Thursday, May 8, 2014

Photographing Kids | Tips From An Amateur

Right around Jude & Sloane's first birthday I started going through a year's worth of pictures.  Most were grainy, blurry, and dull.  I always kept my phone by my side to snap a quick picture, but the quality just wasn't there.  I made a New Year's resolution to use my nice camera (Canon Rebel t2i) as much as possible and I've been so pleased with the results.  I fell in love with photography a few years before the twins were born so it was fun to put everything I'd learned into practice.

I've received a few requests from Instagram and blog friends who want to know my "secrets" so I'm going to share what little I know to get decent pictures of people.  I've broken this post into two parts: Understanding Your Camera and General Photography Tips for Children.

Understanding Your Camera

The below information is based on my Canon.  Most Canon cameras are pretty similar but there are some differences with Nikon.  I know virtually nothing about Nikon so I apologize.

Many people buy a nice camera and keep it on the automatic setting.  While this will still produce a better picture than a phone, you're missing out on so much!  I'm not going to go into the science behind the following terms because we all have kids and no one has time to read all of that.  I'm going to tell you what I do and if you want to know more, I suggest purchasing Photography (or email me--I'm happy to go into further detail if you'd like)! 

I shoot in AV mode (Aperture Priority/Value).  It's located on the top of the camera and allows you to select the following (among other items)...

F-Stop:  This is what people tend to care most about when taking portraits.  The f-stop determines the amount of blur you have in the background (shallow depth of field = blur).  It can also allow a lot of light in the picture.  If you want an image to have a blurrier background, use a low f-stop (smaller number).   However, when you're capturing two or more subjects you don't want the number to be too small because it will make one of the subjects blurry.  If you are photographing one subject and they are sitting/standing perfectly still, you can go as low as your lens will allow (so basically, you can do this when your child is 18-years-old).  For two or more subjects, I suggest keeping it around a 5.  The f-stop value is located at the top of the camera screen.  To change it, use the small dial at the top of the camera.

ISO:  When you are outside during the day, keep your ISO at 100 or 200.  You'll need to bump it up to 800 (or 1600 at the absolute highest) when you're inside, unless you have a lot of big windows.  The higher the number, the grainier the image so be careful with this.  ISO is great for allowing more light, but it's at a (grainy) cost.  ISO is located behind the dial at the top of the camera.  Once you've pushed the button you will use the dial to select the appropriate number.

White Balance:  This is an easy fix that can dramatically improve a picture.  With options like "daylight," "shade," and "cloudy," it's pretty fool-proof.  While it also offers inside lighting options ("tungsten light" and "white fluorescent light"),  I find these make my images too blue.  If I'm inside I tend to keep it on automatic.  White Balance is on the back of the camera (look for "WB").  Use the dial to select the correct WB.

Shutterspeed:  If you shoot in AV, the camera determines the shutterspeed so there is nothing to do here (woohoo)!  I'd love to shoot in full manual mode but it's nearly impossible with two toddlers running around.  By the time you have everything in perfect alignment, your subjects are a mile away. The picture below used a terribly fast shutterspeed.  The train was moving pretty dang fast and it's in full focus.  Thank you, AV.  (Sidenote: Please notice my adorable nephew with his hands over his ears.)

AF Point Selection: This allows you to hone in on your subject regardless of whatever else is in the picture (this is great when there is something in front and behind your subject--the camera doesn't always know where it should focus).  In the picture below, I wanted Riggins to be in focus but I also wanted to include the flowers in front of him and trees behind him  Once you select this button (far right on the back of your camera) use the dial until the point is directly on top of what you want in focus.

Flash: Flash is the F word.  Just say no to flash.

Image Quality: Professional photographers and those who love to edit pictures should shoot in RAW.  It is the highest quality and makes for beautiful editing/manipulation.  However, the file is huge and takes up a lot of room.  If you're like me and just want some great images with little editing, shoot in high quality large (this looks like a smooth curve followed by the letter "L").  This is located under Menu.

Style: Picture style should be "Portrait" when you are taking pictures of people.  This is also located under Menu.

If you don't mind investing a little, these are my two must-have items...

