Ah, kids. When you get a great shot of your child, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. It shouldn’t be just an “every now and then” type of thing though. Below, you’ll find a few things we can all do to help improve the keeper ratio when snapping shots of our kids.
1. Get Down
Getting down on the child’s level gives you a great perspective and puts you in their world. We don’t walk around snapping shots of other adults from over their heads. Why do we do that with kids?
Don’t be lazy. Get down on the ground. Heck, lay down on your belly if you want. You’ll also get the added benefit of being less intimidating than a giant adult towering over them with a camera and lens.
2. Pick a Single Focus Point
A lot of cameras do a pretty good job at automatically choosing the focus points; however, you can do better. Tell the camera which focus point you are going to use and frame it up accordingly.
Most point and shoot cameras will let you do this as well. So, pull out your camera manual or go digging in the menu to put the point of focus where you want it.
3. Choose the Right Focusing Mode for Your Needs
If you are doing a lot of stationary shots while the child is in one place, you can select single-AF and reframe as needed. If your child is moving around, you need to switch to continuous-AF and hold that focus point you chose on your target as he or she moves.
4. Go For the Eyes
This general rule applies to most portraits. There are times when you should focus on other things; however, that means you have a specific artistic vision in mind.
When your default is getting a good shot of your kid, put the focus point on the eyes and make’em sharp.
5. Catch Them Napping
What better time to work your magic behind the lens than with a completely still and spontaneously-posed subject.
6. Let’em Do Their Thing
Observe them doing their own thing away from you. Once they’ve forgotten about your and your pesky camera that makes them produce the cheesy smile, ease in for the shot.
Let your child continue to play or explore. If she spots you, lower the camera and have a little conversation while encouraging her to go about her business.
7. Work the Angles
We already talked about getting low down on the child’s level above. While you’re down there, think like a boxer – stick and move. Rotate around the child from a distance to capture different angles while they are doing their thing. Even if you’re having the child pose or semi-pose, don’t be static with the same background for a hundred shots. Change it up, and you might find something you like better than you did when you framed it up for your first shot.
8. Watch the Background
This goes hand-in-hand with working the angles. As you and your kid move about, watch what you’ve got in the background. If you’re at home, it could be the stack of laundry that’s not been put away that you want to avoid. If you’re at your kid’s favorite park, watch out for other people or the parking lot filled with cars as part of you background.
9. Shoot Fast
I’ve got two sub-tips that this applies to.
First, get your shutter speed up to stop the action. Kids play at their own pace. You don’t want to miss the shot because your shutter speed was too slow to capture that expression while he was moving his head. As a rule of thumb, I like to shoot at 1/250s or faster for kids. If you’re indoors, you may have to back this down in available light. The key here though, is to keep your shutter speed in mind. If you’ve got Flash Gordon, Jr. on your hands, you’re going to have to use a faster speed than, say, Little Bo Peep.
Second, move the shutter drive over to continuous. If you are snapping frames in the single drive mode, you’re going to miss the moments in between. It never fails that one of those moments will be when the smile bends just the right way, and you’ll thank yourself for getting the maximum frames per second.
10. Forget the Smile, Go for the Emotion
Now, this young girl is just working the camera; however, sometimes kids just won’t smile for you. Or, if they do, it comes across as fake or cheesy. There are a lot of great emotions that kids will wear on their faces if we’ll just let them. Capture those when you can’t get a smile out of them.
11. Talk to Them About Their World
With my kids, I know that Mario, Transformers, Star Wars, puppie dogs, and baby dolls are good conversation topics. This gets their minds off taking pictures and gets them in a more natural mood. You can get your own kids more involved with their photographic memories by incorporating their world into your photography. Years later, these photos of your kid dressed up as Mario or fighting the dark side with a light saber will bring those memories back to you – and you’ll be glad you did it.
If you’re shooting someone else’s kid, take the time to get to know their world and be ready to discuss Sponge Bob, Phineas and Ferb, or Monsters and Aliens. If you’ve never heard of the characters at hand, let them explain it to you, and they’ll bring you right into their world as you earn their trust along the way.
12. Tell a Silly Joke or Make a Funny Sound
Sometimes, nothing’s better than a simple fart noise. My 7-year-old won’t produce a genuine smile on command for anything. Throw out a PPBBTTHHHDD with the tongue and you get a big toothy grin every time.
If you know their weaknesses, go that route instead of the sometimes ill-suited “Say cheese!” command.
13. Show Them the Results
I’ve never been around a kid that doesn’t want to see themselves on the back of the camera. They eat this stuff up.
Sometimes, with kids that are being difficult, this is a nice carrot and stick to use. Show them the shots after you get a handful of shots. Then, you can encourage more poses with the reward of another peek at the back of the camera.
14. Capture the Crazy and Silly Poses Too
Some kids love to be goofballs in front of the camera. While you don’t want every frame of your kid to be a goofy shot, these poses can often turn out to be endearing to us parents. You can sometimes use these goofy poses as a carrot and stick as well – do x-number of real pictures and I’ll take some of you being crazy again.
15. Get Someone Away from the Camera to Engage Them
While you don’t want every shot to be of your kid looking away from the camera, you can get some creative expressions and angles if someone other than the photographer has their attention.
16. Blur the Background
This is another good, general portrait tip. If you are using a DSLR, you can turn the mode dial to “A” for aperture priority and turn the aperture number (called an “f-stop”) down to a low number. If your lens goes to f/2.8 or lower, you can get a real buttery smooth background. If it’s a kit lens, just turn in down as low as it will go.
That’s what I’ve got for now. I hope these tips help you get better images of your kids or your client’s kids the next time you are on a photo shoot with them.
If you have additional tips or helpful advice that’s worked for you in getting great photos of kids (whether snapshots of your kids or professionally when working with clients), please feel take a minute and leave a comment below.