How to Get Better Pictures of Your Kids
To me, there are few things in the world more fun that attempting to capture a child’s true essence with a camera- that fleeting moment that can never- especially with kids- be planned. The look that says it all, the glimpse of genuine curiosity or glee, even the tears and the tantrums, will remind us forever of the person they were and have become. While shooting kids is always a bit of a game of luck, (emphasis on the word “game”), here are a few tips to make it easier, whether you are a budding pro or a parent with a camera. Note that editorial/candid shooting is a bit different from posed/ studio shooting; for these purposes, I am focusing on candids.
◊ The break-in period: while many kids have no qualms about hamming it up for a camera, most of them still need some kind of “warming up”. I always introduce myself, and ask permission to shoot. Have patience, especially within the first 15 minutes or so. You will need to earn a child’s trust before they will open up entirely. Often, I ask for their help in finding a place to shoot, I let them see my camera (and sometimes even take a picture).
◊ New places: take a child somewhere they have never been. Usually they will be actively curious, and will have fun exploring with you… (you may want to scout the place out first so you can do a little, gentle “directing”}. Their expressions of joy, perhaps even trepidation, will be genuine, and lovely to capture.
◊ Activities: find something for the child to DO while you shoot- play on a playground, jump off a stump, run a stick along a fence, smell flowers, search for something, run around something, play hide and seek.
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◊ If you have a prop available such as a wagon, items for dress up, use them to distract and entertain. It is also okay for them to bring/have things they love- a toy, a book, an animal, etc . You might also have an “entertainer”: a person, an object, a camera attachment, a funny hat, something to engage the child (often this is the parent!).
◊ Get down and dirty- literally: I am almost 6ft tall, which means that many of my pix of children are from “on high”. However, getting down to their eye level offers a new perspective on things and makes for some really great images.
◊ It’s alright to cry: a child will show a range of emotion from thrilled to distraught in a matter of seconds; roll with it. It is all part of who kids are- don’t stop shooting. Often tears make for some of the most memorable photos. Now for the more technical side of things…
◊ Unfussy background: keep it simple, no clutter; bushes, gardens, fences make for good solutions, and if interesting enough, can often make the picture.
◊ Natural light- an ideal spot is under a large tree on a sunny day (open light shade). Open up your f-stop, shoot with a shallow depth of field, and try not to use flash, as it disrupts the flow and reminds your subject that you have a camera. A few light speckles are ok, but make sure to move your subjects out of light spots on their faces.
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◊ The eyes always tell a story: focus on them. If you are shooting up close, focus on the nearest one. That said, you don’t always need the eyes in a portrait; often other parts of the body, especially with babies, can be the focus of a shot, or beautiful portraits in and of themselves.
◊ Composition: this can be learned with practice. But, for a start, fill your lens- heads need to be near the top of a picture- not the middle. Make sure everything in the viewfinder is something you want there before you shoot. Do your cropping in the camera, as they say.
◊ Volume: take lots of shots- one micro-expression can make the difference between a good shot and a great one, even if taken a millisecond apart.
◊ Keep both eyes open: I know it is natural to close an eye to see through the viewfinder. But try keeping them both open, and with your other eye, anticipate what will happen next, or any incoming distractions or opportunities. It will help you to be at the right place, at the right time.
◊Don’t forget the seemingly mundane: Those missing teeth, or the finger sucking and hair twirling, the leg clinging- while perhaps not what you had in mind for a “formal portrait”, are your child’s unique attributes that, without a photograph, you just might otherwise forget.