How do I get them to sit still?
This is the lament of many Mum’s and Dad’s as they try to capture those precious moments.
The first thing to do is put your camera on auto or on a program mode. With children and animals you don’t want to be worrying about being on the right setting.
The next thing is to put it on burst or multiple exposure mode. The reason for this is it gives you a better chance of getting the right expression or get them looking the right way.
With these two things sorted out, we need to focus on ‘focusing’. Set your camera to continuous focus if it has a setting that you can choose, this enables the camera to focus quickly even if the subject is moving.
Then the fun begins. Firstly with children, try to get them when they are playing or interacting with others. Don’t ask them to look at the camera and say cheese unless you want stilted photos with awkward grins.
Move around, get down low, get up high, take ones of just their hands playing or take them with their back to the camera, you can take heaps of photos and then just delete what you don’t want. If you just play around with the camera around where they are playing it will not be long before they ignore you and get on with playing.
If the children are determined to hide or pull funny faces, keep shooting, but include them, show them the images on the screen of the camera and in no time at all they will be saying, take me, take me and fighting to get your attention. Don’t be afraid to play peekaboo with them, especially around an interesting plant, a favourite toy or something that enhances the photo.
You don’t want to move the children and make them stilted, move yourself to get the right position and the light where you want it.. If the sun is behind you the light will be full in their face, if this is causing squinting, move to one side or the other. If you are shooting directly into the sun you will get silhouettes. Be aware of shadows and if they are wearing hats, try to tilt them up a bit so their face is not totally in shade or the shade may be too dark.
Early morning and late afternoon, the hour after sunrise and the hour before sunset are called the golden hours as the light becomes a warm yellow, which is the best light for portraiture.
If you have babies or young children then they are often up very early, so make the most of these times. Older children love to be out at sunset so get them in the evening.
Make the most of time at the park or the beach where everyone is relaxed and having fun.
The same applies to pets, although they may be trained to sit, you can’t make them look where you want them to or keep their heads still. So use auto or program mode, some cameras even come with a setting especially for cats and another for dogs. Stay on multiple exposure and have fun. Try different angles, getting down low, getting them running and jumping. If it’s not happening and they are too boisterous, put the camera down and play with them for a bit, it is usually easier to get them to sit still if they are a bit worn out.
Take some of their favourite snacks to get them looking at you or jumping up. Children will also respond well to treats, but be careful as a lot of children have allergies to certain foods, so if they are not your own children always check first.
Again remember to check where the sun is and look at the shade that is falling on them. Again, try different locations but remember it is much harder to control your pet when there are lots of other things going on around it so while the beach or a park may give a better backdrop, you may have to settle for the backyard.
A good training device is to put your camera on movie mode and take some movie of your pet, then look at it and you will see clearly what a difference it makes, where the light is and how much shade there is. As they run in and out of the sunlight and shade the camera takes a while to catch up so it is more noticeable and it helps you be more aware. Also at the end of the day you have both stills and movie to add to your collection.
Don’t be afraid to be creative, get in close, show just their eyes, or a hand and a toy or someone else holding them and interacting with them. Get some ones with deliberate blur to add the feeling of movement. I love getting kids on trampolines as their faces are full of joy and their bodies are in motion. Get some with them far away so they are part of a landscape image.
If you do want some more traditional formal pictures there are a few choices. One is to organise for a professional sitting, the photographers are used to photographing children and have all the props and lighting to do a great job in the least amount of time. If you want to have a go yourself, then get everything set up before you put the children where you want them.
Don’t tell them to say ‘cheese’, instead ask them if they like ice-cream or chocolate, ask them what their favourite is and so on. Keep the camera on multiple exposure or burst mode to capture that special moment and if there is a group take lots so you can choose the ones where most people are looking and smiling.
Kids love novelty, so climb up on a ladder and take a photo, get them all to take their hats off and throw them in the air, tell them all to jump, then jump and raise their hands. Get down on the grass and get them lying on their stomachs facing you.
Not only will you get better photos of them, but they will also be creative and have that wow factor.
Most people now carry mobile phones with them which has a camera in it. At every opportunity get the phone out and take photos, you can delete all the photos you don’t want, but it gets the children used to the camera being there so they will soon ignore what you are doing and get on with the important things in life, like having fun and playing.
Another useful tool is a tripod and a remote shutter release. This may sound technical, but if you ask at your camera store they are available at a very reasonable price. Set the camera up on the tripod, plug-in the cable release or you can get wireless shutter release for some cameras and then start talking and interacting with the children as you walk around behind the camera and to each side, pressing the shutter release, they will not realise you are taking a photo as you are not looking at the camera. Every now and then make a show of actually taking a photo so they don’t become aware of what you are doing.
This gives you much more freedom to interact with them and is particularly good for pets as you can hold up a toy or a treat to get them looking where you want them to without having to physically get back behind the camera. Your pictures will also be much sharper as there won’t be any camera shake caused by unsteady hands.
Another tip that will help make your photographs more interesting is to not put your subject in the centre of the frame. Pretend you have drawn a noughts and crosses on your screen, some cameras have a grid option that does this for you, and then put them at the intersection of any two of those lines. If you look at professional images you will notice they do this, but remember rules are also made to be broken, so experiment.
Finally the most important thing is to make photography fun, both for yourself and for them. If we enjoy something we are more likely to do it again and the same is true for children and animals. If it starts to become hard work, put it aside for another day. If you get used to using your phone camera you will have plenty of opportunities to get photos of the children and your pets and they will be more at ease as well.