What gear and lenses you use is mostly personal preference and what feels best in your hands and gets you the results you want for your own style.
This is the second part of a three-part series on Photographing Children, written for the Canon Digital Learning Center by Heather Lickliter:
Working with Different Age Groups (click to read)
- Camera Gear, Wardrobe, and Props
Lighting and Post Processing Techniques (click to read)
Expensive equipment is a plus, but you can still get great images with a tiny point and click camera if you know how to manage your equipment and the light.
My first digital camera was a Canon PowerShot S400; a tiny thing about the size of a pack of cards, but I got some amazing photos out of it with the macro setting and great indirect light. My first DSLR was a Canon EOS Rebel XT with the kit lens. I have since bought a Canon EOS 5D and more recently an EOS 5D Mark II and a few lenses.
Three years (and $7,900) later, I am still in love with some of those images that I took right out of the gates with that little Rebel XT. Even now, I still carry another little PowerShot SD1100 IS for quick snaps anywhere I don't want to take the big camera.
Right now, I shoot with an EOS 5D Mark II, an EF 85mm f/1.8 and an EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro. I use the macro lens for newborns, babies and toddlers because I like to get REALLY close to my subjects and really fill the frame with the whole face or even closer, just the lips or eye. I use the 85mm lens for older kids and families so that I can stand back and get the whole group, but also get sort-of close without intruding into the mood of the day. My next wish list lens is the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM so I can step way back and get some secret moments. What gear and lenses you use is mostly personal preference and what feels best in your hands and gets you the results you want for your own style. If you would rather stand further back, get a telephoto lens. If you like to be right there with the kids, get a shorter one!
Getting good images no matter what you're using is easier than you think!
Shot with an EOS Rebel XT and 50mm lens
This shot is still one of my personal very very favorites, but it was taken with a Rebel XT and the ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm f/1.8 lens; at the time, a $600 pair (image © Heather Lickliter)
Choose equipment that you are comfortable with
"What gear and lenses you use is mostly personal preference and what feels best in your hands and gets you the results you want for your own style" - Heather Lickliter. These are all cameras that Heather has used to create her beautiful children's portraits. Remember, your camera is only part of the equation -- the rest is how you use it to capture what's in front of the lens
The quick and dirty:
Aperture: A low number is 'open' and a high number is 'closed' or 'stopped down'. Open lets in more light, closed lets in less light. A wide or open aperture produces a narrow depth-of-field, and a small or closed aperture generates much sharpness foreground to background. For example, if you're about 10 feet from your subject, a wide lens aperture like f/2.8 might give you only 6 inches of sharp focus, but f/11 might give you almost two feet, front to back, of sharpness. EX: if you stand 10 feet away from your subject, f/2.8 might give you about 3-4 inches of focal plane, but f/11 may give you 18-24 inches in focus.
ISO: A lower number is less sensitive to light and a higher number is more sensitive to light. The tradeoff for a high ISO is more 'noise'; dots of color in the picture that obscure details.
The speed at which the 'eye' of the camera opens and closes. An example of a slow shutter speed is 1/15th of a second, while a fast, action-stopping shutter speed would be something like 1/1000th of a second.
Because all three of these factors affect the way the camera sees the picture, practice is key. Low light but a high ISO and open aperture means that a higher shutter speed can be used. Lots of light and a low ISO mean that you can use a slower shutter speed.
Humans move relatively quickly, as far as seconds go -- especially kids, who can be both fast and unpredictable. If I have to hand hold the camera (no tripod), I get camera shake blur at 1/125th, so I make sure to use a high enough ISO and open enough aperture that I can shoot at 1/250th or faster. I like a very blurry background, so I shoot as wide open as I can for the situation. If you’re new to DSLRs, try using the ‘portrait’ (usually a indicated by a head/face illustration) setting which emphasizes low f-stops and shallow focus. If you’re more advanced, try Aperture Priority to set your aperture as low as you want, for greater control over that nice blurry background.
Simulated Aperture Scale
Simulated aperture scale: Lower f-stops/ larger apertures means shallow focus, ideal for portraits
Exposure data is found on the LCD panels
Depending on your camera, the exposure data may appear in a different place or in a slightly different format. For example, most EOS cameras such as the EOS 7D (above, left) uses the top display, and shutter speeds are indicated only by their denominator (1/800th sec is 800). The EOS Rebel camera series (above, right) uses the rear LCD and shutter speeds are indicated fractionally (1/400th sec is 1/4000)
Shallow depth of field
This photo is a good example of a small aperture. This was taken at f/2.8 and from about 6 inches away from the girl with a macro lens. The eyelashes of this two year old are in focus, but the hair, nose and chin are not (image © Heather Lickliter)
Newborns: I shoot at f/1.8 to f/2.8, ISO 100 (because low noise means soft skin)
Babies: I shoot at f/2.8, ISO 100 to 200
Toddlers: f/2.8 to f/4, (toddlers run fast and I sometimes need a greater depth of field to get everything in focus), ISO 100 to 400
Kids: f/2.8, ISO 200
Families: f/4 to f/8, so I can get everyone in the group in focus
Lots of point and click cameras don't allow the user to change the aperture or shutter speed, but you do have control over the ISO. The vast majority of them have a macro setting (the little flower button) which will force the camera to focus on the closest object it can see, which is great for babies, but it does take a while to lock on focus, so it's not so good for fast toddlers.
