From baby drool to missing teeth to high school graduation, capturing images of your kids throughout their childhood is one of the most important extracurricular roles as a parent that you'll ever have. Not only for you, but down the road for your kids to have photos to reflect back on. Birthday parties, holidays, and vacations are a given for photo-ops, but there are plenty of other times you'll be photographing your kids. Making as many images as possible count is your goal. Here are 10 tips for getting the best photos of your kids.
Of course, if you're going to be photographing your kids, having quality cameras will make all the difference when you go to make prints and enlargements. While they can be convenient, you can't count on your iPhone or Droid to be responsible for capturing the best photos of your kids. Nor do you have to invest in a high end DSLR. There are many quality point and shoots and reasonably priced DSLRs out there that are more than sufficient for the job. Point and shoots have telephoto capabilities, so you can zoom in to catch that special moment. Double digit megapixels are the best quality, and since most of them are 16 megapixels and reasonable priced, there are plenty of options. If you do indulge in, or already have, a DSLR, one thing you'll want to consider is a good 50mm lens with an f-stop of 1.4 or 1.8. This will allow you to get some great portrait shots. (See my article on lens mm, and aperture priority to know what those values mean)
Speaking of portraits, over the years it's only natural that you'll be photographing your kids both in action and in portrait-type settings. Whether the action shots are on the soccer field or skating rink, or the portraits are in your back yard or the living room, variety is going to happen. So, you want to be prepared for capturing your kids in all sorts of lighting and settings. If there's a lot of backlight, consider changing your angle. If the sun is too bright, entice them to play under a shady tree. There should be a balance, however, between allowing them play and be natural, as those are the best images, and tactfully positioning them in optimal spots.
3. Have Fun!
No matter where you're engaged in photographing your kids, keep it fun and light. If you go into a photo shoot with the sole purpose of being technical and getting the best angle and lighting, the energy and fun will be sucked out like a popped balloon. Kids have different reactions to a lens being in front of them. Some turn on the charm too much, while other simply turn their backs. Rather than setting the intention of photographing them, go into an activity where you're both (or all) engaged, then when the timing is right, pull out the camera nonchalantly. Of course if there is more than one kid, they can keep each other busy and not notice the camera as much.
4. Face It
Not all images will be kids in action and playing. You'll want face-on, nice portraits. The example above of the girl blowing a dandelion is a good example of finding a happy medium between active play and portrait. She's engaged in an activity, but it's a beautiful portrait, shot tightly and shows her sweet character.
A good way to get these images is by engaging them in conversation. Asking questions that you know they'll have more than a "yes" or "no" answer to gets them talking. Some of the best expressions come while kids are talking and explaining something. With their thoughts on the conversation, they're less likely to be distracted by the camera. I'll also add here that point and shoots are less obtrusive. So, if you have a child who is quite camera shy, try starting with a point and shoot rather than a DSLR lens between you. You can also warm them up to a camera by letting them hold it and take a photo or two. Cameras are built to handle a child holding them, and a lot of kids love being on the other side of the lens. Taking turns is something they're learning anyway!
5. Fill the Frame
As you're photographing your kids, don't forget to be conscious of what's happening in the frame. Their big smiles and bright faces fit frames well. There's little need to have a lot of space around them. Instead, take advantage of their healthy glows by getting up close. Once again, if they're camera shy, stay back a bit and use your telephoto lens. In fact, there's less distortion when you do this, so it's the best approach.
You can tell a lot about a kid by their facial expressions and hand gestures. Whether it's a lip curl, a glint in their eye, or a twitch in their nose, kids make the most adorable expressions. By zooming in on them, their expressions will pop off the screen or print.
Kids live a whole different level than we do. Remember when you were a kid and everything looked so much bigger? Well, that statue in the park wasn't bigger than it is now, it just appeared bigger from your perspective back then. In order to capture kids in their world, you need to get down on their level and live in it, such as the girl with the dandelion. It's good practice to shoot at different levels anyway, and a kid's world is just one excuse to be low down.
That said, it's also fun to go high and aim the camera down on them while they're in play. Photographing kids - maybe on the swing or merry-go-round or in sports, like the image above - from high up while their heads are tilted to the sky can make for some fun photos.
Kids move around. A lot. Trying to stop them can be nearly impossible (and the tears are likely to flow!); however, your camera knows how to stop their action for a split second. All you have to do is stay in shutter priority mode (unless you're doing portraits and they're actually sitting still for you). Keeping your shutter speed at 250 or higher will bode the best results. If you have a point and shoot camera, look for modes such as "sports mode" as that will be the equivalent of shutter priority for action.
9. Include Yourself!
So many parents forget to include themselves in photos with their kids. While it's common to have plenty of photos of you holding a newborn, don't forget to stay in the photos throughout their childhood. Recruit someone to take the pictures for you. It'll be worth it! When you do, get down on their level with them. I see so many photos of parents bending down to get to their kid's level. Avoid doing this! Sit or lay down with them and be on their level in full.
10. Take Plenty!
The biggest benefit of the digital era is the ability to delete unwanted photos. Your only limitation is the capacity of your memory card, and even that's not too limiting in that you can go back and delete the rejects to free up space. Still, you want to pay attention to quality of each image as much as possible in order to improve your craft. Keep all the rules of photography - composition, rule of thirds, shutter, aperture, etc. - in mind as you click the shutter and you'll be just fine.
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