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What Taking Pictures of My Kids Taught Me About Love (and the Perfect Photo)

As a dad and a professional photographer, I have done three things right in my life: marrying my wife, having our two children, and picking up a camera (although they didn't happen in that order).
12/15/2014 12:03pm ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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As a dad and a professional photographer, I have done three things right in my life: marrying my wife, having our two children, and picking up a camera (although they didn't happen in that order).

The other day, as I was helping my wife fix a problem with her computer, I saw that she had made some of the best images of our kids and our family into her screensaver. I'd never realized until that point how lucky I'd been in getting some great shots of my family. Looking at those images, I hoped that someday my children would see them and understand the depth of my love, from the devotion I put into making these photos. Not that these images would take the place of my being present in their lives -- but that they'd mean something in their own right, my very personal gifts to the family I love so much.

I also realized these children have become my muses, extraordinary models whose movements, actions and emotions are both my subject and my inspiration. I have been so blessed to see them in action and to dissect their development in the most mundane moments as well as the most exciting. Their intricately nuanced facial reactions and movements, however fleeting to the eye, are what make up the little beings that I call Sebastian and Alyssandra. Their little personalities translate through these human forms they inhabit, their physical actions signaling what's going on inside their souls. As they grow and become more and more intriguing, I'm using my camera to capture their real personalities, through the eyes of their dad.

Aly, reacting to me telling her she had to get down from there! (Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post)


The photos illustrate a change in me, too.

I was always told I would and could not really understand love until I had a child of my own. It seems like such a simple statement, and quite easy to understand, but I must admit I was jealous when people told me that; they acted as if I was somehow less of a person because I had not experienced this kind of relationship. It almost seemed like they were explaining it to me out of pity.

I realize now that they were right: my mind could not have ever comprehended this kind of emotion before. I was foolhardy in my belief that because I had loved my mother, father and sisters, I knew what the deepest kind of love could feel like. How wrong I was!

I am mortified and amazed by this love. I have never worried incessantly about the most mundane things that are not in my control, the way I do now. Will they get hurt, will they die, will it be something I could stop from happening? Will I know so I can stop it ahead of time? Your mind just runs and runs with these hypotheticals, and as far as I can see there is no way to get off this crazy train.

I digress; I'm still no closer to explaining how much I love my kids -- which I suppose proves my original point: there are no words that can adequately explain what I can better show you in a photograph.

I have been blessed to see this world both as a parent and as a photographer, and in the latter capacity, to study people and their behavior in detail. My favorite type of photography is photojournalism, and within this field we study people's movements, emotions and body language as we photograph them to convey the stories we are telling. We incorporate the person along with the surrounding elements, and hopefully, if we are good enough, we can use intricacies of the subject's face to convey emotion in the shot.

With a lot of patience and a lot of shooting time, I have been lucky enough to get the images below. But please know that anyone can take photos like this -- and you can start doing it immediately. All you need is a camera, some patience and a willingness to study and then capture these tiny souls. Just remember: watch and photograph. Do not interfere, and you will get some amazing images. Most of all, enjoy studying them, as they truly are a wonder and a gift.

Here are 21 photos of my family, with advice on how you can use my favorite techniques to take great photos of your own kids.

1
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
A kid's imagination can create great opportunities for photos. This is one of the only situations in which kids will actually stand still for a portrait. Take advantage!
2
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Rule of thirds! Sometimes they pose for no reason at all. Remember to compose your shot.
3
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Your kid's not cooperating? Make it a photo opportunity. This one played out perfectly.
4
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Timing is everything; time your shot if you can.
5
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Let them act out (within reason, of course). My kids love to try and grab my camera. I just keep on shooting. :)
6
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Detail shots rock. Nothing more fun than a kid playing in a puddle -- photograph the details.
7
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Reactions are priceless. Look for the moment when that little one is seeing something new.
8
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
No faces! Sometimes great photos are the ones you aren't expecting; they don't always need to show your child's face.
9
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
So shy! Sometimes you need to talk to your kids while you're behind the camera. You never know what great reactions you may elicit.
10
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
I love mirrors. I was able to work myself into this photo of my daughter having an epiphany moment at the playground.
11
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Try a different perspective. People love perspectives they don't normally see.
12
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Use your surroundings! Incorporate these elements to create visually compelling photos.
13
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Solitude. Hang back sometimes, and let your kids have their moments.
14
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Quick shooting. Be ready... shoot fast. The most important thing I was ever taught as a photographer is that not everything needs to be perfect. Life is not, so why should your photography have to conform?
15
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Nothing like sugar to put your kid in a good mood! Look for nostalgic types of things to photograph your kids with... in this case, the Coke bottle!
16
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
New toys = great photographic opportunities!
17
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Never discount the abstract photo. Pay attention to light and shadow. Study this and you will definitely be ahead in the photography game.
18
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Night photos with sparklers! Need I say more?
19
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
My kids generally don't want anything to do with each other. Occasionally, though, they will give a hug. Preparation is key for these moments. You must have the camera ready and be aware of what is happening. Shoot, shoot, shoot!
20
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Work the scene! I must have shot 20 photos of my kids running up and down this sidewalk. I got one image that was worth it.
21
Damon Dahlen/Huffington Post
Above all, always be ready, because you never know when one of your little monsters may decide to attack you!

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