Tutorial: Tips for Photographing Kids

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 Canon 5D Mark II | 85mm 1.8 lens | f/3.5 | ISO 640 | 1/500 sec

(photo above taken in late afternoon with the sun low in the sky and behind my left shoulder. Syd is standing in the shade and there is a white fence to the right of her reflecting light back and softening shadows)

Hello! It’s Vanessa from lbg studio and I’m going to share some photography tips today! Along with sewing, photography is a pretty big part of KCW. Taking photos and sharing them is how we get to show off our cute kids in their awesome new clothes. We get inspired by what we see and inspire others with what we’ve made. Having great photos to post on our blogs or in the KCW community means that we’re showing off our creations in the best possible way. Since I can’t cover everything and I don’t want to get super technical, I’m going to stick to a few things that I think will make the most difference in your photos.

Creating cooperative models: 

Before I get into the technical stuff, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned when it comes to photographing kids – namely my daughter – for the last few years. She is on the autism spectrum which means that I have a few extra challenges to deal with when trying to get photos of her.

  • let them know what to expect before hand – making sure your child knows that you won’t be taking photos for hours on end and that they have something fun to look forward to afterwards means you’ll probably get a lot more cooperation out of them!
  • “bribes” work. Or as I like to think of it: incentive. I use mini chocolate chips to pay my daughter for her time in front of the camera. It keeps her motivated and means she associates my taking photos of her with getting a treat. Everyone wins!
  • give fidgety kids a prop. I find that giving my daughter something to hold helps keep her focused – if we’re outside we might pick some flowers she can hold. Other times I’ve let her wear and play with sunglasses. Balloons or a favorite toy could work too.
  • over shoot. I take A LOT of photos during each “session” to make sure I get at least a few that are keepers. My kiddo can not stand still at all so I work fast and take more photos than I think I’ll need.
  • wide open spaces are probably not the best for toddlers or  kids that like to run off. Walls, fences, benches, or anything that your kiddo can lean against or sit on will help keep them “contained”.

Locations:

For the most part, I like to keep things simple. Chasing after a child with a camera, especially one that isn’t the most cooperative, can be tiring. It can also be frustrating – for both the photographer and the child when things don’t go as planned. Keeping things simple for yourself and fun for the child can make all the difference. I like to have a few go to locations for photo shoots – places that I’m familiar with so I know what to expect when it comes to light conditions, etc. If that go to place is in your home or close by, even better.

Right now, my go to places are my daughter’s room and my yard. When I’m in a time crunch (as I’m sure most of us will be during KCWC) not having to drive somewhere helps. When I have a little more time on my hands, I venture out to different locations like parks, downtown areas, parking lots, walking trails, etc. I always try to keep an eye out for new locations while I’m out and about in my area.

 

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 Canon 50D | Sigma 30mm 1.4 | f/3.5 | ISO 500 | 1/125

(Taken in Syd’s room. She is facing a window with a propped up reflector behind her to soften shadows)

Some things to keep in mind:

Light: 

Finding the right light is the first thing to tackle when taking photos. I use only natural light – no flash and no overhead lights – so that’s what I’ll be talking about. Indoors, you’ll want to use a room that gets lots of indirect light and has light or neutral colored walls. I use my daughter’s room since it is painted white. White walls help to reflect light and that makes it the most photo friendly room in my home. You can also use a reflector or a large white foam core board to help bounce light back on your model. The reason to turn off overhead lights when also using window light is to avoid mixing different temperatures of light. This can wreak havoc with your white balance and you may end up with strangely colored pics.

If you’re taking photos outside, the best time to head out is early morning or late afternoon when the sun is fairly low in the sky. Midday sun is too harsh and you’ll have a hard time getting evenly exposed photos. Overcast days are great for photography since the clouds diffuse the sun which creates soft, even light. It takes practice to start recognizing what good light looks but you’ll get there!

