I'm an amateur photographer with a Canon Rebel XS, and I'm trying to figure out what type of lens I should buy to take better photos of my one year old when she is running around in our dimly lit house. I seem to find myself in a lot of situations where there are kids on the move in low light, and my 50mm f/1.8 II just isn't able to do it. Suggestions?


I don't think another lens is necessarily what you need, although since 50mm is a bit narrow indoors on a Rebel XS, you may want to consider something a bit wider. (The question Will a 35mm lens work for great indoor pictures of my kids? asks about Nikon but the answers will apply in general.) A Rebel-series camera has a sensor which is about 22mm wide, which means that the 50mm lens you have acts as a short telephoto. This is great for portraits of stationary subjects, but not so good for fast-moving small children indoors.

Something in the 28mm to 35mm range will be more "normal", a length which gives a convenient, natural perspective in many different circumstances. If you're feeling like it's often difficult to get everything you want in the frame with your current lens, this is something to explore.

For the low-light issue, though, the f/1.8 maximum aperture of your current lens is quite good. You can't go much faster without spending a ton of money. Image stabilization might help if your problem is that you can't stay still enough for longer shutter speeds, but I'm guessing the main problem with movement is in your subject, and nothing in the lens can help that. In fact, a fast lens (one with a wide aperture, like yours) is actually harder to use in this case, since your little one is apt to zoom right out of the narrow area of focus.

So, I think the main thing you need is more light. Since you probably don't want to add stadium floodlights to your house, take a look at Prime lens or flash: which upgrade will most improve baby photos? — with a focus on the "flash" aspect. A better flash provide a lot more illumination than the pop-up flash does, and more importantly, will allow you to bounce light off the ceiling, not just flash it forward, avoiding the harsh light and shadows often associated with amateur flash photography.

Canon's lower-mid-range flash, the Speedlite 430EX II, is a little pricey at $300 — but that's less than a nice lens might cost. It's also very well featured and able to grow with you as you upgrade the rest of your photography. You could also choose a compatible third-party option like the Metz 50 AF-1 ($200) or the more basic (all-automatic only) but very powerful Sigma EF610 DG ST ($150). Or, you can get a much-cheaper all-manual Yongnuo YN-560 ($70!), but that may not be what you want for in-the-moment kid photos.

  • "In fact, a fast lens (one with a wide aperture, like yours) is actually harder to use in this case, since your little one is apt to zoom right out of the narrow area of focus." -- it's hard to overstate this. My mother would tell pictures of having the nose in focus and the ears out-of-focus, but until I had my own toddler (and camera), I didn't really appreciate this. At f/1.8, you can't even rely on framing by focusing with the center point & repositioning, since even that much movement can change what's in focus.
    – Michael H.
    Jan 10 '12 at 17:14
  • "little one is apt to zoom" pun intended?! Hahah!
    – dpollitt
    Jan 10 '12 at 19:18
  • Thanks for the ideas, I think I might go for the flash rather than a new lens. I didn't really consider this because I hate the way the built in flash looks and I normally opt for natural light if at all possible, even if it means boosting my ISO to 1600 and using the 1.8 aperture setting. I'm guessing that the flash you recommended is fast (being called the "Speedlite" and all). The slowness of the built in flash and the distraction the strobe causes often ruins the moment. Have you found this to be an issue with the external?
    – Meghan
    Jan 11 '12 at 2:20

Creating Memories

I think that what you're trying to do is capture memorable images of your daughter. (Correct me if I'm wrong!). I don't think you're aiming for photographic perfection. As a result, many compromises - which may sound technically iffy - are fine for this kind of photography.

Bearing that in mind here are a few suggestions...

Don't be afraid to bump up the ISO

Even if the result is very noisy, if you get "the" shot, then nobody will notice the noise.

Slow down the subject

This works differently with different children, but giving them a toy (especially a cute, cuddly, photogenic toy) might make her stop moving for several seconds (!) - enough time for you to snap off a shot. The trick is not to let her see it until you give it to her. You could have a helper do this.

You could place a big cushion in her path and lie in wait. Negotiating the obstacle will present some interesting shots.

When you have no light, any light is good light!

Get a work lamp and put it in the room. I would point it at the ceiling to get good diffused / spread out light.
Set an appropriate white-balance (or shoot in raw).

Also, consider using the pop-up flash on your camera - perhaps dialled down (set the flash exposure compensation to -1 or even -1.5 stops).

  • 1
    +1 for creating (and capturing) memories rather than technical perfection.
    – user
    Jan 10 '12 at 12:13
  • @MichaelKjörling: Agree. Or, at least my wife would agree, and I struggle with it. ;-)
    – Michael H.
    Jan 10 '12 at 17:15
  • 1
    Thanks for the suggestions! I've employed these strategies to some success, but I still feel like I'm limited in what I can capture with this lens. I've tried using the highest ISO (1600) along with the 1.8 aperture, but even then I'm often unable to get enough light to produce a fast enough shutter speed for a nice looking photo. I can capture the moment to some degree, but I'd love to have a better quality photo instead of one with some features out of focus or blurred.
    – Meghan
    Jan 11 '12 at 2:26
  • Well, @Meghan, then you just need to get some more light in there - strobes or something. To quote Scotty: Ye canna change the laws of physics! Good luck :)
    – AJ Finch
    Jan 11 '12 at 16:00

Having a good lens is important for indoor shots: I recently reviewed a 35mm lens that I use with my Nikon Camera;


I would think a good 35mm lens for a Canon would produce similar results. It is also important to ensure that the ISO setting is appropriate for the light setting. Some people avoid ISO settings above say 600 because the image can get "noisy". However, modern cameras are better and I find I can get quite a good shot at ISO 1000+. It's important to experiment at different settings (ISO, f stop and shutter speed) to get a feel for the quality of images your camera can produce.

  • Hi Denys! This comes across as a little promotional, with the link to your off-site review. And I'm not sure it really directly answers the question, especially as Meghan mentions that she already has lens of equivalent speed; can you comment on that? And since she mentions that she's not happy with the results, why assume that she hasn't experimented with different settings?
    – mattdm
    Jan 9 '12 at 23:12
  • Good points; I am not trying to promote the 35mm Nikon, just show I have had some experience with it. Although the 50mn canon lens stops down to f/1.8 there could still be differences in performance between what I was assuming was a "lens that comes with the camera" and a prime lens. However my main point was to note the importance of ISO in low light photography. No one appears to have mentioned this so far. I assumed that if Meghan had tested different ISO settings, etc., with the lens she would have mentioned this. Apologies if I have made too many assumptions!
    – Denys Yeo
    Jan 10 '12 at 2:30
  • Thanks for the clarifications, and welcome to Photo Stack Exchange!
    – mattdm
    Jan 10 '12 at 2:57
  • I think I've maxed out the capabilities of my lens and camera and I'm ready for an upgrade! Thanks though.
    – Meghan
    Jan 11 '12 at 2:27

Your lens is fine, what's missing is light. That means a flash, increasing light conditions in your house by turning on some lights, and/or increasing the EI of your camera.
Do not make the (very common, sadly) mistake that everything is to be solved by adding more gear to your kit.

  • Yes, I agree light is an issue. It seems to be an issue pretty frequently though, and I can't always add more light when I'm taking photos at other people's houses. My in laws have a really dark house and that is the main place I'm taking photos of my daughter and her cousins. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and birthday photos come out less than perfect, and I'd like to improve what I can do with my equipment rather than moving lamps around at their house. Thanks for the input though.
    – Meghan
    Jan 11 '12 at 2:31

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