If you are a parent, you most likely spend more than 80% of your memory card (or film?!) photographing your children. As a photography enthusiast and parent, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some helpful tips on making the most of this pursuit.
Does the camera matter?
Any camera is basically a device that lets you capture light in an instant. To that end, if the available light is adequate, just about any camera will do. However, when it comes to photographing young children, you will do a whole lot better with a camera that has a fast response-time.
Most modern DSLRs (or SLRs) offer ultra-fast startup times and shutter speeds that will allow you to capture that “Kodak” moment in a flash! For the more technically inclined, there are decisions to be made about shooting modes, film/ISO speeds, lens choices, etc. As a rule of thumb, higher ISOs will allow you to extract the most from available light, especially when you’re shooting indoors. And, using a fast lens (with a large maximum aperture) in Portrait or Aperture Priority mode will work wonders, especially when photographing children. If you are trying to capture a moving child or pet, choosing faster shutter speeds (or switching to Shutter Priority mode) will help you snap that action shot without causing motion-blur.
What about the Technique?
As with any subject, learn to hold your camera steady so that your movements don’t cause blur in the pictures. If you’re planning an outdoor trip or vacation, avoid taking a camera that you are unfamiliar with – the last thing you want is to miss a great shot while trying to figure out which settings to change in your camera. If you’re using Flash, know that most modern cameras have a red-eye reduction mode that lights up the flash bulb more than once for each shot – this can confuse your young (or even older) subjects, so turn that off before you begin. My personal preference is to avoid using the built-in Flash as far as possible – you get much better skintones and the results look much more natural if you can work with the available light.
Coming to the actual shooting, it’s been said countless times that photographing children is best done when the child is comfortable with the surroundings and the photographer. Whatever you can do to make them more comfortable will help, and whatever you do to cause stress will not! If you’re unfamiliar with the location, it may help to do a small walk-around and plan your shots in terms of where the children will feel most naturally at ease. Candid shots may yield far better results than your attempts to make the child pose in a certain way, but sometimes a child’s attempt at artificially posing can make for a memorable photograph. If your camera has a burst mode, you can get interesting results of your kids in action as the camera tries to capture one motion in a series of shots.
Most importantly, try to get down to their level and see their world from that height – the photographs you shoot from their height may turn out to be the ones you most want to keep.
For good measure, read this excellent article from Digital Photography School on How to Photograph Children; it also sports some great children shots for inspiration.