One of the problems that we all face when taking images of children, is that as soon as you pull out the camera, your subject will spot what you're doing and immediately pull a face, hide, run away, stick out their tongue, stand like a superhero, or otherwise do the opposite of what you were hoping they'd do – just look at the camera and smile!
It can be so frustrating, so I hope you've been trying to get past that frustration by practising being patient. I'd like to take that theme a little further today.
I'd like you to plan an hour where you'll be out with the children – maybe in the park, or your garden if you have one, the beach, a forest, wherever you'll be able to get outside and have some free movement.
The task I'd like to set yourself is to try to capture the essence of the children playing. We do this when we go off at the weekend, and we often make up something that we're going to together. Recently we went to a wood with the idea that we were going to go out spotting trolls who live there. We gave the kids notebooks and pencils and ran about in the woods looking for what we could find. "That tree has been munched by one", "That puddle is actually a footprint"… It was lots of fun!
When the kids are distracted like this, there's less opportunity for the face-pulling reaction. They're lost in their own play, and it's here that you can capture some beautiful, natural images of the children as they really are.
You don't have to do anything as elaborate as our troll adventure, though! Packing a bag with a few props and activities, perhaps things that the kids have never used before, can provide lots of opportunities for natural photographs. A new skipping rope, frisbee, football, diabolo, or even a magnifying glass for looking at bugs, they're all quite inexpensive, and having something new to play with will get the children excited and focused on that instead of your camera.
I always pack some bubbles too – it's a bit of a cliché, but if you're blowing the bubbles, or a child that's old enough, the other children (and adults!) can run around trying to chase and pop them. It's a really inexpensive idea, but you can get some really fun images, because the bubbles look great too, especially if you shoot in that beautiful late afternoon light.
If you drive, hide the props under a blanket in the boot (or trunk) and then pull them out for a big surprise. Just make sure you have the camera ready when you do it, and pay attention to the background when you're doing the "reveal". You don't want to be surrounded by lots of cars and other people when you do that. The kids will get really excited and before you know it, the props are out, the kids are playing and the moment is happening!
Plan for that and look around for an attractive background where you can do the "reveal", and make sure your partner, if you have one, is ready to support. Talk about it in advance with them – you want to get a beautiful image of the kids being excited about their new toys.
Be prepared for some tears, though. If you have more than one child, you can easily end up in an "I want that one, not this one" situation, so make sure you've got a backup or have more than one of the toys so that you can keep everyone happy. It's a bit of a challenge, and for our family, this happens quite often. Keeping that "patience" feeling going here is crucial!
When kids are rushing around, you need to think about the kinds of images you're trying to get. If you're shooting on the phone, there are some lovely options for this. In iOS you can hold the camera button down when you are taking an image, and get several shots in a short space of time, and then pick the best on. Android has a similar option.
You could also shoot some slow-mo if you get yourself prepared and have that option on your phone. I often make a little video of the kids running in slow-mo. You can do the same when they are playing, and if there's a ball or a frisbee flying around, it can look great!
If you have a camera, you probably want to be using a wide-ish lens. A big zoom lens can be intimidating and you'll run the risk of things being too cropped. Get close, move your feet and don't be afraid to get really close to the kids to see their faces very close up. Shoot wide and start out on P mode with an "area" focus rather than using point focus. I like using a 30mm lens or equivalent for this because it forces me to move my feet.
If you're feeling more confident, have a go with T mode. You can often get unwanted motion blur if there is a lot of movement, so setting your preferred shutter speed will reduce that. Set it to 1/500 if you have enough light and see what the results look like.
Try not to be a chimp! With modern cameras it's so tempting to check out every photo to see what you've got, while the action is going on, because you can just press the review button and see your images on the back of the camera. If you've not heard the term before "chimping" is when you look down and bring up the camera to see the back, elbows out to the sides like a chimpanzee.
That can really take you out of the action, though, so once you know that it's roughly working, just shoot, engage with the children and think to yourself "I'm not going to chimp". You could even ask the kids to join in by giving you a "no chimping" rule and they get to call you out if they see you doing it too much.
Try to be part of the moment, not separated from it!
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