50mm 1.8 lens.  It costs around $100 and you will not regret it.  They also sell 1.4 lenses but I don't think it's worth the extra $250.  It gives you one more "stop" of blur, but the depth of field is so shallow that someone's nose is in focus and their eyes are blurry.

UV lens filter.  While it has a few benefits, it's mostly to save your expensive lens.  Little fingers tend to find their way to the lens every single time.  It's inexpensive to replace a UV filter.  Not so much a lens.

General Photography Tips for Children

1.  Get down on their level.  Unless you're opting for interesting angles, the best pictures are taken straight on.  This also helps prevent strange shadows on faces and distortion.

Kaitlin & Leighton are straight in front of me

Unusual angle - Logan is above me

Unusual angle - Sloane is directly below me

2.  If you can, go outside.  Outdoor pictures (in my opinion) are better and much easier to control.  If it's a cloudy day, run (do not walk) outside and start taking pictures.  Cloudy days = no shadows, no squinting, and clear pictures, all while offering plenty of gorgeous light.  If you're inside, find the room that offers the most light.  My favorite indoor pictures of my kids are taken near our large windows that face east.  

Photo of Summer, Steve, and Siena taken on a cloudy day

Taken in the morning, directly next to our window

3.  Take 1,000 pictures.  Just snap away.  I always take a ton of pictures with the expectation that I will delete at least 80%.  In one second Jude can go from a ridiculously adorable face to a total drunken toddler.  If I didn't snap so many pictures, I'd only end up with the drunken toddler.

4.  Don't miss a picture because you're too far away or don't want certain items in the background.  You can always crop.  The same is true with lighting.  Don't love the lighting or shadows are too distracting on the subject's face?  Make it a black/white photo and the result can be stunning.





5.  If you are alone, do not spend more than five minutes taking pictures of your children.  After five minutes, they are frustrated and you are frustrated.  I've spent 15-30 minutes taking pictures of my kids and the first 10 shots are always the best.  If you have someone there to help you, do not spend more than ten minutes taking pictures (for the same reasons mentioned above).  My husband tells me this every single time and I always try to push it.  As soon as I look at the images I almost always end up deleting the last half.

6.  Right now a popular photography style is having the sun behind the subject.  This makes the picture appear hazy and can cast a beautiful glow on/around the subject.  It can also cause severe sunspots or sun flare, which I find distracting.  A lens hood can help with this.  Or, use the sun to your advantage and make your subject a silhouette with a bright background. The pictures of Sloane each have sunspots on the top left, which I do not love.  However, I like the overall affect and I think it makes her look pretty angelic.  :)

Silhouette shot of Emily & baby Gwyneth

7.  Give them something small (or big) to hold.  This can go one of two ways.  When I give my kids something to hold it slows them down a bit.  However, sometimes they are so interested in the object that they will no longer look at me.  When that happens, I move to the side and capture sweet profile shots.

8.  Let them look at the pictures you've just taken.  If Jude & Sloane start getting antsy, I'll put the lens cap on and show them the screen (while keeping a firm grasp on the camera).  They love looking at the pictures and that gives all of us a much-needed break.  Most of the time I'm able to shoot for a few more minutes.  :)

I hope this helps!  I'd love to hear your tips/tricks!

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  1. Extraordinary post! Canon should hire you!

    1. I LOVE THIS POST!! Everything is perfect! Thank you!! **Use an old scrunchy to make a fun animal/ character that can go around your camera lens. I have an Elmo and bird! Look on Pinterest for ideas. SUPER easy and cheap! It allows me to always get my girls to look at me... I added a squeeze toy to it for noise when needed.

  2. I have a nikon D3100 but I'm still using your tips! Thank you!

  3. My hubby just bought me a Canon Rebel T5 (I know absolutely NOTHING about cameras) for Mother's Day so I'm excited to use your tips. I haven't even gotten it out of the box yet, I think I'm a little intimidated by it. Hehe!! : )

  4. So glad a recent post pointed me here! All of the camera language goes in one ear and out the other (I couldn't last past AV mode), but the general tips were SUPER helpful! Thanks for sharing! You have some GORGEOUS photos of Sloane and Jude there!