Be it the holidays, a birthday or just a day at the park, if you are like me you likely have your camera at the ready to catch those special moments (sand castles built, presents opened, or cookie dough faces) or not so special moments (nose picking, crying or falls). It's tough to get those special moments. Your kids are always on the move, and if you have two as I do, then you also have to keep an eye on the one not in the frame too.
So here are a few tips on getting better pictures of your kids at those special moments, times you just don't want to forget or moments that can be used as embarrassing fodder later in life (even if you're kids are angels, which they're not, and you know it).
1. Get Down...Way Down
I always see parents taking pictures of their kids while standing up. Now if your kid happens to be six feet tall, then no problem. But let's assume we are taking about the little ones for now, because...well, that's who I am talking about right now. We all know what your kids look like from our vantage point, we see them from that angle all of the time. So get down on your kids level or even below them with them looking down on you, and get close! Not only does this get you a better picture, your also likely to get more of a willingness to be photographed from your kids (except of course with the brattier ones...then I recommend bribery). Also, keep in mind the rule of thirds (or if you are feeling fancy the golden mean).
2. Be Sneaky
Now I am not recommending you go out and get the Leica 1600mm, but sometimes it's best to let your kids play and do what they do while you sort of fade into the background and try to capture the fun they are having. Holidays are the best for this because once the toys are opened, it's play time and nothing distracts kids more (or at least my boys) than a bunch of wrapping paper, boxes and of course new toys. They're happy. They're full of energy. They're unencumbered. They're themselves. Now hurry up and snap away, because they are bound to run off, hurt themselves or start fussing at any moment!
3. Don't Play Set Designer
It's tempting, I know. I find myself wanting to construct the perfect shot, background and pose. But these are kids. These are your kids. They will move. They will ruin. They will not work for peanuts. Kids can smell the desire for perfection on you, like a shark senses blood in the water. And what kid wouldn't want to goof off at this precise moment? Will the picture of that rustic shed in the background with the perfect golden hour sunlight coming through the beautiful fall trees and bouncing right off the back of your kids hair be amazing? Sure. Are you going to get it just the way you want it (without the use of sedatives)? Doubtful. But what you can do is set your camera to continuous focus and get your kids running around while all the while trying to catch them in that general spot you had in your mind with that background you had thought up. If they are running around, be sure to keep your shutter speed high to stop the motion. It may take 20-30 pictures to get it right, but that's what the delete button is for...and just think of the excercise you'll be getting.
4. Presents Being Opened Is Overrated
Before you get all crazy and start screaming about how cute kids are when they open presents, just sit back and think for a second. It's a nightmare. Be it a birthday or holiday, little Johnnie/Susie opens the gifts, small smirk occurs, "oh, just what I wanted. Can I open another one now?" At the same time, your dog/cat/other child/grandma/jack-hole nephew bursts into the frame or bumps you. Houston, we have a problem! Let's face it, while we need people to make our photographs personable, they often simply ruin pictures (i.e. photo bombing, bunny ears, or just getting in the way). Wait until the gifts are open and the chaos has somewhat settled, then catch up to what the kids are playing with and get your pictures.
5. Keep Your Shutter Speed High
You know why your kids are exhausting, because they don't stop moving. So if you hope to catch them in mid-stride, then you're going to have to bump up your shutter speed. Of course, this assumes you are going all manual on your camera (which you should be doing, or at the very least shooting in Aperture priority or Shutter priority). Shutter priority is what you want here, because if you set that then your camera will adjust the aperture based on your shutter speed (and getting you a better picture...with some practice). To stop motion, you need to be shooting at at least 1/250 sec., even your little ones can't escape this. But if you want to get fancy and get a blur, focus on your little one and try panning with them at 1/30 or 1/60 sec. while the rug rats run around. If you do it right, your kids will be fairly crisp (maybe even like glass if you stay steady) and the background will be blurred out. If you just want to test it out and your kids need to be wound down, this can be a great exercise. Just get them out, running around and snap away. The best way to capture the motion blur is to catch them as they move from one side of the frame to the other. So I like to set up low (see above), with one knee down I place one elbow on raised knee and use that like a tripod. Be sure to hold the lens with the arm resting on your knee (your shutter finger shouldn't need any steadying and if it does, stop drinking so many triple lattes). Then voila! You are your own tripod. In 20 minutes, you might have some great pictures, but you'll definitely have some tired kiddos...and those are always the cutest!
Photographing your kids can be a blast, both for you and them. As most kids love being the center of attention, you're giving them what they want as well as capturing some great memories. Just remember that not every picture is going to be a winner and you are going to miss some moments. That's okay, you'll get the next one. Just get out there and enjoy yourself and enjoy your kids. You can never take too many pictures of your kids. So snap, snap, snap and when you don't want to snap, then snap some more!