These days a lot of DSLR and Compact System cameras are purchased by families with young children. These cameras are purchased because people want to get great shots of their kids, but once the camera arrives on your doorstep, how do you use it?
Firstly, what is the kind of camera you are using? If you are using a basic compact camera you can usually find a setting that is marked ‘portrait,’ and if you are really lucky there will be a ‘children’ setting. Portrait modes use the optimal settings for skin tones and to soften lines, children modes do the same except with a faster shutter speed as they are constantly on the go.
If you are using a DSLR or Hybrid camera you have a few more options open to you. These cameras also tend to have portrait modes, but the more adventurous of you may want to try the manual settings. The AV setting is Aperture Priority which lets you control the iris on the back of the lens which opens and closes to let in various amounts of light. The wider the aperture is the faster your shutter speed will need to be, and you will also get a shallow depth of field (meaning your background and foreground might get a bit blurry). Alternatively you can use the SV (or TV on a Canon) shutter priority mode to select a really fast shutter speed. This will be essential if your child is not one for sitting still!
If you really want a blurry background you need to set the aperture to a small number. A small aperture number (or F number) will give you a wide open aperture. The smaller the number the blurrier the background, but keep in mind that you will need to speed up the shutter speed to stop the photograph from being too bright. Most lenses that come with the camera have a minimum f stop of 3.5. If you would like a better blurry effect you may want to look into getting a prime lens, such as a 50mm (otherwise called a ‘Nifty Fifty). These lenses are fixed at 50mm in length and will not zoom, but the most common of these lenses has an f1.8 aperture. Don’t worry if all of this seems a bit too overwhelming - upcoming Snappit Blogs will soon be covering the basics of lenses, for now skip onto the next tip.
Some of the best shots come from your subject having something to do. Try getting photos of them while they are at play, reading a book, painting or with a loved one. An activity when they are sitting can make for an easier shot, but a shot of them running around or playing sport can yield a rewarding if challenging results. Keep an eye on what is happening in the background- brightly coloured items can make for a fantastic backdrop when using a shallow depth of field.
Never underestimate the importance of lighting in a shot. Make sure your child is well lit, with the main source of light in front of your child or to the side. If the light is coming from behind your subject you tend to confuse your cameras metering and can end up with either a really dark or really bright picture. Yes there are ways around this, but it is much simpler to just change position and at the moment we are keeping this simple!
Do Not just rely on your cameras pop-up flash. Generally these flashes tend to be harsh when pointed straight forward and can cause a very unflattering look. Instead, take a look at other lighting in your scene; are you outside? Are you near a window? Can you turn on the room lights to fill in some shadow? Where possible try and position your child near a window with the light shining on their face, and only use the built-in flash if you still need a bit of brightness. Most new cameras will be able to use the flash effectively in portrait mode, but if you find the shot doesn’t seem to be working it may be the flash that is the issue.
Finally, framing and composition can make or break a shot. Try shooting from various angles to achieve different results, place your subject in different places within the frame; dead centre often isn’t the best choice. Another good guideline to try and follow is the Rule of Thirds. When looking through your viewfinder or on the LCD display, imagine it is divided into thirds vertically and horizontally. (Many cameras have the option to show these lines on their displays). Where these lines intersect are generally where the viewer’s eye is drawn to first and is often where you will find the main subject of the shot. Eyes will normally be positioned on the top or bottom line, depending on the angle of the shot. If it is a full-body shot, try and position your subject on one of the vertical lines, with them looking at the other side of the frame to give the shot a sense of space.