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T'is the Season: Shoot (Photograph) Your Kids!

Picture taking is as much a part of the holiday season as meals and gifts -- especially if you have kids. No matter how hectic the year has been, folks at this time put forth an extra effort to get together as a family.

At Thanksgiving, it's all about family and showing appreciation for all that we have. If it's a birthday or Christmas (or other holidays), it's more about giving and receiving. While parents tend to exercise some control over their Christmas morning excitement, kids are usually about ready to crawl out of their skin (mine, usually start about 5:30am).

Parents too, find it most satisfying to see the look in their child's eyes and the smile on their face as they open their gifts - in the case of my son, Jesse, opened at a rate faster than a badger digging a hole !

Now somewhere in all the hectic confusion of Thanksgiving, birthdays, and Christmas we try to take pictures. 

Easier said than done, right? While I'm not necessarily qualified to write an article about crowd control (another holiday skill that comes in handy), I should be able to offer some advice about taking pictures during the holidays.

Digital or Film? - It Doesn't Matter, Just Shoot! 
The advice in this article is non-denominational as far as your choice of camera is concerned; and rather than overwhelm you trying to explain everything about photographic technique, I'll share a few tips that will help you take better holiday pictures.

Preparation: The first thing to do is to make sure you have plenty of film if you are a film shooter, or an extra memory card or two if you're shooting digital. I recommend a film speed of at least 200 ISO or faster, or adjust your ISO setting on your digital camera to a speed of at least 200 or higher, to stop action. Otherwise you'll get too many blurry pictures when the little demons, I mean little angels, start attacking their presents.

Batteries: Make sure that you have fresh batteries or freshly charged batteries so that you can keep up with the action. Make sure the fresh batteries and film are already loaded in your camera before things get under way.

The batteries aren't necessarily  good just because the camera turns on. Your flash uses up your batteries quickly, drop in new ones and you're sure to make it through the day.

Good Compositional Techniques: Interestingly, most of the techniques used in shooting kids are about paying attention to both your surroundings and to what the kids themselves are doing.

First of all, put yourself in a position where you can shoot the children without there being a lot of distracting elements near or behind them. You may get a nice shot of the child but have a lamp sticking out of the top of their head. Or, you may have Grandpa's right leg in the picture. 

Now, I realize everyone's child may react a little differently when a camera is pointed at them. Because I'm a photographer, my children have come to expect that I'm going to be taking photos during a special event. They have also learned to cooperate with me, and can seemingly pose on cue. If you're not so lucky, try sitting back at a distance and using a zoom lens. This will let you get shots of candid moments rather than posed moments.

Patience Dad! When things are hectic, I avoid trying to force kids into posing for a picture. I will watch through the viewfinder or LCD screen of my point-and-shoot, looking for some candid shots, so that you will get a more relaxed natural pose.

When they have calmed down a bit (they do calm down don't they?), I'll ask them to hold up a present so everyone can see. Kids will usually cover their entire face. So, ask them to hold the gift down low enough so we can see them. Remember too, if you've gotten them to stop for a second, make sure you're ready to take the shot. Is your camera turned on? Is the flash showing ready? On Christmas Day kids have zero attention span! 

You don't have to take a picture of every gift or capture every moment. This will make it tedious for the kids and they'll start to hate the camera. Take your time and look for those special moments, a loving hug, a special smile, that look of excitement.

A few nice, sharp, and well composed images 
are a lot better than a stack of duds.

After the Event: I'll often take pictures after the excitement has died down and the clean-up is done, the family will be talking, and kids will be playing with a new toy or trying on a new outfit. 

You may get a few shots of the family sitting around the dinner table, kids eating ice cream, or a nice family portrait. Nothing fancy, just take time to compose folks so that everyone is visible in the picture and that all eyes are open.

If you're fortunate enough to have snow during the holidays, you can pretty much guess where the kids will be. I'll go outside with my kids to take a few shots (it gets me away from Uncle Wilber too!). 

These types of images add more to the holiday experience than just getting shots of the kids opening a few presents. They're a nice addition to your holiday memories.

 

 
The Most Important Tip

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this one tip:

Get down at their level 
and get close.

 

Too many shots are taken looking down on kids, or the kids are only a small part of the picture. Get down to their level so you're looking into their eyes and fill the frame with their faces. Just remembering this one technique will make a huge difference in the shots you get of your kids.

Camera Shooting Techniques: I'll keep this part as simple as possible. Trust me, high-tech lighting equipment and pro cameras are not needed here, just some common sense. Automatic settings are usually more than adequate for these types of events. If your camera has a portrait mode, lock your camera on that setting. 

Hold the camera steady and level, tucking your arms in tight to your body, to reduce camera movement. When you release the shutter, do it smoothly keeping the camera a still as possible. I've seen folks hit the shutter release like it's their alarm clock going off, and wonder why they have fuzzy  pictures.

Take a moment to look around the edges of your viewfinder making sure there is nothing distracting that might take away from the otherwise nice shot. Don't be shy about giving your subject a few posing suggestions but keep it light. Yelling at the kids won't get you happy expressions!

If you're outside, make sure that bright sunlight isn't slamming them in the face and making them squint. Move them into a shaded area, or wait for a cloud to shade them. If you're shooting candids, move yourself around to get them in a better position that will improve the light or composition. And don't be afraid to use your flash outdoors. It will fill in shadows and make faces look more natural.

Whenever possible fill the frame with your subject. This will also make sure the camera is exposing for your kid and not for the background. If you are photographing two children, make sure they are standing together and not separated. If they are not standing next to each other, your cameras focusing point will go right between them towards the nearest thing behind them, which could be a long way away, resulting in out of focus kids. An easy solution is to depress the shutter button half way while focusing on one child, then while holding the shutter down, recompose so both kids are in the frame. By holding the shutter button down half way you lock in the correct exposure and the camera can't be fooled into exposing and focusing on the background.

Conclusion
That's it! "T'is the Season to Shoot Your Kids." 

The rest is pretty much up to you. I enjoy photographing my kids. Not only will you find that it can be fun and enjoyable, but the memories you capture will become precious memories, ones that will stay with you for years to come, as both you and they grow older.

Happy Holidays!

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