How to Avoid Blurry Photos of Kids

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One of the most frequent questions that I see on the Digital Photography School Facebook Group is some variety of this: “Help! Every photo of my kid is blurry! What am I doing wrong?!” If you’ve found yourself wondering the same thing, I’ll walk you through five things that you can do to help you avoid taking blurry photos of kids.

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1. Mind Your Aperture

When it comes to photographing children and experiencing blur, many issues can be solved by either stopping down or opening up your aperture. That said, if you’re relatively new to photography, it can be difficult to know which direction you need to go.

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If you’re currently shooting with a large aperture (like f/1.4 or f/1.8) and only part of your child’s face is in focus, or only one of several children in the image is in focus, you might want to try stopping down your aperture (in other words, make the number larger like f/4 or f/5.6).

If you’re currently shooting with an aperture of f/5.6 or greater (like f/8 or f/11) and you notice a lot of camera shake or motion blur, you may want to try opening up your aperture (make the number smaller like f/4 or f/2.8) if you can. That will allow in more light, which can help create a better balance between the aperture and shutter speed.

2. Utilize Shutter Priority Mode

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If you’re using one of your camera’s shooting modes and are currently photographing kids that are moving, you may want to try shooting in Shutter Priority Mode with your shutter speed set at 1/500th or even faster. By using Shutter Priority Mode, you’ll set the shutter speed, and your camera will select the other settings to balance out the shutter speed that you’ve selected.

Keep in mind that you can still select your ISO in Shutter Priority Mode. You will definitely want to watch your exposure make sure you’re making adjustments to your ISO (or set it to auto). Often, leaving your ISO at 100 in Shutter Priority Mode with a fast shutter speed can result in very dark, or even black images.

3.Use Burst Mode Selectively

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In the photography world, the practice of “spray and pray” where you take a series of images using burst mode and hope that one of them turns out, has received a lot of negative attention lately. Certainly, we shouldn’t use burst mode through the entirety of every session, but there are some instances when it comes in handy photographing kids.

The other day, we took my girls to the park. They were having a blast tossing piles of leaves into the air and letting them fall down onto their heads. In that instance, I chose to use burst mode because it allowed me to capture an event in which the action/movement changed very quickly, as did their expressions.

I sometimes use burst mode in a short series of images to capture kids twirling, running, or any time they’re moving very quickly for a limited period of time. It’s never a bad idea to practice capturing those same events without using burst mode. But when I know that my opportunity to capture a particular event is limited (a child attempting a goal in a soccer game for example), I choose to use burst mode to my advantage.

4. Don’t Be Afraid of Autofocus

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Somewhere along the way, a rumor was started that you’re not a “real” photographer unless you shoot in full Manual Mode all the time. I don’t know how that particular rumor got started or why it has taken such a hold on the photography world, but it’s garbage.

If you’re trying to photograph really active kids, please don’t be afraid to use autofocus! It will make life so much easier! If you’re already using autofocus but are still experiencing problems, there are two other things to try adjusting. First of all, it has been my experience that selecting a single focus point for my camera yields far more in-focus images than allowing the camera to auto-select one. If you have the ability to select a focus point for your camera, you may want to try selecting a single point (start with the center point if you’re unsure where to begin) for your camera, and see if the focus improves.

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Focus modes

Another option when it comes to autofocus is to change the autofocus mode. If you’re trying to photograph moving children, and your autofocus mode is currently set to One Shot (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon), try switching to continuous autofocus mode – Al Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon).  One Shot mode is designed to focus on objects that are largely inanimate, and consequently it’s not the best choice when you’re photographing quickly moving children.

When you switch to Al Servo, you’re selecting continuous autofocus. In continuous autofocus mode, you can push down the shutter halfway and let the camera focus, but the camera will continue to track that subject and recompose focus (even as the subject moves) until you depress the shutter button all the way.

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Some camera models also have a hybrid setting called AI Focus (AF-A for Nikon), which is designed to fluctuate between an object that starts out as stationary but then begins to move. I have been less satisfied with the images I’ve captured in AI Focus than other modes. But each camera model works a little differently, so it’s certainly worth experimenting with the hybrid autofocus mode if your camera has that option.

5. Use a Flash (Sparingly)

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Though I prefer to shoot without a flash whenever possible, there are certainly instances in which using a flash can help to freeze the action, and help you avoid blurry images. When it comes to using a flash, my best advice is to use it sparingly.  Balance it with the available/ambient light (use only the strength of flash you absolutely need), and diffuse or bounce the flash whenever possible in order to create an image that looks crafted rather than like a snapshot.

Photographing children can certainly be a test of patience. These five tips will help you eliminate the blur, and begin to capture photographs of your children that you’ll treasure for years to come! Do you have any other tips? Please share them, and your images of kids in the comments below.

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Meredith Clark is a wife, mother, native Oregonian, complete bookworm, Top Chef lover, and new quilting addict. She can also be found blogging at La Buena Vida and Meredith Clark Photography.

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  • Charles G. Haacker

    Great piece, Meredith! Well written, very well illustrated! I especially love this: “Somewhere along the way, a rumor was started that you’re not a “real” photographer unless you shoot in full Manual Mode all the time. I don’t know how that particular rumor got started or why it has taken such a hold on the photography world, but it’s garbage.” Garbage indeed! I haven’t shot professionally for many years, but when I was working, all we had was “manual mode” and we went nuts sometimes trying to work around its limitations. Early autofocus was terrible, but today’s— well, ya have to work at it to mess it up. USE the automation! What makes a photographer is getting the picture!

  • Gregory Andrus

    Great article! As a natural light photographer, I had never thought about (sparingly) using flash before. I will have to try that.

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