I try never to use a tripod unless I am in the studio. If it’s dark enough for me to have to use a tripod, then it’s usually about to rain here and we reschedule the session. That, and I’m clumsy and have tripped over one more often than not, so I just bump the ISO and leave the tripod at home.
I'm always on the lookout for some fun things to use in picture. My fiancée and I have a joke about my addiction.
He laughs whenever I stop and look at something and he asks "Could you put a baby in that?" Baskets, bowls, blankets, scarves, chairs. I buy looking for color and texture as well as use. If I don't have a place to put it or a way to use it, I don't buy it.
Baskets and bowls: Small for little babies to curl up in. Medium for larger babies to lay or sit in. Big for older babies to stand up in or next to. I like darker ones with lots of weaving textures.
Blankets: I buy soft blankets with a subtle texture to them. Bobbles, rosettes, waffle weave, etc. Textures make a pleasing contrast to baby skin.
Chairs: Little and colorful for babies, larger ones for bigger kids. Remember to keep them light, since you have to cart them there and back from wherever you're going!
Scarves: Neutral colors for wrapping babies in, more funky colors for older kids.
Pettiskirts: I have such a soft spot for a little girl in a big skirt. I have way too many. Pink, yellow, red, raspberry, orange, blue, green, gold, black... I even use them for little girls to lay on.
Buckets and pails: Smaller for kids to play with, bigger for them to play IN. Fill it with bubble bath and lose the clothes and you have a happy baby.
Many looks from one location
Interesting crops and angles make the same old props or locations really interesting, so be on the lookout for new ways to look at the location. I often put a baby on a bench and get the same-old front picture, but then I move around and sit on the bench myself next to them, then get up and move around back and let them stand up and look over the top of the back, then I squirm under the bench or shoot through the slats. Four to five totally different looks for just one location (image © Heather Lickliter)
Use a variety of props
This girl and the background are a great example of texture in an image. The chair, the shirt, the socks, the grass, the dappled light, the fluffy skirt, even her hair has a texture (image © Heather Lickliter)
I suggest solid colors and light patterns, avoiding busy patterns or logos/words. The cartoon characters often on children's shirts will date a photo much faster than a solid colored shirt or lightly patterned dress. Hats can also be very effective; as well as other accessories such as scarves or funky belts. Bare feet are especially fun, and kids love it too. If shoes are preferred, please make sure they are in good shape, and not scuffed. Clothing should compliment your child’s look, not complicate it.
Bare skin is my favorite on newborns and babies. The vast majority of our newborns aren’t clothed at all. You may have other clothes to put on an older baby, but keep in mind; baby may get grouchy when there are too many clothing changes. Diaper covers are a great idea too! To keep the focus on a small baby, try to use no more than two-three colors or patterns.
Let’s say, however, you want a trendier look for your child. Well then things change a bit! I still caution against bold logos or cartoon characters on clothing, but a pair of stripy tights and a bold dress or a funky scarf and hat can bring a sassy mood and fun color to your images.
Some places I love to shop: Chasing Fireflies, Tea Collection, Hanna Anderson.
Fall is coming up fast and everyone will be thinking about family photos and cards soon and the big question is "What do we wear? Rule #1 is to co-ordinate! Nothing ruins a photo like a slapped together wardrobe. The best way to go about picking outfits for family photo is to pick two colors and have everyone in variations of the same two colors you pick. Green and brown, blue and grey, pink and green, etc. Do avoid white shirts for everyone. Not only will it make proper exposure harder to get right, but also it makes family photos look just like everyone else's.
Colors in wardrobe need to compliment the subject
This outfit is a great example of colors working together. The blue and purple dress with purple pants and a pair of purple Crocs really set off this girl’s blonde hair and blue eyes (image © Heather Lickliter)
A Family Portrait
This family is a great example of two colors. They chose teal and green, two very difficult colors to get right, but both colors don’t clash with each other due to the amount of white in the outfits (image © Heather Lickliter)
My fiancée and I tried taking our own holiday photos with a remote once, but since I didn't know while I was snapping away what I looked like, I got a whole lot of awful facial expression photos. The following year, we picked another pro photographer and had a much less stressful experience. You can set your camera up on a tripod and use a corded remote or an infrared wireless remote (click to view or purchase form Canon's selection of available remotes). Make sure you get a remote that works with your camera! You can also use your camera's built-in timer. Click here to read more about the self-timer feature found in our PowerShot and EOS cameras.
Above all, know when to hire a professional. A professional photographer's job is to know how to find the best light, pose everyone to their best advantage, keep the children's attention, look for minor fixes (like showing bra straps or scuffed shoes) and give you the best photos possible. Do research the local photographers and see whose style fits your family the best and make sure you pick someone you feel like you connect with. Also keep in mind that just because someone has a 'fancy camera' it doesn't make him or her a professional. Look carefully at their website and make sure what they're offering is something better than snapshots anyone can take.
Heather Lickliter is a children's and 'fairytale' photographer in Athens, GA. Her photos have graced the covers and articles of several newspapers and magazines as well as the walls of her clients. To see more of her work, visit her website: Stylized Portraiture.
The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.
All images are copyright Heather Lickliter