(The following is excerpted from The New Joy of Digital Photography, a new book by Black Star Rising contributor Jeff Wignall.)
While getting kids to pose for the camera can be difficult, getting them to play is easy — after all, playing is what they do best.
Taking photographs of kids at play is relatively relaxing (for you and them) because once involved in an activity, they block out the rest of the world — even if that world includes an adult mercilessly aiming a camera at them. And, of course, the more often you take pictures of kids playing, the more used to the camera’s presence they become.
Blowing Bubbles and Finger-Painting
Give your subjects something fun that anchors them to a small area. Creative pursuits like blowing bubbles and finger-painting are particularly good because they keep your subjects at hand and elicit amusing expressions of deep concentration.
A medium telephoto lens (in the 55-90mm focal length range) enables you to remain at a reasonable working distance (usually four or five feet; 1.5 meters) and still fill the frame with a small face. I shot the picture of the girl blowing bubbles (below) using a zoom lens at medium telephoto focal length.
Confining your kids to a specific area also works well for action pictures. Fortunately most kids love a physical challenge. Think of your daughter doing handsprings or reaching the high point on a rope swing. Kids playing will probably exhaust you (and your battery) before they run out of energy.
Choosing a Location
Before taking pictures, scout for a good location in terms of both lighting and background. For the photo of the girl blowing bubbles, I chose an area of cheerful, dappled sunlight and positioned her so the sun didn’t shine in her eyes and cause her to squint. Also, by using a relatively wide aperture, I was able to cast the background into soft focus.
One important thing to remember is that you can’t keep a child’s interest in any activity once boredom sets in. Some kids are brutally honest and will tell you when a photo session is over; others will just grow progressively less cooperative. (Then, of course, the clever ones simply disappear the moment you look away.)
When a session begins to disintegrate, let it end and you’ll have a willing partner the next time you bring out the camera.
All kids react differently to being photographed. Some kids love it. Others (I was one of them) would rather go to the dentist than pose for a photograph. This can be a really frustrating (and expensive) thing if you’ve paid a professional to take a portrait of your kids, but it’s just as frustrating when you’re trying to get informal snapshots around the house.
And it becomes a self-perpetuating problem because the greater your frustration, the more pressure you put on yourself (and them) the next time the camera comes out. In a contest of stubbornness, four-year-olds will win almost every time.
Kids resist pressure — pressure to sit still, to look pretty, to smile, or to hold a pose. These are responsibilities a teenager might be coerced into accepting, but to a five-year-old, they border on the absurd: “You want me to sit still, look pretty, smile and act happy? What planet are you from?”
The Joy of Instant Results
Surprisingly I’ve found that with particularly young kids (from, say, three to six) using a digital camera actually makes picture taking much more like a game because they can see instant results on the LCD screen.
I first experienced this while sitting at the dinner table with a three-year-old niece who ducked for cover under the table every time I aimed a camera at her. Once I showed her how she looked on the LCD, however, posing for the camera and looking at the instant replay became her favorite game.
So while having to stop and share the image after every shot can slow things down a bit, at least you gain a willing model.