The Best Portraits Are The Candid Ones
It was a beautiful afternoon with all the cousins happily playing together. The day itself had not gone according to grown-up aspirations due to some unfortunate events such as yet another onset of Lyme's disease, but there was nothing to keep the littlest ones from their play.
Due to miles that separate some of these cousins, days like this one don't happen as often as they should. This was just play for one afternoon in their young lives, but it's these sort of afternoons that they will look back on when they're my age and think of how great it was to have a childhood together like today. I took it upon myself to put pictures to what will one day, no doubt, be high on their favorite childhood memories.
When kids are together on a playground, they are happy, they are playing, they are barely aware of my camera. In my humble opinion and years of experience, this is the best way to photograph children. I did not pose them in any way, and it took less than an hour to acquire some of my favorite portraits ever.
Here's the key: Hone skills of stealth, speed and accuracy. Basically, think like a fighter jet.
Four Basic Techniques to Think Like A Fighter Jet and Get The Best Candid Childhood Portraits:
This is their play. You're getting pictures of them doing and being what they love. It doesn't matter if they're all in the picture, if they're all looking, or if they all have the proper facial expression. Some love the camera and will pose for you. Others are shy, and you're simply content to grab those candid moments without making a big deal or effort out of it. Have low expectations. This is their time, their play; it is not yours to infringe on. Let them create the scene.
You must move quickly, and so must your camera. Ideally, have a shutter speed of around 1/200 or faster. Kids are fast and active, particularly on swings and playing ring-around-the-rosie. An abundance of natural light in the form of sunshine is a wonderful commodity. In the event that you are unable to obtain such lighting, increase your ISO and/or utilize a speedlite.
Make sure your aperture (f stop) is adequate for the depth of field in the scene you are creating. Blurred backgrounds and wondrous bokeh are tantalizing and creative, but when we're talking about active children, and there's more than one, crisp facial details are far more important. It helps if you can manage to get them in the relatively same plain of focus. ALSO: Always, always, always focus on the eyes. Simple fact, if the eyes are not in focus the image is ruined.
- Drop the "Say Cheese!" slogan from your vocabulary. From henceforth and forevermore.
If you must get their attention, do not order them to smile. Kids are naturally happy individuals, and in their natural habitat of play and exploration they will not need to be commanded to smile. Instead, simply greet them unexpectedly, or say something silly and this will draw out that gorgeous sparkle in their happy faces. Incidentally, the nephew who most despises pictures is the one I got the most stunning portraits of. Aaaaand it was no trouble at all to him. I did not force him to sit, stand or tilt a certain way, nor did I demand control over his facial expressions. You just do you, little fella.