Although smart phones are truly smarter these days, it still lags behind any digital cameras that are in the market. Most notably the use of an external flash, the low light capabilities digital cameras has; and how it out-performs mobile devices– with a few more important technical advantages it offers. Here are 10 of the most important tips I’ve learned and want to share with you from all of my photographic journey I have with my family throughout the years of traveling.
Let the children play vs. a posed shot
Taking photos of children while they are at play makes a better photograph than having to pose them most of the time. This is because children doesn’t want to break up their play. It also produces more natural and candid photographs.
I asked Joel to stand in the flower fields and smell the flowers. This created a better angle of a shot over a posed shot which brought a dynamic candid moment and integrated a sense of childhood and play. | The flower fields in Carlsbad, California
always set a time of the day to capture a few portrait and close up shots
Getting ready for a portrait shoot just after the kids had a nice short nap and full belly. At this time they are usually full of energy and are ready to engage in any activities
Find the time, most preferably in the morning and late afternoon to photograph children because these are the short hours of the day when the lights are flattering and the most fit time after a nice sleep or nap when they have rested well.
This is a very short time and you want to get them to really stay still to pose for you. You want to pose them when they are not cranky. Find a nice neutral background that separate and isolates them to focus the attention towards them. Make sure the background is not distracting and you want to use a nice portrait lens and set it to where you can have a nice blurred background. This time doesn’t last long. 5-10 minutes is usually the time that you can bargain with them before they are off and running again.
Halloween at Sea world San Diego
One trick I found helpful is to talk to them about their favorite super hero’s or princesses and engage them in a conversation to help them to relax and pose as naturally as possible; and really, buys you time to photograph them a little bit longer.
who said poop?
Bow falls | Alberta, Canada
One, two, three,.. ready, steady, say… poop!
Yes. It has always worked wonders for me. When you bring out the word poop just before releasing the shutter, it brings out a nice big laughter and natural candid smiles from them. There are other trigger words you can use and you know what they are. Be creative!
Always bring a fill in light source (external flash)
left: fill in flash from the right while having the kids play with the beautiful lighted Disney world Florida castle in the backdrop | right : sunset in Huntington Beach with a fill flash from the left
I say an external flash because I prefer to use the flash with a trigger and have the light coming from one side rather than from the camera’s direction. This creates a more natural look to the photographed subject and fill in just enough. This specific portable flash system I use is the flash q20ii that comes with a small trigger and the flash system itself.
I always carry one most of the time to fill in the shadows that might cast on the child’s face. You will run into wonderful candid moments like the photo above of the kids playful disposition in Disney world Florida that absolutely needed at least one light source to illuminate the magical play late in the evening.
The golden hour; is truly golden
Wonderful summer’s day sun setting behind my family. I metered on my daughter to get a proper exposure and brought out a beautiful warm tone behind them that separated the foreground and background. Notice the beautiful hairline light that’s captured a three dimensional effect. One of my very favorite time of the day to photograph children.
This is the best time to take portrait shots of the children. You want to time it just before the sun sets (1-2 hours) and photograph them with the sun behind them or just to the side to create a nice golden glow on the hairline. You want to properly expose the face by increasing the exposure on your camera. This is the time a fill in flash is most useful. That little fill in light goes a long way.
This photo is a little different. I had them face the sun. It worked out well on this frame because I had both my kids walk while I followed them carefully and captured just the right moment to capture the suns glow before the frowned face that usually follow with the blaring sun in their eyes.
Invest in a special portrait lens
I usually bring an equivalent 50 mm or 75 mm lens (both prime lenses) with a wide aperture to bring out a beautiful blurred background and sharp images of the children. These prime lenses are also known for their portability; smaller size and weight difference compared to a zoom lens. If you don’t have a very fast aperture (wide aperture that can open up to f/2.8 or lower), one trick to have is to have your child stand as far away from the background as possible to compress the image and create a blurred background effect. The farther they are from the background the more isolated they become. This is usually taken during a nice hike or a street walk when you can move as much as want with as many options to frame them with as far away background you can find and compose.
The fuji x pro-1, 50 mm f 1.2 manual lens, the canon fd 50 mm 1.8 adapted lens, and the 27 mm 1.7 mounted on the camera.
Choose the right shutter speed
When children are on the go and specially when they are playing, setting your aperture at least to a minimum of 1/125 sec and higher will give you sharp and prevent a blurred images that otherwise will result when photographing anything moving.
This one particular photo of my son would have not been possible if I didn’t increase the shutter speed to 1/250 sec to freeze him while body surfing and catching those dramatic crashing waves in the foreground.
don’t disregard the in between moments during travel
This particular image bring a wonderful memory of that beautiful autumn morning in Yosemite National Park while preparing my camera gear to take photos of my family. The beautiful reflected colors in the frozen lake behind brought out a sense of warmth in that otherwise frigid morning temperature. I love how we had my daughter bundled up and capturing my son just inching his way to running off to the nearest pine cone he’s eyed since we got to this spot.
I have found that a lot of my best photographs have been candid shots of the children. Candid shot while preparing their meal before the set itinerary for the day. This photo of my daughter getting ready for her meal with the natural window light casting a beautiful flattering diffused light on her face is magical. These photographs create that small connection to tell a story in your photographs and travel. Use them well.
Always ask permission
Engage the kids to play with other children but always ask permission from the other parents to photograph them at play. Send them a copy of the photograph to get them connected and give back as a token of appreciation, but make sure that the photographs are consented.
praise the kids
My wonderful wife preparing the two kids for a photoshoot | The Grand Teton National Park
Praising them while you are taking photographs help the children to act naturally and eventually will forget about the camera that’s between you and them. Over time they will start to act more natural and interact with you just like they do without a camera.
Happy shooting and I hope these tips helped you out in anyway as I prepare to create a tutorial on how to photograph children in depth in the near future.
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