If you’re out during midday, look for areas of open shade. Have your model stand in the shade but facing the sun and close to the line between bright light and shade. Example below:

 

IMG_9652

 

The fence creates an area of open shade. There is still plenty of light around but if you place your subject in that area of shade close to the line that divides the shady area with the unshaded area, you will avoid having harsh shadows and overly bright spots in your image. Remember to have your subject face where the light is coming from so that they will be well lit and have light reflected in their eyes. Those bright spots of light in the eyes are called catchlights and will make the subject look more alive then having dull looking eyes. Of course, this matters more in close up photos vs full body images.

If there is no shade available, try placing your model with their back facing the sun and use a reflector to help bounce light back into their face. Wearing a white shirt means you can act as a reflector and you won’t have to worry about keeping up with anything other than your camera.

Manual Mode: 

If you haven’t taken the plunge and switched over to manual mode, do it! Seriously, t will make a huge difference in your photos. It means you get to control the outcome of your photos vs allowing the camera to decide what happens. It takes a bit of practice but it will be well worth it. A stepping stone between auto mode and manual mode is AV mode (aperture priority). It allows you to set the aperture and the camera decides the rest. I’ll explain below why you may want to be able to choose your own aperture setting. Dig out the manual that came with your camera and learn what all those buttons do! There are a ton of resources online to help you learn and of course practice, practice, practice.

Other manual settings I make use of: I choose my focus point manually rather than letting the camera choose. The camera will often choose a high contrast area to focus on and that may not be your child’s face or the cool buttons on a dress you’re trying to show off. Also, I use spot metering to determine my settings. That means that I use only a very small portion of an image to determine settings vs the entire image. For example, if I’m taking a photo outdoors with the sun behind my model’s back, I meter off her cheek so that her face is well exposed. Using evaluative or matrix metering (what the auto setting uses) would result in the subject’s face being very underexposed because the camera will attempt to compensate for the brightness of the sun behind the subject. You’ll end up with a dark and dull photo.

Composition:

Trying to get interesting compositions in your images when little kids are involved can be tricky since they usually don’t want to stay still. While I try to get it right in camera, I often just end up cropping in Photoshop after the fact. I tend to follow the rule of thirds when setting up composition. The rule of thirds involves mentally dividing up your image using 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines, as shown below. You then position the important elements in your scene along those lines, or at the points where they meet.

 

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When composing in camera or cropping after the fact, avoid “chopping off limbs”.To avoid this while taking photos, compose your photo in your viewfinder and then take a step or two back before hitting the shutter. This will give you a bit of extra space in your composition and will help minimize the odds of losing a foot or a hand. If you are cropping a photo in PS, images work better when you don’t crop at the joints (wrists, elbows, knees,etc), hands or feet, or at the waist.

I like to also get a good mix of close up shots and full body shots. Those detail shots are important and can help highlight the hard work you put into making a garment. Not only do we want to see the whole outfit but it is also nice to see pleats, pockets, buttons, and more up close.

Canon 50D | 50mm 1.8 | f/2.5 | ISO 320 | 1/1000 sec

IMG_9158

 

 

Equipment: 

I started out with a Canon Rebel XS and a 50mm 1.8. Pretty much as cheap as you can go! The 50mm 1.8 lens is such a great bargain when it comes to lenses. It is considered to be a prime lens which means that it does not zoom. It has a fixed aperture which makes learning to shoot in manual mode much easier. The 1.8 means that you can open the aperture fairly wide which will give you that blurred background effect that might be harder to get with your typical zoom kit lens. It also means you’ll be able to take good photos in less than stellar light since a wide aperture allows more light into your camera. I’d suggest buying a camera body only and purchasing a separate lens instead of buying a kit with the lower end zoom lens included. *there are both Canon and Nikon versions of the 50 1.8 available

The reason I upgraded my Rebel is that I eventually wanted features that it did not have. I upgraded to a new to me Canon 50D and then later to a new to me Canon 5D Mark II. Lenses I use: Sigma 30mm 1.4, Canon 50mm 1.8, Canon 85mm 1.8. If you are in the market for a DSLR or looking to upgrade, I’d suggest looking for a camera body that spot meters, has Kelvin and custom white balance settings, and can handle shooting at higher ISO’s. Buying used from a reputable source – from someone you know or from a store with warranties like BH Photo can save you some money and allow you to get a higher end camera body on a smaller budget. Lenses retain their value well and can really make a huge difference in your image quality. It often makes sense to upgrade your lenses before your camera body for that reason.

