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When it comes to kids photography, Dana Whitley is a Click Love Grow graduate who has a knack for capturing her boys in a candid manner. Through her un-posed photos she records their childhood in a way that communicates their essence.
Her photos are universally loved in our community, so we asked her to share some of her favourite ideas for capturing of her boys.
First up, a word on some basic skills you’ll need for approaching kids photography in this way.
Let’s face it, kids move a lot. When photographing them, particularly at play, you don’t need to ask them to stop and pose. You can capture them candidly and still get good quality, sharp images with good separation from the environment… you just need to get pretty good at a few technical things.
A fast shutter speed is essential. Even if the kids are just standing there, try not to shoot below 1/200. It’s much better to push ISO than risk an image with unwanted motion blur.
Increase the shutter speed as their own speed increases.
Use a continuous focus drive mode so that your camera can track the movement of your subject. It can be a bit hit and miss – expect that so that you don’t feel discouraged, and overshoot to compensate.
Use wide apertures to help isolate your subjects from the background, but you’ll need to be very accurate when focusing on their faces. That’s where it counts to get proficient using continuous auto focus drive mode, which is a focusing technique for moving subjects.
This tutorial contains some instruction on how to use it, further down in the article.
Related: How to Take Perfect Action Photos
You need to be in manual mode in order to control these functions, so if you’re not already using your DSLR in manual mode, take a leap!
Related: How to Shoot in Manual Mode
The beauty of capturing them on bikes (or scooters, whatever their wheels of choice!) is they’re just doing their thing. So they can ignore me, and I can shoot to my heart’s content.
This is an activity where you definitely need to use continuous auto focus drive mode.
Small children are always on the move, and most of the time you’d want to be freezing that motion.
Panning however, if done well, adds a beautiful sense of movement to the shot whilst freezing the motion of your subject. Panning can be tricky, and takes a lot of practice. But if you can nail it, the effect is worth the effort! The motion blur in the background adds
The effect works best if you pan smoothly, whilst keeping your subject in the frame and your chosen focus point over his face as much as possible.
Check your shots and decide if you like the effect. If you have motion blur on your subject, increase your shutter speed or slow your panning. If your background is not blurred enough but your subject is sharp, reduce your shutter speed.
Bear in mind the speed of motion of your subject will dictate the shutter speed you need. 1/40 won’t work for every subject, or every set of wheels! But it’s a good starting point.
This is a session you won’t need to work for at all. Give a kid a cape, and imaginative play will come naturally… all you need to do is be ready to capture it.
Photos of boys don’t need to be all about gross motor pursuits – my boys have their quiet moments which I love to record because it captures their sweet, soft side.
But I never pose them. They love the arts – drawing, painting, making, reading – so instead, I’ll put their usual toys or art projects in beautiful light. Then I leave them to it, step back and photograph it.
In a shot like this, where the pocket of light is hard, I would expose for the highlights to avoid any blow outs.
Related: What is Metering
Think outside the box for perspectives, framing and composition.
Eating makes for great photos when you incorporate fun and colourful foods… giant lollypops, fairy floss, milk and cookies… or in this case, popsicles.
I deliberately gave them red popsicles, and in theory it probably sounds insignificant. But that seemingly small consideration added a dynamic element to these shots, which were composed against a backdrop of more neutral tones.
Also, stripping them back to their shorts meant less work for me in the laundry later. But more importantly, it pared back the shot to as few elements as possible, ensuring the glorious red of those popsicles could really, well, pop!
This is another activity where you’ll need fast shutter speeds and an ability to use a continuous focus drive mode.
Compositionally, get lots of detail and wide shots, this a great storytelling type session.
For this shot below I’d suggest a shutter speed of at least 1/800.
Also, late afternoon daylight reflects off water droplets to create a beautiful, sparkling effect.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have your camera close by as much as you can. That doesn’t mean it should be around your neck all day… but I’d suggest never having it packed away somewhere difficult to get to. So many of my photos of my boys are unexpected, candid, everyday moments that I never would have been able to record had my camera been safely housed in a camera bag, buried somewhere in the back of the robe.
Particularly when you see some magical light… the most ordinary of moments can be translated into amazing photos when they occur in pockets of light like this.
Related: How to Shoot in Low Light
That being said, more often than not, everyday moments tend to happen in locations or light that are less than ideal. Moving your subject not only renders the image inauthentic, but when it comes to young children, it can mean losing the moment altogether.
When you have harsh light, position yourself in a way that casts the light most evenly across your subject’s face and don’t worry about hard light shadows falling around them.
Alternatively, embrace shadow photography and use it like you mean it!
Awesome moments don’t always happen in ideal locations either (think, clutter!). Don’t stress… just use a really wide aperture to blur the background into insignificance. Or, embrace it and consider it an environmental portrait!
Next time they’re asleep, grab the camera. Images like this one will be treasured forever.
Gardening offers so many different photo opportunities – think digging, planting, watering, picking, harvesting…
When you take them on outings, bring more to the shots by encouraging exploration. Point out small details that they might otherwise miss when moving at their usual fast pace. Ask questions to encourage curiosity.
I make sure to get lots of wide shots in this situation to bring context to any detail shots, and ultimately tell the story of where we were, and what we were doing.
To sum up, my tips for capturing small boys:
Lastly… have fun! Not every photo has to be a stunning portrait… don’t miss moments because the light or other elements aren’t conducive to technically perfect photos. Often, the moment is too important to miss.
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