Ok. Maybe I’ve been playing too much Modern Warfare 3 lately with the sniper reference. Regardless, I’ve come across several rules of thumb when it comes to shooting kids this past year that I thought might benefit some of you with children.
- Shoot like a sniper with a shotgun. What I mean is be prepared. Always prepared. And make sure your lens can get a wide spread. Then wait for it, wait for it – shoot. BAM! Take less shots that are more filled with meaning and personality. If you shot wide enough and you have a decent camera you can crop to your delight in post. Long lenses and fast shutters are for sports and fashion. Not kids! You want to be up close and on their level. After you got the shot, be done. Stop shooting or you’ll just be testing their patience. The photo at the top was a 1 shot, 1 kill shot. (F/5.6, 1/200th, Canon T2i with 18-55 kit lens at 39mm, ISO 100, 2 flashes at 1/2 power.)
- Be a comedian. I think there is a lie that kids don’t like to get their pictures taken. The truth is, kids don’t like to not have fun. So make a quick photo session as fun as playing with his toys or watching her favorite show. The more you talk to and interact with your kids when you photograph them, the more likely you can represent them accurately in pixels. Resist the urge to closely inspect every shot on the back of the camera. Keep them active and happy by making them tell stories or laugh with them.
- Shoot fast! Face it. Kids are moving targets. I have wasted thousands of photos learning this the hard way with unusable images. 1/200th of a second is probably my go to shutter speed most of the time when shooting my son. Any slower than this and I risk getting unintended motion blur or camera shake, even with an IS lens. 1/200th is also the fastest I can shoot with my external flashes without seeing the black curtain in the exposures. For sports, I’d probably go up to 1/1000th as a minimum.
- Stop down! Again, face it. Kids are still moving targets. Shooting at f/1.4 with a toddler just doesn’t work, period. The area in focus (depth of field) is such a tiny sliver that I’d say 95 times out of 100 I’d miss focus. I have had some luck at f/2.0, but that was a lucky shot. Most of my shots become more consistant at f/2.8 and up.
- Don’t sweat technical details. I think there are really 2 things that matter when making a photograph of a child. When I think about these two things, I make my best images. 1 – Expression, capture the right moment. It will only exist once like that. Good news is if you miss it like I do, there is another expression right around the corner. 2 – Focus, if he or she is super blurry it’s pretty much as if it didn’t happen. With any modern autofocus camera this should not be a problem if you stop the lens down a little. Nail these two and in my book, it’s a keeper!
For me, photographing kids and babies is incredibly rewarding and fun. You get the chance to document a person when they are at such a brief phase in their life. You can’t ever make the same photo twice and every moment gives you new challenges to overcome. Take more pictures of them more often. Most importantly have fun. If you do, they will too.