I use Photoshop CC and Lightroom 5 for editing. You can subscribe to those programs via Adobe Cloud for a monthly fee which can make it a lot more affordable than buying the software outright. If you’re looking for a budget option – Photoshop Elements along with Lightroom 5 is a great combination.

A look behind the scenes:

Below is an area of my yard that I’ve been using for photo shoots. Nothing exciting here. At all. We’ve got some grass, a lovely air conditioning unit, some trees, a chain link fence, the side of my house, and finally a white fence. What makes this spot work for me is the white fence. I shoot here in the late afternoon when the sun is starting to set. As I stand facing this area, the sun is behind me over my left shoulder. The house creates a shady area and the white fence helps to reflect light back into the area. This keeps things from getting too shady or dark. Now, the problem areas are everything but the white fence. When I post photos on my blog, I want the clothes I made and my cute kiddo to be the main focus not all the clutter in my yard or the clutter in my neighbor’s yard. I think that is a boat back there. The way I tackle this issue  is with a shallow depth of field.

 

IMG_0210

 

A shallow depth of field means that only small area of the image will be in focus – the rest will be blurred. This blur is called bokeh. Using a wide aperture, such as f/2.8 means that more of the background will be blurred which is what we want. Blur out  that clutter! The wider the aperture, the more blurred the background (and maybe some of the foreground) will be. Also, increasing the distance between your model and the background will increase the blur. Decreasing the distance between you and your subject will also result in a more blurred background. Finally, the type of lens you use will also affect the bokeh in your image. Lenses with longer focal lengths will cause more compression and background blur. For example, using an 85mm lens will give you more bokeh and image compression than a 30 mm lens will.

The image below was shot with a smaller aperture and with my model fairly close to the fence. This means that the fence is rather visible as well as other clutter in the backyard. There isn’t much separation between the model and the background and not really the look I’m going for.

Settings: Canon 5D Mark II | 85mm lens | f/13 | ISO 1000 | 1/125

fence

 

When I adjust my settings to a wider aperture (f/3.5 instead of f/13) and increase the distance between my model and the background, I get this:

 

sally1

 

Now that the background is blurred, my subject stands out more and is the focus of the image! Being able to blur out backgrounds really comes in handy when your photo shoot location is less than ideal.

I hope you’ll find some of these tips helpful! Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

This article has 78 comments

    1. vanessa hewell

      Sure! I have paned windows too but usually don’t have a problem with shadows. It sounds like maybe you have really bright, direct light coming through those windows. Try taping a layer of white tissue paper over the window to see if that evens out the light and softens any shadows. That or maybe opening the window to move the paned glass out of the way.

  1. sam

    Thank you for this great post! I have the camera and the lens. I’m going to try working more with something white to reflect light because shadows are a problem. I also need some good editing software so I might try the monthly option you mentioned. Can you talk about how make your kids eyes sparkle/pop?

    1. vanessa

      The big white pieces of foam core board are great! And cheap so you can buy a few and play around with those. If you are in school (or teach) or have school age kids, you can get a discount through Adobe for their software and monthly subscription rates. Really, Adobe Elements is a great place to start software-wise. It will let you edit photos and also add text, etc. I think you can find it for around $70.

      For the eyes, really it just comes down to making sure light is being reflected in the eyes. Using a reflector can help or making sure the person you are photographing is facing the source of light. I almost never do anything to the eyes when editing because that ends up looking fake! Next time you’re outside taking photos, have your subject slowly turn in a circle while you watch their eyes and you’ll see when the light starts to reflect and make their eyes sparkle. That’s when you want to take photos!

  2. Cheryl

    Great post and easy tips to follow. Just been reading it and experimenting with the AV. Only subject I have at home at the moment is our dog, who is now super suspicious! Need to get a bit of practise in before KCW starts.

    1. vanessa

      My dog just jumps at the camera! Never works out well. I think practicing with an inanimate object is a good idea- granted you end up with photos that you’re not going to print out or frame, but a stationary object makes it so much easier to try out different settings, etc. I’ve used some of Sydney’s dolls for practice as well as doing some food photography.

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