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by Bart Arondson

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Apart from the strain they create by not sitting in one place while in photo shoot, kids do make nice subjects for pictures.

I have been trying various scenes, props, etc., to get the best out of my one-year-old son and ten-year-old daughter. Can I have something like Dos and Don'ts for kids pictures? Are good pics taken outside the home or indoors? Should I wait for enough daylight or should I use artificial lighting. I have 14 megapixel digital camera. Is this camera enough for the shoot or should I try some another camera?

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This is also a good related question with some good answers (even if I do say so myself): photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6250/… –  mattdm May 5 '11 at 11:57

6 Answers 6

  • Shooting from their own eye level is good.
  • Get closer than you think you have to.
  • If your camera has a multiple shots mode and you're not using flash, then that can help alot.
  • The only reason megapixels can help is it might give you enough to crop a picture down to more of "just the child". You can shoot wider to catch them running and then crop it down.
  • Bribes...."you can have some chocolate if you stay there long enough" - its starting to work on my two year old ;).
  • Good flash freezes their motion and looks good to boot.

Mind you, this is what works for me.

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hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/04/… — I'm envisioning a large quickly-moving beast frolicking with the children. :) –  mattdm May 5 '11 at 12:13
    
Also, here's a story: My four-year old told me the other day "Daddy, if you take my picture, I will bite you. So, if you don't want to be bitten, you should not take my picture." (Just matter of factly, just like that.) So I said: "Okay, you can bite me." She was very taken aback to have her bluff called, and let me take her picture, and then when I stuck out my hand, she nibbled on it very, very gently. –  mattdm May 5 '11 at 12:24

When photographing kids, megapixels don't matter. What matters more is the ability to focus and take the picture before the child escapes from the picture. Generally DSLRs are better in this regard, but recent compact cameras might work well enough for you.

If you're shooting indoors an external flash might help to freeze the movement and improve lighting conditions.

Regarding dos and don'ts: what comes to my mind is that it's better to shoot kids from their own eye level.

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Wise sage says, "To photograph a child you must be as a child."

In other words you have to be able to communicate with them, at their level on their level. Have fun!

Beyond that your job is to direct the child in a way that doesn't feel like direction. Compose by moving around your scene in a way that feels like a game. Have your settings dialed in before you start. You'll need all your attention on your subject, there is no time to fiddle.

Play with them. Get on your knees, or your butt, or your tummy. Roll around with them. Let them engage you, show you things. This is easier outside of a studio setting, but can still be done.

Beyond this, some of your best images will happen once they loose interest. Let them do their thing. Follow them. Be as curious as they are. Suddenly their world will unfold to you and you will have magic.

alt text

Happy Hunting.

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Your mileage may vary, but I find that indoor kid photos with flash almost never turn out well. The foreground frequently gets blown way out, rendering the background extremely dark. A slow synchro can help, but if they move, you'll get some blurring.

A good, fast lens is going to do far more for you than a built-in flash will. As long as there's enough ambient light, you should get decent results. As others have suggested, continuous shooting mode is also great — one of them is bound to turn out. I get good results with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 on my Rebel XSi.

The other suggestion is to engage the kids! If they're cooperative, you can get some good posed shots. I managed this ten-second exposure of my four-year-old a few days ago: Skeleton Child

She was really cooperative and excited to help daddy out. You're not always going to get them in this mood, but it's worth trying.

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I agree with you on built-in flash, but a good external flash with bounce (and better, wireless) will make a world of difference. –  mattdm May 5 '11 at 12:27

Here is what you need for shooting kids:

1) Speed! Kids move quickly, their expressions are mercurial. A fast lens with a fast camera is a must. So, an SLR, but instead of a kit lens (which is not a 'fast' lens), you'll need something like the 50mm f/1.8, a prime that's ~$100 on the major systems. That lens is fast, meaning that it will find focus quickly and require less open shutter time (ie, take a picture faster), than a kit lens. I'd stop down to about f/2.5 or 2.8 in order to make sure to get the plane of focus wide enough to get everything.

2) Light! A flash, either an external or on the camera itself, will be something of a help, but the problem is two fold: the fastest shutter speed is generally 1/250th of a second (1/500th for an older Nikon D70), which may be about the speed you want to be shooting, or you may want to go even faster. The other problem is that flash can be harsh, and the resulting photos can have a look that you don't want. So, it's better to be outside or to have lots of light inside to shoot kids, and use a flash as a backup.

3) Distractions. You need to get the kid to look at you, so keys, shiny things, etc help for younger kids, or saying naughty words for older kids (whooo! You said something you shouldn't have!). When I was growing up, my dad used to say, "say shiiiii..." and we'd all have fits of laughter about that.

4) Be patient, but be fast. I find myself waiting for the shot as the kids are playing, waiting for that fleeting expression that I want to get. Once it's there, the camera has to be ready to go, no shutter lag or the like. That could be five minutes of waiting followed by a bunch of shots in a row.

Also, @ahockley's composition suggestions are good. Don't shoot from your head height, shoot from theirs (or, to really mess with perspective, shoot from the ground up, to give them the Godzilla look. Toddlers in particular like to think that they are huge, apparently).

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1  
Ad 2) If you have external flash you can bounce it from wall or ceiling which results in much soft light than when you shoot directly. –  che Nov 5 '10 at 22:51
    
@che-- true, that's definitely a possibility. –  mmr Nov 7 '10 at 22:21
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Regarding point 1, doesn't a fast lens mean that it has a wide aperture and not fast AF? From personal experience, I have found the Canon 50mm f/1.8 to be quite slow focussing. –  ab.aditya Jan 26 '13 at 4:20
    
@ab.aditya-- is your copy relatively recent? I know that on Nikon, the AFS 50mm lenses are fast, both in focusing and in aperture. You'll need both, I think. If you do have a recent copy and it's very sluggish, it may be a bad copy. Maybe you can do an exchange or comparison at the store where you bought it, or at another nearby camera store if you bought it online. –  mmr Jan 27 '13 at 23:43

You've got plenty of megapixels... don't worry about that. Here are some other tips for photos of children:

  • use props: kids love to play with toys, balls, chairs, tables, etc. In addition to helping to occupy their attention you can add an interesting visual element to the photo.
  • shoot from their eye level. Far too many photos that parents take have the "6 foot guy with a camera to his eye" look.
  • realize that your subjects have a short attention span. You won't be able to keep a young kid interested for very long.
  • I can't think of any lighting considerations that will be specific to children... indoors or outside, standard lighting suggestions are in effect.
  • when photographing children playing outdoors, think about how you'll handle motion as they're running around. Are you going to try to use a fast shutter speed and freeze the action? Do you want a shallow depth of field to keep the background out of focus? Might you intentionally use a slower shutter speed to show the motion? What about panning?

Have fun taking photos of your kids... experiment and find what creates effects that you like.

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If you're using a point-and-shoot camera, it may have a scene mode for children. This should cause the camera to try to shoot with the fastest shutter speed possible. –  Evan Krall Nov 6 '10 at 0:04
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+1 for "shoot from their eye level" alone –  mattdm Mar 31 '11 at 12:54
    
I can think of at least one children-specific piece of lighting advice: big lights way back. Kids will move off of their marks, and the inverse square law has no mercy clause, so anything you can do to minimize falloff and maintain something like the lighting ratios you were hoping to achieve will help a lot. It's okay to bring the kids back to mark when they wander off a long way, but if moving a foot or so gets corrective feedback, they're not going to see the fun in the game for very long. –  user28116 Aug 17 at 11:53

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