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Photography tips: How to take great pictures of your kids

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Step 5: Experiment with lighting

If you are like most parents, you find that taking pictures indoors, especially at night, results in the worst possible shots. That’s when you get the annoying flash reflected off everything from metal refrigerators to glass, not to mention those ghostly faces. With most DSLRs, you can set your ISO, or light sensitivity, to a higher setting to get better pictures in low lighting. “As your camera comes out of the box, it will usually be set for something like ISO 200, which is good for general purpose photography. But in low lighting, your flash will come on if there is not enough light, which is what can cause some of the shortcomings in your photos,” says Heiner. “If you don’t want flash, that is when you go in and adjust the ISO to a higher value.” Heiner recommends that if you do this, you don’t want to set the shutter speed to slower than, say 1/60th of a second. Any slower, and your photo may turn out blurry.

We’ve found that investing in a simple tripod will not only allow you, the family archivist, to get in front of the camera for family photos, but remove any image blur due to shaky hands.

Of course, flashes are our friends, ultimately. They exist for a reason, and one of those reasons is to eliminate those pesky shadows. Say you are on vacation at the Grand Canyon and it’s high noon. The harsh sunlight coming from directly above makes all your kids look like they have small eyes and long noses due to shadows the sun is casting. Turn the flash on, and it will adjust for the amount of natural light and gently fill in those shadows, making your childs’ faces appear normal again. Flashes can also help fill in the detail on your boy’s face underneath that new cowboy or fireman hat.

An external flash is also a good investment. These flexible flashes can be angled up up at the ceiling so that light bounces around and diffuses throughout the room, eliminating that “deer in the headlights” look. “If you don’t want to or can’t afford to buy an ancillary flash, try putting a dry, clean styrofoam coffee cup on top of the flash that is built into your camera. It will diffuse the light just enough. And you can even draw a little smiley face on the cup to entertain the kids,” says Heiner. “Just make sure that the cup doesn’t actually come in contact with the flash, which can melt it and potentially cause damage.”

Step 6: Play

You’ll have more success at photography and better, more creative pics, if you play like a kid while you are shooting kids. Don’t be afraid to get on the ground with your kids or tell them to do fun stuff, like make funny faces, leap, or act silly. When you play with them, they’ll let down their guard.

Have fun with different composition techniques. For example, off-center portrait shots are usually more interesting than centered ones. Look for those transition moments, where a child is about to do something, like touch a flower or jump off a step. Remember that if you want a kid to smile or look at the camera, silly words and noises are your best friends. Whatever you do, don’t say, “smile!” Inevitably, you will get a fake one.

Step 7: Earn Trust

One of our favorite photographers is Richard Menzies, who takes incredibly candid pictures that are as far from portrait photography as you can get. Menzies, who still prefers film to digital, trained himself to shoot quickly. He never raises the camera to his eye until he was sure of composition and exposure. “My Aunt Belva, by contrast would stand there peering at me through the viewfinder for what seemed hours. As a kid I dreaded having my picture taken, and unfortunately, I still do. Why? I don’t trust the photographer,” says Menzies. “With a digital camera that does most of the work for you, there’s no excuse for standing there holding your camera to your face while your subject grows cranky and the decisive moment melts away.”

Menzies’ expertise, it seems, is crystalizing those captivating moments when kids aren’t “mugging” for the camera. “[Kids] do this in self-defense. What they’re telling you is, ‘Dammit, I’m tired of being stalked like a wild animal!’” Menzies recommends not making a big production when taking a photograph, but rather, have your camera at hand, ready to go at all times.

Menzies also stresses the economy of frames. With digital cameras, there is no end to the amount of frames you can take, but that doesn’t mean you should subject your kids to endless hours while you try to capture the right shot. “Win your children’s confidence by taking good pictures of them. Don’t exhibit the ones that aren’t good. Move normally, work swiftly and smoothly. And just because your camera will shoot 10 million frames before it’s time to reload, doesn’t mean you need to shoot 10 million frames,” says Menzies.

Two Friends

© Richard Menzies

Mugging, but in a nice way.

Alex in the tub

© Richard Menzies

Nudity? Be discrete!

Boneyard Boys

Boneyard Boys © Richard Menzies

Richard Menzies took this photo, “Boneyard Boys,” by hanging around the subjects so long that the novelty of a strange photographer wore off and the boys began to ignore him. “All the while adjusting my camera to changing light conditions and paying attention to where the sun was. It’s no accident that the sun is behind them. I almost always prefer backlight to front light. It separates the subject from the background,” says Menzies.

Step 8: Edit

A lot of DSLRs have great in-camera editing, which can greatly enhance your photos. For example, you can crop them if there is something undesirable in the outskirts of the frame, you can zoom in on faces, get rid of red-eye, or even change a photograph from color to black-and-white. There are also tons of excellent editing software programs available for futzing with your photos once you get to your computer . . . but then, that’s a different article.

Just remember, kids are great subjects. Have fun, know your camera, experiment, earn the trust of your subjects, and learn a few basics and you will take some fantastic photos with your DSLR that will definitely worth hanging on the wall.

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