If you’ve ever tried to snap that perfect picture of your child(ren) then you know how challenging it can be to get everything just right. While you’re staring at the LCD screen, trying to figure out what mode to use, your subject is crawling away or just simply refusing to remain still.
As a proud parent of two, here are some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years that help to make the process easier, less stressful, and ultimately more rewarding.
First things first, the focus here is on point-and-shoot photography. For those candid childhood moments, where you’re right in the thick of what’s going on, I prefer the more accessible, and durable, form factor that point-and-shoot cameras offer. We’re also dealing with subjects that can be unpredictable. Keeping the more expensive SLR up on a shelf is probably best for this kind of shoot. Nobody wants to turn around to find their toddler wrist deep in the body of their best camera.
We’re also going to assume that you already have a favorite point-and-shoot camera. We could dedicate an entire article to the selection process for such a tool but that’s for another day. Just be sure you’re using a relatively new, durable, compact camera with a relatively fast refresh rate and you should be in good shape.
Things I’ve learned:
- Love the half-click. The half-click is that auto focus mode that begins when you depress the shutter release button halfway. Once you’re in this mode the delay between deciding to snap a shot and actually capturing the scene is greatly reduced. It’s not uncommon for me to sit on a half-click for as much as a minute while I wait for just the right moment.
- Go easy on the zoom. It takes time to adjust this option, time you may not have, and in many cases it’s not a critical adjustment. Most modern cameras, even lower end point-and-shoots, support snapping images at a very large size. We’re talking about more MP than are necessary for most print solutions and certainly more than you would need in a slideshow or to share through your favorite social media service. Just capture the whole scene, even if you’re slightly far away, then post-process your little angel into a well framed shot.
- Throw away half of what you take. ‘Film’, as it were, is ostensibly free with a digital camera. Other than time and a little battery life, there is no longer a real detriment to snapping off a few bad shots. The only real cost is the lost opportunity inherent in waiting for your camera to cycle back around to a ready state. Many point-and-shoot cameras even offer burst modes that still maintain reasonable auto-focus, further allowing you to capture minute moments as they happen.
- Know your refresh rate. Once you snap a picture you’re most often going to be stuck in limbo while you wait for the camera to become ready again for another shot. This is largely a function of what mode you’re shooting in along with the recharge time necessary for the flash. The more familiar you become with this delay the better suited you’ll be to pace your shots. Snap a picture as you see a special moment about to occur then get ready for another shot as the action continues. With the right timing you can often get in two shots where you thought there was only time for one, further increasing your chances of getting just the right picture.
- Respect the Auto mode. Digital cameras have a variety of shooting modes (portrait, landscape, night, etc.) and each is designed for a different environment or purpose. I’ve tried all of these, on numerous cameras, but keep coming back to the old standby, Auto. This is the mode that allows the camera to decide what settings to use for any given scene and in most cases the results are more than sufficient. Using this mode regularly also allows you to stop worrying so much about which mode is most appropriate for the current surroundings and instead focus snapping some good pictures.
- Embrace the ‘no look’ shot. This has to be my favorite lesson. Once I realized that framing out every shot wasn’t always necessary I was able to start capturing many more fantastic moments. Again, we’re talking about unpredictable subjects here, people who don’t always wait until you’re paying attention before they do something amazing and who won’t often wait for you to line things up just right before they’re off to satisfy their next whimsy. Learning how to grab that camera, flip it on and snap a picture without having to verify the scene in the LCD can allow you to capture moments that would otherwise have slipped away. You might even be surprised just how easy it is to capture a shot this way.
- Patience. Children often do wonderfully interesting things but they don’t always find it necessary to repeat those moments on command. Trying to force the recurrence of such a scene can be frustrating for everyone. With a quick camera at the ready, and a little patience, waiting for these moments to come around again, naturally, might be the better option.
- Know your scene. While it’s true that children should be kept under a watchful eye at all times that doesn’t mean we’re always in the best camera-position during those times. Knowing where you’re at relative to the subject can make it easier to keep a good backdrop in frame without having to adjust yourself at the last minute. This can really help to finish off what is otherwise a well captured moment.
- Maintain expectations. Capturing precious moments with a point-and-shoot camera, as they’re happening, is a whole different experience than staged photography with a high-end SLR in a controlled environment. You’re likely to have more than a few poorly snapped images and missed opportunities while using a camera that frequently gets turned off and tucked away as you’re attending to other things. Remember that these point-and-shoot memories are just a piece of the scrapbook you’re compiling.
- Have fun! A photographer with a good disposition may not be the only factor in a good shoot but it’s certainly an important one, no more so than when dealing with children. Getting bogged down in the process of taking pictures in this kind of environment can lead to undue frustration and really be more trouble than it’s worth. Just have fun, let children be children and capture what moments you can. If you miss a few, no worries. They’ll do something else worthy of photographing soon enough and a pleasant disposition will help make the whole process more enjoyable for everyone.
Photographing the moments in your child’s life can be a fun and rewarding experience. It’s also a great way to give their memories context and depth as they grow up. Keep the process fun and know your equipment to make the process all the more enjoyable!