Photo Tip: How to avoid underexposing your kids’ faces

Have you ever taken a picture of your kids with your cell phone, but their faces turn out so dark that you can’t really see them? 

underexposed image of two boys sitting in front of a window

You’re not alone! The truth is that your camera has no idea what your main subject is, and so it makes guesses about how to expose the entire scene based on average lighting scenarios. Which means that when the lighting ISN’T average, you are out of luck- or so it seems.  

It’s probably not time to toss out the cell phone or try an upgrade, though. Your phone camera is a fantastic tool; it does an accurate job metering for the light in the scene MOST of the time, just not ALL of the time. YOU have to learn when to override the camera! 

Today’s tip is: Before you photograph your kids, ask yourself where the light is. 

(If there’s no light, then there’s no picture. Try turning on your camera’s flash or a room lamp. Or wait until morning!) 🙂

But assuming the scene is well lit… Where are your kids standing in relationship to the light? Are they standing in front of a big window, while facing into a dark room? In this case the light is behind them, not in front of their faces- and ideally, you’ll want to have some light on their faces. Here are a few tips you can try:

      • Instead of photographing INTO the window, try standing with the light BEHIND you, or over one of your shoulders to the side. You’d be amazed at what a difference it makes!

two boys smiling at the camera, sitting next to a window on a bench

      • If it’s not possible to move yourself or the kids, try to add light onto your kids’ faces to counteract all the light that is coming in from behind them! This could be done by turning on the lights in the room or using the flash on your camera. I think you’ll find most cell phones don’t have very strong flashes, but it’s definitely worth a shot if you’re standing pretty close to your kids.

      • If you can’t change the lighting, you still have an option. Your cell phone’s camera allows you to override its default exposure! Just hold your phone up to the scene, touch on your kids’ faces on the screen, then from there slide your finger up on the screen to brighten everything up. I’ve demonstrated it for you in the video below. 


    • Just know that if you decide to increase the brightness on your kiddos’ faces this way, then you will ALSO increase the exposure everywhere else in the photo. Which means that any very well lit areas in your photo will be ‘blown out’ white- losing all data in that area of the scene. But I’m assuming you care more about your kids than the rest of the photo, anyway! 

Happy picture taking!

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Pamela Anticole
Pamela doesn’t mind her laugh lines. After 15 years in professional photography, 4 interesting kids, and a very supportive partner, she has recently rediscovered international travel and cannot wait to share this rekindled passion with her children. She uses her camera as a way to process the world- a tool to read and share stories. She also experiments with watercolors and, of course, words. Currently living in McCandless, Pamela is a strong advocate for bathroom privacy and enjoys long, slow walks through the grocery store by herself.