8 minute read
Eight Tips for Photographing Children
Frame the moments that really matter – better! Here’s how to get your best-ever family photos
We make more photographs of our kids than almost any other subject. We love looking back fondly on when they were learning to feed themselves messily and jumping in muddy puddles, and it’s only natural we want to preserve those precious moments as best we can. But how?
Family photography expert, Adrian Murray, is here to help. It’s hard not to smile when flicking through Adrian’s portfolio. His portraits of children are enchanting – conveying the curiosity and wonder of a time in life that, as any parent will testify, goes by very quickly.
“The goal of my work is to get people to remember their own childhood,” he reveals. “Childhood is something we only get to experience once. It’s a time of discovery and wonderment, and that’s what I try to capture in my images.”
Adrian uses FUJIFILM cameras to create his unique brand of imagery, citing the speed and ease of use of his X Series cameras as being particularly important. He also uses a FUJIFILM GFX 50S when absolute image quality is key.
Kids Will Be Kids
Adrian’s portraits have a wonderful observational, organic quality to them. This is down to the fact that the children he photographs are not usually looking directly at the camera – they’re more likely to be preoccupied with a toy or distracted by something else going on around them.
This is no accident: kids just want to play and have fun, and Adrian points out it’s best not to interfere too much. “You don’t want to spend hours trying to photograph children; their attention spans are as short as they are,” he jokes. “Let them play, explore, and imagine.”
This means your best bet is a camera that’s designed to be as small and unobtrusive as possible. The X Series is perfect for this. But what’s more important is remembering to take a break from photographing every now and again. “Keep the camera down for some of the time. If you push the kids to do something, then you’re not going to get good results,” advises Adrian.
Location, Location, Location
It’s important to keep in mind your surroundings. A location should be interesting for your subject, but not so unfamiliar that they become wary or nervous. This could be outdoors at the beach or your local park, or just inside at home or in a relative’s house with a supply of toys on hand.
Ideally, your location should be well lit. If you’re outside, try to aim for a day with some cloud cover or, if you’re inside, try to keep the action by a large window.
This might all seem a little involved, but Adrian warns not to overthink things. “Honestly, you are at the whims of your child. Let go and accept that they are the ones in control. Be ready for anything! And bring along some snacks – that never hurts. I like to shoot with natural light, because it gives me the freedom and flexibility to move around with the subject. Let them roam around and your photos will be stronger for it,” he adds.
Get Down to Their Level
The thing about little people is that they are… well, little! And that means it’s a good idea to adopt a different viewpoint when we photograph them, compared to making pictures of adults.
“Usually when we shoot portraits, we’re used to staying at the same level as our subject. But when you’re photographing kids, it means crouching down or getting on your knees if you have to,” Adrian advises. “One of the things I see people getting wrong the most is photographing a kid who is three feet tall from five and a half feet in the air.”
Getting down to your subject’s level is not only a good way of seeing their faces, but it puts the viewer in a childlike state – seeing the world from a completely different point of view.
You can use your camera’s tilting LCD screen to make this job easier, and hold the camera at waist level. Just keep in mind that your subject will likely look up at your face if you call their name, and not into the camera’s lens. Also, don’t forget to look up occasionally and engage with your subject to try and keep communication going.
Pick the Right Lens
“You can only pick a suitable lens for kid pictures when you see what you are photographing,” says Adrian. “Are you working in poor light? Then go for one with a fast aperture. Are you making pictures in the rain? Then something that’s weather-resistant is a good idea. Think you’ll work indoors a lot? Then perhaps stick with a wide focal length so you can work in tighter spaces.
“I personally shoot with both zooms and primes, but lean towards primes. Zoom lenses are great and offer lots of versatility, but their widest apertures can be limiting. On the other hand, fast prime lenses are amazing but you’ll be limited by your focal lengths.”
Adrian’s go-to lenses are the FUJINON XF23mmF2 R WR and XF50mmF2 R WR, which let him work across a variety of locations and lighting conditions. He also uses the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, which provides a versatile selection of focal lengths from wide angle to short telephoto.
Photo © Adrian Murray
Photo © Adrian Murray
Frame the Perfect Expression
If there is one habit we need to break in order to get compelling and natural portraits of children, says Adrian, it’s our fixation with smiling – or more precisely, using those immortal words: ‘say cheese!’
“It drives me crazy,” he confesses. “For generations, we’ve been told to crack a smile, and it’s the least genuine aspect of photography. It’s something I have to remind my own family of whenever a camera comes around my nieces and nephews. The phrase is just so ingrained in cultures all around the world that it’s difficult to stop.”
It’s a good point: very few people walk around with a permanent smile on their face all day, so why would we want this in a photograph that is supposed to convey the essence and personality of our subject? Adrian suggests a more observational approach instead by watching them interact with their environment and trying to frame their expressions of curiosity and fascination.
Photo © Adrian Murray
Photo © Adrian Murray
Get the Perfect Focus
If there’s one thing you can predict about kids, it’s that they are unpredictable! When they’re not restless, they are fidgety. When they’re not distracted, they’re preoccupied by something they shouldn’t be. And when you’re photographing them, you need your camera to be ready for anything!
X Series cameras cope very well with fast-moving and unpredictable subjects, thanks to their customizable continuous focusing (AF-C) modes and their Face/Eye Detection AF.
You can personalize your AF-C settings in three ways: tracking sensitivity, speed tracking sensitivity, and zone area switching. This might sound complicated, but it’s as simple as picking one of five presets, each labeled with the type of movement it’s best for. To access these presets:
- Select the AF-C setting (C) using the focus selector on the front of the camera.
- Press MENU OK and navigate to the AF/MF SETTING menu.
- Select AF-C CUSTOM SETTINGS.
There are six options in total, but for photographing children, we’d recommend you pick one of the following two: MULTI PURPOSE, where the camera momentarily ignores obstacles that get in the way, but won’t anticipate changing speed, or ACCELERATING/DECELERATING SUBJECT, which is ideal for subjects that change their speed at a fairly predictable rate.
Focus on the Eyes
If you’re framing a close-up of the subject, or using very wide apertures that create a very shallow depth-of-field, Face/Eye Detection AF comes into play. The main point of focus in any portrait should be the subject’s face – preferably their eyes. And in this mode, the camera moves the active AF point so it’s always over the face or eye of whoever you’re photographing. You can even tell it to prioritize the left or right eye, if you like. Bear in mind that Face/Eye Detection overrides any of the AF-C options mentioned above.
This automatic mode is great for child photography, as it lets you concentrate on your subject and the framing of the picture, without worrying about whether their eyes will be sharp. With the camera in AF-C Focus mode, simply half-press the shutter button and wait for that priceless expression to appear. You’ll be ready when it does!
Relax and Have Fun
Adrian’s last tip is simply to relax and to enjoy yourself! Pictures always tell you something about the photographer as well as the subject, and if you love framing these moments, that will show! Make fun a big part of your photography, because when your subjects enjoy themselves, you will too. And all this will come across in your images!