How to shoot your kids, Part II

by trevorcarpenter on May 2, 2008

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Last week, we learned several things to help us take better photographs of our children.

  • DSC_9952Partner up with your child. Learn photography together, with your child(ren).
  • Make a commitment. You should shoot on a regular basis. Take your camera with you everywhere.
  • Don’t always make them pose. They’ll look better when they’re doing what they do.
  • Get off the auto settings. Learn what the special settings on your camera do.

Today, I want talk about a few additional things to consider, if you’re serious about photographing your children.

Nikon D60Get the right camera.

Having the best camera, for your budget, is very important. If you’re in the market for a new one, I think there are a few things you should consider. You really have only two choices, a dSLR or a point-n-shoot. I’m not interested in detailed reviews here.


That means digital single lens reflex. Basically, it’s one of those cameras that takes different lenses. This will free you up to shoot as creatively as possible. Your choices will be those of the professionals. You can choose from many brands, with a very wide variety of prices and levels. I’m not interested in the traditional Ford vs. Chevy or Mac vs. Windows arguments. So, choose either a Nikon or a Canon. Combined, they are the majority of the market. The entry level Canon is an XSi, and is under $900 with an included lens. The entry level Nikon is an D60, and is under $700 with an included lens.


These too have many choices. My suggestion is to forget about the teeny-tiny pocket cameras and look more for the feature packed mid-sized cameras. They’ll still have all the great features an automatic camera needs. However, you won’t compromise on lens quality and possibly zoom. No matter how much you spend, if the lens is short, you’ll sacrifice on quality. It’s like using a firearm. No matter how high tech a weapon is, if the barrel isn’t long enough, you won’t have long distance accuracy. Also, as I said last week, you really shouldn’t get a camera with less than a 10x optical zoom. Canon and Fujifilm have always made high quality cameras that fit this segment. Here’s a good choice for each, with two different price points. The Canon PowerShot Pro S5 is $315. And the Fujifilm Finepix S700 is just $170!

Of course you can choose other brands, as most make decent cameras. Olympus has really done well to make cameras at all levels that can handle weather and the elements quite well. But you’ll begin to pay for nice features like that.

Get the right accessories.

Sometimes having an additional tool will enhance your ability to shoot well. There are those that don’t depend on what kind of camera you use. And there are those that do depend on what camera you have.

Those that don’t:Gorillapod tripod

  • Tripod.
    • Get the best you can afford. Even with a point-n-shoot, you’ll want a reliable, strong tripod.
    • There are odd choices here too. Compact, and even flexible tripods.
  • Good system for processing, managing, and producing your photos.
    • Since we’re pretty much all digital by now, you’ll need to consider your options for managing all those digital shots. If you’re just copying them to a folder on your hard drive, you’re missing good opportunities for your work.
    • You really need to at least be using a media manager. On the bottom end, you really only have two choices. On a Mac, use iPhoto. It comes with every Mac, and really does a great job. On any other computer, including a Mac, you should be using Google’s Picasa.
    • Both of these applications will help you import, tag, and manage all your work. Additionally, they both have simple editing and enhancing capabilities. On another occasion, I may help you learn a few techniques for enhancing your photos.
    • You can actually order prints, right from within each of these applications!
    • Oh yeah, did I mention they’re both free!

Those that do:

  • Lens options.
    • With some point-n-shoots, you can actually purchase additional lens accessories that will give you increased power for shooting.
    • This choice, however, is mostly geared towards dSLR owners.
    • I believe that the first two lenses you absolutely MUST have are a decent zoom, like a typical 55-200mm. Consider one with some kind of vibration reduction. The other must-have is a 50mm prime. Most of the entry level ones cost a low $100, and will transform the way you shoot.
    • The zoom will enhance your ability to reach out and catch those kids, when they don’t realize you’re shooting them. It’s also great for their sporting events.
    • The prime will grant you a level of clarity and sharpness you didn’t think was attainable at your price range. These are generally an f/1.8 or f/1.4 aperture, making them amazing in low light.
    • I shoot not with a 50mm, but a 30mm, at f/1.4. It does the same for me, but I have to get a touch closer. My ability to shoot in low light is amazing. Without going into a tutorial on aperture, just know that the lower your potential aperture number, the better it will shoot in lower lighting settings, among other benefits.Flash or Speedlight
  • Flash options.
    • Even some point-n-shoots have a hot-shoe for a flash, like the Canon above.
    • When selecting your additional accessories, you really should consider a flash. Once you master when and where to use it, the next step is to work on shooting with it off your camera. (Take a look at the Strobist blog I mention at the end.)
    • One important thing to consider, use a flash even when you don’t think you should. Like outside! Let’s consider you’re shooting a posed shot, with a nice landscape in the background, like the Grand Canyon. If you use a flash, you’ll fill in the shadows on your subject(s) quite well.
  • Methods for carrying your camera, and gear.
    • What kind of bag will you use? With a point-n-shoot, you may be able to use a small case, that you can put on your belt, or even drop into a pocket.
    • Once you start adding accessories, you’ll have to consider a larger bag.
    • I’ve used a waste-pack, and a larger shoulder bag.
    • This is really a personal decision. I’m just suggesting that you put some thought into your choice.

Know how to use your tools.

Sometimes, you have everything you need, but you still make bad photos. It could be as easy as reading the manual for your gear. I have generally not been a manual reader. This can be great, because it frees me up to jump right in and start using my new gear. The problem is that it took me several months to understand how to effectively use my Aperture Priority mode. Had I read the manual, I would have learned it immediately.

Take the time to learn how to use your gear.

Once you’ve learned the how to technically use your gear, you’ll need to learn how to apply this knowledge. Not all of us can drop everything and attend an art school. So, we’re forced to get our hands dirty, through trial and error.

Most importantly, shoot, shoot, shoot! You won’t learn anything, without actually using your gear. You must be regularly taking photos, in order to get better at taking photos.

FlickrUsing a photo-sharing website, like Flickr, can be helpful. Now, that doesn’t mean it will be helpful. It’s best if you can connect with people you already know, on Flickr. That way you can expect some thoughtful criticism. In time, you’ll make more friends, and you’ll begin to interact with each other’s photographs.

Afraid of putting your kids’ photos on the internet? Do one of two things. Get over it, and use code names. You can’t find my kids’ names online. Go ahead, try. BeAGoodDad has followed this pattern too. (In fact, I started doing this, following BeAGoodDad’s lead.)

Or you can make all your photos private, online. At Flickr, if you make your photos viewable only to your friends, or even family, then only they’ll see them. That’s a good choice too. Just know that you will limit the amount of interaction you’ll get.

If you join Flickr, make sure to make me a contact. You can find my profile, here.

Continuing on with options to help you get better, I’d suggest you learn a bit more. My goal here is to motivate you to get out and do more. I’ll offer you a few, simple choices, that you can apply right away, and start improving. When you get serious, you should read some blogs that really teach you more.

Here’s some of what I read:

Additionally, simply looking at someone else’s good photos can spark your own creativity. I follow hundreds of photographers on Flickr, and many other photography oriented blogs. Simply searching for a specific term on Flickr can get you started. “Children“, “kids“, “first birthday“, are just a few.

Taking a few moments to consider your gear choices and how to use them, will make you a better photographer. You becoming a better photographer will not only produce better photographs of your family, but will possibly drag you into a new hobby. Welcome to the club!

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