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Six Benefits of Using a Fast Lens to Make Child Portraits

Today Erin Dyker shares some of the benefits of using fast lenses when photographing Children.

A fast lens is one that lets a lot of light in (ie. has a large maximum aperture). The larger the aperture, (the smaller the f number), the shorter the shutter speeds required to make the exposure. (see our previous post for more information about and examples of fast lenses).

(1) Use window light (a) to emphasize the fullness of the child’s face by allowing soft shadows for definition and (b) to give the child room to move.

Because fast lenses can let in more light when used at or near their maximum aperture, they are great in low light conditions.

Often, you can use natural, directional window light, without needing to supplement with an artificial lighting system. Using a large area light source is a beneficial when working with toddlers, who can be difficult to keep in a fixed position or direction. (Use a reflector to bounce some light onto the shadowed side of the subject’s face, if it’s too dark.)

(2) Sharp focus on the eyes in facial close ups. When the eyes are the only thing in focus, the photograph can be extraordinary. When shooting wide open, f 1.8 for example, you’ll have a very narrow depth of field. Since the eyes are the first thing people will look at, they should be in focus. Of course, there are exceptions to this suggestion.

(3) Draw the focus to an unexpected body part. Because of the narrow depth of field, attention can be drawn to one part of the child’s body while maintaining a pleasing composition of the full body. This is a great alternative to photographing just the child’s hand, foot, etc.

(4) Make an unexpected but memorable photo, by waiting patiently and let the subject’s personality may shine through. With the fast shutter speeds available at large apertures, you can catch even fleeting expressions, and with the narrow depth of field, you can tell more of the story by selectively focusing on the primary subject.

(5) Bring the focus to your child in this big busy world by blurring out the background elements. By shooting at low apertures, if not wide open, you can keep your child fully in focus while achieving a nicely blurred background. This is great for playgrounds, museums, beaches, or anywhere that is busy or crowded.


(6) Some fast prime lenses are more convenient to carry, since they can be quite small and light in weight (Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras for example) as compared to other lenses. When mounted on your DSLR, they fit into relatively small camera bags that can be tucked into a diaper bag, large purse, or even under a small stroller. The lighter weight and compact size are especially noticeable when wearing the DSLR, with the fast lens attached, around your neck. With your camera always ready, you’re more likely to catch those priceless moments in your children’s lives.


About the Author

Erin Dyker is a Canadian family photographer / photography instructor. See more of her work on her photography blog.

All images in this article are copyrighted to Erin Dyker.

Updated for accuracy.

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