Tips for taking great photos of children (& my editing process)
Over the past year, I've learnt a lot about photography and especially about capturing young children—something I once thought I'd never manage to get the hang of. I hope this post gives an insight to the things I've learned and how I capture and edit my shots. The one thing to always remember is there's no one way to take or edit a photo and the best memories you can capture are those of a huge toothy grin or raw beautiful emotion; it's always more about that than the technical details. Sometimes a shot comes to life the second it's captured, other times it's the editing where the magic is made, no photo or process is ever the same.
—Experiment with white balance.
Any camera that allows the user access to the manual settings will offer the option to amend the white balance. When you're first starting out, this will probably remain on auto as it did for me for a good year of shooting, but changing this simple setting can alter the look of your shots completely. Simply adjusting to the 'cloudy' setting when the sky is overcast or 'direct sunlight' indoors on a sunny day gives a much warmer feel to a shot, making rays of light appear beautifully golden across a shot and eliminating any blue/cold hues. This one is entirely down to personal preference but I'll always change the white balance before a shoot.
—Stick your shutter speed at 1/125 or above at all times.
Taking pictures of young children means alot of blurry shots when you're first starting out; my auto-focus on my first camera just couldn't seem to keep up with them and it was a huge thing for me to overcome initially as they never ever stay still. Once I understood the big three (aperture, shutter speed and ISO), I realised a higher shutter speed was essential for capturing movement, the higher the light will allow, the better. If I'm taking photos of the kids outdoors on an average day, my usual starting point will be ISO200, ƒ2.8 and as high a shutter speed as the camera will allow depending on how dark the day is (I try not to go above ISO400 outdoors to retain quality).
—Swap your kit lens for a prime.
When first delving into the world of DSLR, most people start with a kit lens, an 18-55mm that usually comes with your camera. It seems a great choice because you can zoom in or out but a prime lens will do you so much better. I bought a 35mm with my camera (and more recently a 50mm) and I now never use my 18-55mm. You'll have to learn to move yourself towards and away from your target to frame them but it's a small cost for getting great shots, the biggest change being that the ƒ stop on a prime usually starts at 1.8 (whereas it's around 4 for a kit). This means you are able to let a lot more light into your shots, allowing for a better depth of field and that's how you get beautiful portrait shots with blurry bokeh backgrounds (it took me far too long to realise this).
—Aim to capture moments, not poses.
I have been guilty of trying to stick the boys next to each other and get them to remain still for shots but honestly, it's hard work directing children! The best thing you can do is to let them get on with it; allow them to play, to get mucky and to explore and try and position yourself around them capturing them in their element. It'll wear you out, but the moments you capture are the best, and the number one thing I tell others when I ask them to take photographs of us? Get level with your subject; it's amazing the difference it can make to any shot.
—Always shoot RAW.
There'll be a setting in the menu on your DSLR (usually under image quality) where you can choose to shoot in JPEG, RAW or both; make sure everything you capture is in RAW if you want to be able to edit to the best of your ability. Sometimes when experimenting with the manual mode on a camera, you'll get a shot with the perfect expression but it's too dark or overexposed or just needs a bit of sharpening to make it shine. When you capture in RAW, the camera grabs even details you can't see, meaning when you're editing you can bring those details back, whereas a JPEG will distort an image further the more you try to edit. To edit RAW files, you will need either Photoshop or Lightroom or another program that allows the capability; it is a pain (RAW files are big) but worth it if you want amazing shots with the full ability to edit everything.
—Never underestimate your phone for editing.
I hardly ever use my phone for photography anymore—not that you shouldn't, there are some fantastic phone cameras out there—but because I prefer using my DSLR, however I always do the main bulk of my editing on my phone. After a few quick adjustments to the RAW file through Photoshop, I'll save to my Dropbox (meaning I can quickly access via my phone). I then adjust using (a recent gem I've discovered which has changed my process entirely) an app called Snapseed by Google. I also occasionally use VSCO and Facetune, but Snapseed is my absolute favourite of the moment and it's free; it transforms my images in a few quick clicks. I've created an example of a session below including the settings I adjusted through Snapseed to edit the below shot of Jesse and I.
—Trust others and get in the shot.
For so long, I struggled to get in front of the camera with the boys or my partner, or parents even. I was so hung up on thinking the shot would be compromised and that the other person wouldn't frame properly or do this or that, until one day I allowed someone else to have a go and the results have been astounding. The above shot was taken by my partner (I set it up and just trust him to do the rest) and he's even become somewhat of a dab-hand taking the majority of photos I'm in and even enjoying himself at times. My Mum and Dad, more reluctantly take over, but have also taken some incredible shots (with a little art direction, of course!).
—And if all else fails, let there be smarties.
A wonderful tip from my gorgeous and talented friend, Amber, over at Meet the Wildes and probably one of the best tips for child photography I've ever received, especially for getting multiple children in one shot (something Amber has plenty of practice with).