embrace the chaos and include it in the photograph, or isolate your subject by shooting up at them using the sky as a background.
2. Wheel Fun
Danielle Guenther, who owns Danielle Guenther Photography, suggests telling your kids to grab their skateboards, bikes, scooters or roller skates and heading to a park for a photo session on wheels.
"They're fast-moving objects here, so shoot in high speed mode," says Guenther. "iPhones have this option — hold down the button and it will shoot several frames at once, in burst mode."
"This is a great time to take video, too," Guenther continues. "It's always great to have these memories in action form."
Anna Angenend of Anna Angenend Photography offers an additional suggestion for capturing these moments-on-wheels on video.
"Try mounting your phone or a Go Pro to your child's bike or wagon for a unique perspective on a favorite childhood pastime," says Angenend.
3. Pool Days
Wyatt says pools bring about endless options for fun summer photo opportunities. To help kids remember where they spent their days swimming years from now, Wyatt recommends getting close to your child, then backing up.
"Get the details, then step back to capture the whole scene," says Wyatt.
"And look for reactions," Wyatt continues. "For example, if your son is jumping into the pool to play with your daughter, shoot his jumping in, but then turn your camera to your daughter's face as he joins her."
4. Summer Nights
Sarah Wilkerson, CEO of Clickin Moms, an online photography community, says in low light conditions, it is important to bump up the ISO settings on your camera, since the camera is likely to be firing more slowly. Wilkerson also cautions that it is important to stay as still as possible when taking nighttime photos, in order to get a clear shot.
"Those long, warm evenings that go way past bedtime are likely to be among your kids' favorite summer memories, so be ready to capture the firefly hunt, campfire or fireworks display," says Wilkerson.
Hicks says when photographing their child playing with bubbles, parents should get down on the child's level and use a fast shutter speed.
"A hot a dry day will make bubbles pop faster, so early in the morning or evening is a great time," says Hicks.
"Bubbles are great for images," says Guenther. "They add texture, color, and let's be real here...they're magical!"
"I love playing this game with bubbles," Guenther continues. "Get your camera ready. Have them step back and tell them to close their eyes. Blow the bubbles in the air and scream, 'Open!' They will open their eyes with such joy and wonder — and you'll be ready to snap an image."
6. The Fair or Amusement Park
When it comes to taking pictures on moving rides, Guenther says parents should get on the ride with their child, and suggests wearing a neck strap to help secure your camera as the ride gets underway.
"If your child is little, make sure to stand with them," says Guenther. "Or choose a seat in front of your child if they're older. It's always helpful to be the first one on, because you have plenty of time to capture images before the ride starts moving as well."
Wilkerson adds that the movement and bold colors of the fair make it a great backdrop for summer photos, day or night.
"The setting is the best part, but fairground photos can appear unappealingly crowded, chaotic or messy if you don't compose them carefully," says Wilkerson. "Pick one 'sub-story,' to tell —a food truck, the ferris wheel, a carnival game — and fill the frame with one defined space as much as possible."
7. Hammock Time
Guenther says getting a great photo of kids on a hammock is a game — a tickling game.
"Tell your child to get on the hammock with their belly down, then slowly start to move towards them with a pretend 'tickle bug' in your back pocket," says Guenther. "Start tickling their belly from underneath the hammock, then step back and start photographing."
8. Road Trippin'
Wyatt says a great way to capture the magic of summer is to document the excitement kids feel when they're just being kids. One example of anticipation and excitement is the energy surrounding a family road trip.
"Look for reactions," says Wyatt. "Summer is a wonderful time for adventure and activity. Kids are constantly playing and doing new things."
9. Sidewalk Chalk Art
Document your child's creativity, according to Hicks, by staging a sidewalk chalk photo shoot to capture some sweet photos of your kids being artistic.
"A smooth, darker area makes the chalk more vibrant," says Hicks. "Get your kids in their creation by grabbing a ladder and taking an above shot."
10. Summertime BFFs
"Summer's not just about where we go and what we do, but also who we're with," says Wilkerson. "To get great group shots of children together, encourage them to crowd in closer than feels natural — ensure that everyone touches at least two others, which also tends to bring out wonderful smiles and giggles."
