There is not much a parent values more than quality time with his or her children.
Wouldn’t it be nice to freeze those moments with your camera so that you can relive your children’s childhood? Sure, most parents take pictures of their children, but wouldn’t it be great if you could capture who they are and not just photos of them smiling directly at the camera over the years?
What about composition? Lighting? “Oh my goodness, help! My children move too fast and it’s too dark in here…and, and…and….” Oh c’mon, stop making up excuses!
Step 1: READ your camera manual
Most point and shoot cameras have different settings…for instance, ‘sport, portrait, landscape, etc.’ If your child moves a lot, you will want to put it on sports mode. Sports mode is meant for movement and children, who are not playing sports, can still move as much as or even more than adults who ARE playing sports.
First things first, set your ISO!!! ISO what used to be called ‘film speed.’ The lower the film speed you can get away with, generally, the better as the photo will be less grainy (ie. a film speed of 100 will make for clearer pictures than a film speed of 1600). However, sometimes the scene is dark and you will need to set the film speed higher. Experiment with this
Next, we set either the shutter speed or aperture.
If you have a digital SLR, you will probably want to use a fairly high shutter speed for your moving offspring. Ie: 1/250 is better than 1/60. If the child moves and it’s set at 1/60, you will get motion blur (which can be a cool effect-but master the basics before attempting it intentionally!).
For example, in the image below, the shutter speed was set to 1/100. It should have been a little bit higher because you can tell Julia’s hand is moving. To stop the motion, 1/250 would likely suffice, though you could go higher.
NOTE: This only applies for those using SLR cameras. If you are using a point and shoot, I would recommend sports mode to avoid motion blur. Of course, there are some instances where you may WANT to show movement and then you should experiment with lower shutter speeds, like 1/125 or 1/60.
So, if I don’t want to show movement, why don’t I just shoot with a higher shutter speed all the time?
Higher shutter speeds mean that you will be letting less light into your camera. If you shoot with a high shutter speed, you may have to adjust with a wider aperture. Sometimes there is not enough light to allow for this.
WHAT?!?! I’m lost.
For example, the image on the left is using a shutter speed of 1/1000 (note: there is NO motion blur) and an aperture of 2.8 That is why the background is out of focus, whereas the foreground is in focus. This effect is often used to focus on one particular element of an image. Ie: Sometimes you want to focus on the person and not the background. If you use an aperture of 2.8 the background SHOULD be out of focus, whereas if you use an aperture of f16 or f22, for instance, everything should be in focus. The reason I was able to use such a high shutter speed and wide open aperture for the above photo is that we were outside on a fairly bright day. I highly recommend photographing children outdoors or by window light when you are starting out.
Is it starting to make sense?
I hope so!
Okay, okay, enough with the technical stuff…I just want to take pictures! I don’t even HAVE camera and I can’t set the aperture or shutter speed on my point and shoot.
Let’s get to some common complaints…
COMPLAINT 1: Everytime I want to take my child’s picture, he/she looks miserable.
You mean like this?
Personally, I think it’s good to capture your child in ALL of his or her moods. This is my daughter in the midst of a temper tantrum. She’s two. Two year olds have temper tantrums. One day, you will look back at these photos and laugh..and when you’re taking a picture of your child having a temper tantrum, it certainly helps diffuse the situation since you are focused on getting that photo and not on how miserable your child is.
COMPLAINT 2: My child never smiles for the camera.
So, what’s stopping you? In some of the best images of your children, they will not be looking at a camera. They will be engaged in an activity. In this photo, for instance, Julia is calling her ‘daddy’ on the toy phone. She was not aware at all that I was taking this photograph. This is the kind of moment that you may forget about when your child gets older, but not if you have a picture of it!
But I really want a photo of my child smiling.
The real trick is to capture your child when he or she is engaged in another activity!
For example, in this picture my daughter is laughing because she is having fun with her daddy.
COMPLAINT 3: Why is it that sometimes when I take photos they seem to be such poor quality?
Check the setting on your camera! If you are shooting JPEG, make sure it is set to ‘high resolution’. If you are shooting RAW you likely won’t have to worry about this unless you are saving your images as JPEGs (and accidentally saving them as low res JPEGs). Another reason for this could be how you are saving your images. For instance, if you use photoshop and ‘save for web’ you will not be able to print your image, though it should look somewhat decent on your computer screen.
This is hard to show over the internet, since low quality is often good enough for the computer screen, but it will show up in prints. Ie: You can print a 4×6 image sized to 300 dpi (or dots per inch) no problem, but if you blow it up to 8×12 or even 11×14 it will look grainy.
COMPLAINT 4: None of the pictures of my child are that exciting.
Are you getting up close? Are you getting down to their level? Make sure your child is the main focus of the photo. If there is a large building in the foreground and your child is a tiny dot, the photo is not focused on your child so it loses impact. It’s also good to be at the same level as your child. Get on the floor if you have to.
That being said, once you’ve figured out the basics rules are meant to be broken!
Experiment and practice, practice, practice!
Give yourself projects and themes to work on. Ie: I chose to focus on perspective for the following photos.
This image is a reflection in a swimming pool, but it is also upside down.
Lastly, the photo above is one where I focused on shadows…
I hope you will be able to take much better photos of your little one now that you’ve read this article!
Do you have any questions? Did you enjoy this article? Please leave a comment!
Thanks for this sweet tutorial!! I don’t have kids but I found this really helpful. I had never understood that shutter speed vs aperture thing and how
it relates to depth of field- thanks!
I’m so glad you found it helpful, Lisa! I updated the post with a little bit more about aperture. You already take great photos, so I can’t wait to see your images now that you know abotu aperture and depth of field!
Thanks for all the great tips! I’ll have to print this article and refer to it before taking photos! I’m very glad we don’t have to rely on my photos for our pictures of Julia and Emily, but I’ll try to use your advice!