Photographing children is very much about capturing an emotion, an expression or a moment that might otherwise be forgotten. Rather like freezing time, these photographs enable us to retain precious memories and often recall how we felt. My daughter is more than used to having a camera pointed at her. Not that she welcomes posing of course – unless it comes with a comedy stance and a silly expression! That said, she can burst out laughing straight afterwards and what a wonderful photo that makes.
The more authentic you are as a photographer, the better the end result. Children are at their most photogenic when they’re in a natural environment. So instead of asking them for a photograph and getting one of those fake cheesy grins, just get out there and enjoy yourself. I always relish the candid moments, taken when she’s not looking. Or being ready with my camera she glances back at it. Generally acting like a complete buffoon can also produce great results.
It’s entirely up to you what you use when you take photographs of your children whether it be a mobile, a compact or an SLR. My preference is the latter, just because that’s what I’m most comfortable with. Of course cameras don’t make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a good novel. Photography is about you; what you see within a frame and how you capture the memories.
What camera settings should you use
There are a few factors to consider here if you’re an SLR user. Aperture Priority (or portrait) mode is great if you want a child’s face in focus and the background blurry. This setting will enable you to control the depth of field to achieve the look you want. A good starting point is a wide aperture like f/2.8 to f/5.6. Keep an eye on the shutter speed, especially if you have a child like mine that rarely stands still. You could try 1/200th of a second but that will need to be higher if they’re running around. If your camera has a sports mode, you can also try that.
Your ISO settings will depend on the conditions. I prefer taking photographs in natural light as increasing ISO can pixelate photographs. If you do have to shoot indoors, find a natural light source or use an external flash pointed at a white ceiling. Which lens you use will depend on what kind of photography you like and where you are. Typically if I’m out for the day, I’ll take an 18-135mm lens with me. The 70-300mm lens is superb if I need to take photographs from a distance.
Know your focal point
Often your focal point for close-ups will be your child’s face or eyes. Even if you’re capturing your children from further away, you still need a focal point. Personally I prefer single point focusing but multipoint might suit you better. Nobody wants a tree trunk perfectly in focus for example with blurry faces to the side of it. Don’t feel your focal point has to be central either.
Experiment with different perspectives
It’s great to have a mix of photographs, especially if you’re taking them for a blog post, so try shooting from different angles. The rule is to get down to a child’s eye level so your pictures are more interesting but you can break those rules too. Get in close and capture their eyes or eyelashes and if they’re young, shoot their hands or feet. You can also capture children from above, below and behind. Photographs taken while they’re concentrating on something else will often be the most natural.
Think about your framing
Although it doesn’t always go to plan when photographing children, think about your framing as much as you can. Composition is just as important as the focal point. Consider where you want your children to be within an image and what else you want to include. Usually we don’t have much time to do this but pay attention to your background. They’re great for context if they’re complementary, they shouldn’t be a distraction. Try experimenting against a wall, in the countryside or at the beach for example. Also look out for interesting lines, shapes and patterns. You’ll soon find the types of photographs you like will become second nature.
Finally, children are continually on the move so it’s good to plan a little before you leave home. While many choose Aperture Priority mode for capturing their kids, I tend to use TV (shutter speed) much of the time. This is so I can freeze frame the unexpected action shots and avoid any blurry images. Don’t forget too you can capture some touching moments even if you’re children are not smiling – or facing the right way. Don’t wait for that perfect moment as it might not happen. Instead always shoot on continuous, take more photographs than you need to and from varying angles. Most importantly just get out there, have fun with it and practice, practice, practice!