If your kids and their pals are looking for a summertime activity, Wilkerson encourages parents to let them create a lemonade stand.
"Let them paint a fancy sign, adorn their stand with real lemons, and bring in balloons for their entrepreneurial launch," says Wilkerson. "Then photograph it all at the end of the driveway, or even against the lush backdrop of the back yard."
11. Stormy Weather
The rain storms of summer provide a unique opportunity for images of little ones in warm-weather clothing like bathing suits, paired with rubber boots and bulky umbrellas.
"When it comes to capturing the wee ones, it's easiest to snap away when they're completely enthralled in something other than mommy trying to have them stand still and smile," says Angenend. "Tots could play for hours with a garden hose or a little puddle, giving you tons of time to snap away."
"Make sure you get a sunset shot of your child and family," says Hicks. "Pay attention to the time of the sunset, then wait a few minutes. This gives you that beautiful color in the sky — most people miss this beautiful time."
According to Wilkerson, summer evenings bring about some of the best possible natural light. Wilkerson suggests planning an outing that begins about ninety minutes before sunset to get a series of photos in the beautiful summer evening light.
"It's beautiful light that transitions from warm and bright to fiery sunset to richly atmospheric as dusk sets in," says Wilkerson.
13. Tiny Treasures
"Frogs, snails, seashells, pebbles, ladybugs, feathers and flowers — summer is filled with found treasures," says Wilkerson, adding that a macro lens is the most effective way to capture these tiny finds.
Guenther reminds parents that sometimes, the best way to discover treasures in nature is to watch and wait.
"Every child wants to run and catch every bug out there, but sometimes, it's all about patience," says Guenther. "Have your child sit down and let nature come to you."
14. Made for Shades
"Is there anything more adorable than a kid looking her coolest in a pair of shades?" asks Wilkerson.
"Sunglasses aren't just great for sass and style — they also make it easier for you to get fabulous shots at midday when the sun is intense and high in the sky, because they hide harsh shadows around the eyes and keep the subject from squinting."
15. Summertime Gear
Wyatt says when it comes to her kids, she loves photographing the "look" of summer. From physical changes like tan lines and extra freckles, to her kids' go-to summer attire like flip-flops and sundresses.
16. Beach Reads
Hicks says one way to think outside the box for summer photography is to capture images of your children doing some summer reading.
"I'm a firm believer in children still learning during the summer," says Hicks. "Take them to the library and place them near a window to capture natural light coming in. Adjust your white balance, as you will most likely be dealing with florescent lights that will give an unpleasant color."
17. Sweet Treats
Summer is a time for sweet treats like ice cream, cotton candy and watermelon. Parents may have to move fast to capture images of these indulgences, but Hicks says the end result is worth it.
"Try to get the shot before they dig in, unless you are wanting a messy face photo," says Hicks. "Shoot fast as your kids will be ready to dig in. And, depending on the treats you have, avoid direct sunlight as they could melt before you get the shot."
18. Underwater Adventures
Wilkerson recommends buying a protective, waterproof case for your camera, or purchasing a disposable, waterproof camera, in order to capture some unique shots of your kids below the water's surface.
"Immerse yourself in the experience of summer by capturing kids jumping into the pool or catching waves in an underwater shot," says Wilkerson. "You can get an underwater, disposable camera for around $10, and if your kids practically live at the pool or beach during summer vacation, the strikingly unusual shots you'll be able to get will be worth it."
19. Splashing in the Sun
Pools and beaches aren't the only place kids can play in the water in the summer. Water tables, public fountains and hoses are all readily available in the warmer months to make some photo magic.
"Lather them up with sunscreen and go fountain hunting, or live on the edge a little bit and run through the sprinklers and fountains at your local park," says Guenther. "Water is a great way to add a beautiful backdrop — just don't forget an extra change of clothing."
"Try documenting the moments and not trying so hard to get your kids' attention," says Wyatt. "They don't always need to be looking at the camera — when you notice them doing something you want to capture, quietly grab your camera and photograph the action. You will be capturing that authentic moment that caught your eye in the first place."
Editor's note: This story was first published on June 6, 2016.