How to Photograph Children

Translations of this material:

into Russian: Как фотографировать детей. Translated in draft, editing and proof-reading required. Completed: 53%.
Submitted for translation by Snapshot 26.02.2009

Text

How should I photograph my children? This is a question we’re asked a lot at DPS and so I thought I’d put together a few Child Photography tips.

I’ve outlined them below in two parts - ’settings’ and ‘the shoot’. Keep in mind that it reflects how I photograph children and by no means do I have a monopoly on the only way to do it - feel free to add your own tips in comments below.

Photographing Children - Settings:

Lets start by looking at some tips on how to set your camera up when photographing children.

* Aperture Priority Mode- I’d start by switching your camera into Aperture Priority mode. This will let you have some creative control over depth of field which can be an important factor in portraits. Learn more about Aperture Priority Mode. If your camera doesn’t have aperture priority mode - it might have a ‘portrait’ mode which can be worth shooting in to get those nice fuzzy backgrounds.

* Aperture - I’d set my aperture at f5.6 to start with (you can adjust it up and down as you start shooting). This will throw the background out of focus (unless your kids are right up against a wall) but will give you enough depth of field that their whole face will be in focus.

* ISO - Depending where you are shooting (inside or out) and what the light is like - set your ISO to 200 (lower is better if you have lots of light). If it is too dark and this makes your shutter speeds too long you can pump it up - but try to keep it under 800 or you’ll start getting lots of pixelation).

* Shutter Speed - Keep an eye on the shutter speed that your camera is choosing. Try to keep it 1/200th of a second or faster if you can (if your kids are running around - to up to 1/500th or more). Like I say - if it’s too dark you can increase your ISO or even push your Aperture up a little. If you’re not confident with shutter speeds and your photos are coming out blurry because your children are moving too fast - you might try setting your camera to ’sports mode’.

* Focus Mode - Set your Auto focus to single point focussing. You could leave it on the multipoint focusing mode but I find with kids that move around a lot that you want to know exactly where your camera is focusing quite precisely (this could just be me though).

* RAW - If you have time (and the ability) to do some post production work on your images later try shooting in RAW. This will give you more license to edit your shots later. If you’re under the pump for time and/or don’t have the ability to edit your work - JPEG will do.

* Flash/Lighting - I’m not sure if you have a flash unit or not that you can use but my preference is to limit the use of your camera’s built in flash. If you do have an external flash and you’re shooting inside - bounce it off a roof/wall (if they are white) or use a diffuser to give indirect light. Otherwise try to find situations that are well lit with natural light - this is my preferred situation - if you can do it in natural light you’re putting yourself in the position to not have to worry too much about your flash. If you’re shooting into the sun though - consider using your flash to give a little fill flash light.

* Lens - I like to take a couple of approaches when it comes to lenses. The main approach I take is to use a lens with some real zoom capability. I love to get my 70-200mm lens out which enables me to shoot from a distance and yet still fill the frame with the child I’m photographing (this lens also has the advantage of being fast (f2.8) and having image stabilization) - even my 24-105mm lens gives good range at the 105mm end. The other approach that can be fun is to shoot at the other end of the spectrum and shoot with a wide angle perspective. Getting in nice and close with a wide lens can give all kinds of fun distortion (which when used creatively can lead to some wonderful shots). If shooting indoors or in poor lighting you might also want to go with the fastest lens in your bag.

OK - so we’ve talked camera settings - lets move on to the shoot itself.

Photographing Children - The Shoot

Before I give some specific tips about the shoot, I think it’s worth saying that you want to get the children that you are photographing as comfortable with you and the camera as possible. Showing kids photos after you’ve taken them, letting the child look through the viewfinder and even take a few shots (if they’re old enough), spending time with the kids before taking shots - all of these things can help set the child at ease. The more relaxed they are the better.

Location - Where you shoot will depend a lot on your situation - but try to think of a 2-3 scenes/settings that you could go to before you start shooting. If you have a few hours - pick at least one outside (a park perhaps), one inside (in their bedroom or play room perhaps) and try to find a spot where you have a fairly simple background (something with color can be good) for a few posed shots. Choose places where your kids have fun, where you can show them in their natural playful environment. If you’ve got the time go to the zoo, beach or some other fun place.

Candid Approach - I try to shoot candidly with kids as much as possible. Get them doing something that they enjoy and just start snapping. You might ask them to stop/pause what they are doing every now and again and to look at you (at the top of a slide for instance) but over time you’ll find lots of moments in the normal run of their ‘play’.

‘Posing’ - With older kids you might find that they respond better to ‘posing’ moments. I find with little kids that they don’t often have the attention span for this (and they tend to pull the cheesiest smiles they can).

Get down on their level - You’ve got young children so unless they’re very unusual they’ll be half your height. Shooting from an adult’s perspective looking down on kids will leave you with average looking shots. Get on their level, make the camera level with their eyes (or even slightly below) - do this and you’ll get much more intimate shots.

Alter Your Perspective - Having said that - sometimes you can get a really great shot by breaking this ‘get on their level’ rule. Shooting from directly above or below can also give a great result!

Get close/Zoom - you’ve got a lens with reasonable focal length (I’d probably prefer something a little longer myself) but you’ll want to get in reasonably close in order to fill your frame with your kids. At times it’ll be good to zoom out or step back in order to get their context - but your parents want to see your kids faces - so make sure they dominate the shot rather than their environment.

Focus Upon the Eyes - Pay particular attention to your kids eyes. If you’ve got the single zone focusing switched on - choose eyes as the focus point. You can get away with other facial features a little fuzzy but the viewer of an image always is drawn to the eyes of the subject.

Backgrounds - pay a lot of attention to the backgrounds of your images. A background can give context to your shots but also can be a real distraction. Before you start shooting clean up any distracting items. Make at least one of your locations a place with a fairly undestracting background. I like to try to find a colorful wall or even to set up a sheet/background for a few more posed shots with the child just standing there in front of it. Alternatively light your subject in such a way that there is no background.

Get Abstract - mix your shots up with a few more abstract shots. For instance take a picture of their shoes, zoom right in on their hands or eye lashes, get them framed so only part of their head is in shot. These more playful shots can be a lot of fun and will add variety to the end results of your shoot.

Clothes - my motto with clothes is to choose some that the child feels comfortable in and that reflects their personality. If you put them in their Sunday best but they can’t move freely - your shots will look stilted. The only other advice on clothes is that sometimes bold, plain colors can work well. Perhaps have a couple of outfits on hand that you change them into between locations.

Shoot in burst mode - for at least part of your shoot switch your camera into burst mode (where the camera shoots a lot of shots fast). I actually usually shoot a whole shoot in this mode - but particularly when shooting outside or at a park where your kids are on the move it can be very useful. Look for ’series’ of shots that might go together in a multiple image frame on a wall OR which you could put together into one image with photoshop (a child running, sliding down a slide, on a swing, doing a dance, riding a bike…) - these can be a lot of fun.

Include other People - one good way to help relax a child if they’re a little tense and to give an image a little more context/story is to add another person into the image. Whether it be a sibling, parent, friend - adding a second person into a shot adds another point of interest and introduces the idea of ‘relationship’ into your image. It can also distract the child from you and help them to be a little more relaxed.

Speaking of fun - do your best to make the shoot as much fun as possible. Show the children some of the shots you take, ask them to do funny things, be funny yourself - all of this will bring energy to your shoot, help the child to relax and capture some of their spirit. The more fun they have the more genuine and engaging the shots will be.

These are just some of my tips for Photographing Children - what would you add? Got some great kids portraits already? Share them with us in the Share Your Shots section of our forum.

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