Your kids mean the world to you, and you want to remember every second with them as they grow up. But there’s no denying it: kids are difficult to photograph. They’re full of energy and always moving around. They don’t like posing and rarely will listen to directions. As a result, the photos you take rarely do justice to the charm of the moment.
Fortunately, there are plenty of photography tricks and camera tips you can use to improve the photos you take of your kids. We’ve identified the best practices you can incorporate during your next family trip to the park, playground or sports field.
- Use a Digital Camera
First and foremost, we strongly recommend that you use a DSLR camera. A phone or point-and-shoot camera will have shutter lag: a small delay from when you press the shutter to when the camera actually takes the photo. There's no time for shutter lag when photographing kids in motion.
DSLR cameras give you flexibility to control the speed of the shutter, the light in the image, the depth of field and the zoom, all of which are incredibly valuable when taking pictures of your kids.
- Shoot Outdoors if Possible
It’s a lot easier to capture great photos of your kids if you photograph outside. To capture crisp pictures of moving subjects, like your running kid, you’ll need as much light as possible. Adequate light allows you to use a high shutter speed (which we’ll talk about below) without ending up with a dark image.
Make it fun by visiting a local park, beach or playground. Photographing your kid’s sports game? Excellent! Soccer fields, football fields and baseball diamonds are great settings for bright, sharp photos.
- Get Your Camera Settings Right
There are a few basic camera benchmarks that will set you up for success when photographing kids in motion.
Use a zoom lens: OK this one's not a camera setting, but it's a good idea. This will give you the most flexibility with subjects that are constantly moving further or closer in distance, and it’s great if you’re at a sports game and you're limited to the sidelines.
Fast shutter speed: Shutter speed is the amount of time that your camera’s shutter is open. A fast shutter speed freezes moving objects, while a low speed blurs them. To photograph your kids, use a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster. Take some test shots and bump up the speed (1/1000) if they’re too blurry.
Medium aperture: Aperture determines depth of field (i.e. background blur) in your photos. A medium aperture (around f-8) will help you capture an in-focus subject, with a nice soft background.
ISO as needed: With a high shutter speed and a mid-range aperture, you may find that your photos are a bit too dark. If that’s the case, increase your ISO one step at a time until the light is right.
Want to learn more about these core camera settings and how to adjust them on your camera? We’ve got a blog for that!
- Alternative Camera Modes
If you’re not comfortable shooting on manual mode, there are some other modes on your camera that can help.
Shutter priority mode: This semi-automatic camera mode allows you to control the shutter speed, while aperture and ISO adjust automatically.
AI Servo AF: This is an auto-focus setting which is great for moving subjects. When you hold the shutter button halfway, it continuously focuses your subject. Press the shutter all the way to take the photo.
Continuous (burst) mode: Turn on this mode (C or CL/CH) to capture a burst of frames per second as long as you hold down the shutter. Great for when your son or daughter has the ball or is up to bat and you don’t want to miss the best action shot.
- Change Your Perspective
When photographing kids, you should rarely shoot at your eye level. If you do, you’ll end up with a bunch of high-angle shots where you’re looking down at your kid.
Instead, adjust your perspective and keep moving. Squat down, sit with them on the ground, or go even lower and take the perspective of the toys that they're playing with in the grass. Taking on the perspective of your kids will make the photos more impactful, genuine and well-framed. Try it on your next adventure – you’ll be surprised what a difference it makes.
- Do: Bring Props
Props are great for keeping kids engaged. Bring your own props like bubbles, kites, sidewalk chalk, a beach ball or sand buckets and shovels. Or, go to a place that comes with its own ‘props,’ like the fountains at the water park, the swings at the playground or piles of leaves at the park in autumn.
And yes, it’s also a good idea to have bribes on hand. Lollipops or cookies can help you bargain with the little ones if they’re getting frustrated.
- Don’t: Expect Perfection
The key to a great photo session with your kids is to embrace the imperfections. Aim to capture authentic expressions and movements rather than perfect smiles or cookie-cutter poses. Want your kids to smile? Don’t “Say cheese!” Instead, do something that makes them laugh – like tell a joke, or have another adult behind you make silly gestures or trip and fall on command.
And it’s OK if they’re not smiling! If your child is focused on a task, puzzled by their surroundings, or looking at something without any particular expression at all, that’s genuine. Take the photo.
Photographing your kids isn’t always a walk in the park, but don’t give up. Keep practicing and experimenting with different settings on your camera. Soon enough, you’ll find a camera setting that you’re comfortable with and you’ll know the angles, timing and activities that result in the best portraits of the kiddos.