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How to Photograph Kids Playing, Running Around and Generally Being Kids

If you’re a people photographer, it’s hard to resist photographing kids as they play, run around and… well, be kids. It’s also a great chance for you to play as a photographer.

Here are seven tips to help you capture photographs of kids at play.

Image: It was a grey hazy day at the beach so I focused on silhouette photos of my kids at play.

It was a grey hazy day at the beach so I focused on silhouette photos of my kids at play.

1. Use Your Phone Instead of Missing the Moment

I teach people how to use their new DSLR cameras. One of their biggest frustrations is that their friends seem to take better photos with a phone than they can with their complicated DSLR.

If you’re still struggling with your DSLR, don’t be afraid to use your phone as a camera. As long as you keep in mind the most important parts of a photo – light, moment, and composition – your phone will take great photos.

Image: This photo of my daughter running through a puddle was captured with my iPhone 4s. Because it...

This photo of my daughter running through a puddle was captured with my iPhone 4s. Because it was a bright day, the shutter speed was fast and froze the water as it splashed.

2. Be an Observer Instead of a Boss

If you’re going to photograph kids at play, it’s best to have them acting candidly rather than telling them what to do. Just let them play, and they’ll give you countless moments to photograph. The moment you step in and tell them what to do or how to play, you’ll ruin the moment.

Image: I wanted a nice portrait of my daughter with these fall colors, but I knew I wouldn’t b...

I wanted a nice portrait of my daughter with these fall colors, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to make her stand still for one. So I let her walk on ahead of me. When I called her name she looked back, and I snapped the photo.

3. Angles

While photographing kids at play, consider the angle you’re using. Your photos will look more exciting if you go for low angles or face to face. Get down to their level (if not lower) and into their world.

Image: I achieved this extremely low angle by laying down on the ground and looking straight up.

I achieved this extremely low angle by laying down on the ground and looking straight up.

Image: Before it was hauled away, my kids turned this mattress into a trampoline. A low angle helped...

Before it was hauled away, my kids turned this mattress into a trampoline. A low angle helped to capture how high he was jumping.

4. Get Close

Join in the play, and get as close as you can while using a wide angle. When you look at the photo it will make you feel like you’re right back there in the moment.

Image: This son was wrestling with his dad so I decided to get in as close as I could. The wide-angl...

This son was wrestling with his dad so I decided to get in as close as I could. The wide-angle helped to exaggerate the moment.

5. Get Behind Them

Photographing people from behind adds a bit of mystery to your photo. It lets the viewer bring a little more of their own imagination to the photo. When we can’t see the person’s face, it makes us imagine what they’re up to.

Image: This over-the-shoulder shot anticipates the action that’s about to happen.

This over-the-shoulder shot anticipates the action that’s about to happen.

 

Image: This photo was taken in a massive outdoor sandbox. Obviously, he’s been sliding down th...

This photo was taken in a massive outdoor sandbox. Obviously, he’s been sliding down the dirt hills on his bum.

 

Image: This combines taking a photo from behind with getting in close. (Taken with an iPhone.)

This combines taking a photo from behind with getting in close. (Taken with an iPhone.)

6. Play With Your Shutter Speed

One of the biggest problems you’ll face when capturing action is motion blur. So you’ll need a fast shutter speed.

But you can also play with a slow shutter speed and capture creative motion blur.

Slow shutter speed motion blur

I took advantage of my iPhone’s slow shutter speed to capture this portrait of my daughter. As you can see her face is basically sharp while the background is quite blurry. This was achieved by having her walk toward me while I walked backward. To the camera everything is moving except for her.

7. Tell a Story With Your Photos

You can tell a story with your photos. It might be a ‘before and after’ story using just two photos. Or it could be a beginning, middle and end with three photos. It might even be a longer story that fills a photo book.

Daddy daughter candid moment.

This story begins with a little girl taking her daddy by the hand and leading him.

 

Daddy daughter dancing

Then in the middle of the story, she dances with her daddy.

 

Daddy daughter play

The story ends with her daddy swinging her around wildly.

Final Checklist

Here’s a checklist for photographing kids as they run around and play.

  • Consider this playtime for you as a photographer.
  • Use any camera you’ve got – even your phone.
  • Stand back and let moments happen on their own.
  • Be creative with your angles.
  • Get in close.
  • Add mystery to your photo by photographing kids from behind.
  • Be creative with your shutter speed.
  • Tell stories with multiple photos.

Now go out there and take some great photos of those kids being kids and share them with us in the comments.

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Mat Coker

Mat Coker is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.