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6 Steps to Take ‘Guerilla’ Photos of your Children

A Guest Post by David Moore from Clearing the Vision.

Organizing a formal photo shoot of your kids with a good location, nice clothes and the right light can produce lovely images. But it’s often the more casual opportunities that allow you to capture your children as they really are, doing the things they really do.

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It can be the difference between getting a good photograph of a child who happens to be yours, and a good photograph of your child – if that’s not too confusing.

This guerilla approach to children’s photography isn’t really candid (they’ll almost certainly know you’re taking pictures) and can be more challenging technically (indifferent light, more complicated backgrounds), but it’s also very rewarding. I shoot children’s portraits professionally, but most of my favourite pictures of my own daughter have come from keeping a camera handy and looking for shots while she was doing her everyday things.

Here are some tips to get the most out your guerilla operations:

1. Prepare your gear

Keep your camera in an easy to reach spot in the living room (or other target-rich environment). Make sure the batteries are charged, there’s room on the memory card and that your settings are appropriate for shooting portraits indoors.

For me, that means increasing the ISO and using a wide aperture (f/3.2 or lower) so I can get a fast shutter speed (1/100s or more if I can manage it), and some nice background blur. Some cameras have a Portrait Mode that does much of the same thing. I prefer not to use a flash, preferring a natural approach.

I tend to use prime lenses, so I’ll make sure my 50mm or 85mm lens is on the camera (I shoot full-frame, if you’re using a cropped sensor DSLR then the equivalents would be something like 28mm and 50mm). A longer lens, if it’s fast enough, would give you more options to shoot from further away. One last small thing is to switch off the auto-focus beep: your kids will still know you’re there, but you won’t be so intrusive

2. Get down to their level

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It’s tempting to shoot from your normal standing position, but most of the time, that just yields images that look like your normal view of the kids. Getting down to their level involves you in their world more immediately, making the viewer of the photograph seem more like they’re actually a part of what’s going on, rather than just an observer of it.

3. Light the eyes

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Getting attractive catchlights – the reflections of light in the subject’s eyes that seems to make them sparkle – can be the difference between a good photograph and a great one. You can tweak things in Photoshop later, but you want to get it right in the camera, right?

The rule of thumb is to position yourself so that your subject is in shade, looking towards the light. You don’t have to be directly between the subject and the light source, so long as you can see the light reflected in their eyes. Windows are the most obvious light source, but TVs can also work if the room is dark enough (and kids are often held in rapt attention by the latest Dora or Elmo episode, so they won’t be bothered by you).

4. Watch your backgrounds

Trying to capture shots of often fast-moving kids indoors means you’ll have to be careful about what’s happening behind your subjects. Visual clutter in the background will detract from the picture.

Shooting wide open will blur as much of the background as possible (but watch for such a narrow depth of field that your child’s nose is in focus, but their eyes aren’t). Looking for clean backgrounds – a solid block of a wall, or getting in tight so you only show the plain-coloured couch, for example – will also help.

Sometimes some creative cropping after the fact can make a big difference.

5. Shoot the scene, not just the face

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Great kids’ portraits often feature only the face, but sometimes capturing a wider scene can be just as valuable – showing the toys they’re playing with, or the pet they’re snuggled up with.

Another option is to show just a small detail that illustrates something about the child’s activities – a paint-covered hand, or the soccer cleats abandoned by the door, for example.

6. Bring the camera along

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As well as capturing images at home, grab the camera if you’re heading out somewhere, even if it’s nowhere special. Parks and playgrounds are always fun places to shoot in, and you never know what you might shots you might get on an after-dinner walk one night.

Hopefully these tips will help, but remember it’s not always about getting the perfect shot. Part of the joy of taking everyday pictures of your kids is that even the average shots can remind you of particular fleeting moments in their lives that you’d otherwise completely forget.

David Moore is an Anglo-Irish photographer, writer and web designer at home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can find him at Clearing the Vision

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