Editor's note: Christopher Hankins is the Daily Herald's assistant director for photography for the Fox Valley. He pulled together some of his favorite tips on getting the best pictures of your kids. He and a few of his colleagues share a few photos to illustrate their best tips.
I'm probably the last one who should be dispensing advice on photographing kids.
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I always figured that my children would be the most photographed youngsters on the planet. Instead, it usually takes a birthday, preschool graduation or Christmas morning for me to get the good cameras out and use them.
But recently my two daughters have actually started requesting more photo shoots, so how can a photojournalist father resist? Here are some things I've learned about photographing kids, both my own and those of freelance clients.
First, get on their level. Photograph them doing what THEY love to do. Taking your toddlers into a fancy studio setting and trying to get just the right light on them is just asking for a disaster.
How about taking them to the sandbox and letting them go wild? Hover around them and shoot them candidly while they play, and make it more about their playtime than about a scheduled photo session.
This approach works well with kids at the younger end of the spectrum.
As for camera and lens choice, let me address the first half of that in this way. It really doesn't matter what brand of camera you have. That's easily the most frequent question I get on assignment and off.
Canon, Nikon, Minolta, whatever. Just become more familiar with the one you own.
But what will help tremendously is the use of a longer, or more telephoto lens. By zooming in closer to your subjects, you'll decrease the amount of distracting background elements and focus more on what's important -- your kids.
Wide-angle shots are good for some things, especially when the background is part of your goal, say, at the beach or in the city where you WANT that giant silver bean in the background. But be careful to keep your subjects closer to the camera when you go wide. If you have to point at the print and remind your kids that's them standing in front of the museum, you were too far away.
As your kids get a bit older and are more receptive to the idea of posing for pictures, one of the best ways to improve them is with quality of light.
If you're comfortable with using flash or even studio lights, start playing around with those and experiment with light coming from "off camera" so it looks more natural.
If that kind of thing freaks you out or you don't have the gear, try taking junior out first thing in the morning or right before dusk to take advantage of what photographers call the "golden hour." The warm, directional light during those times makes for dramatically nicer images, and you won't have the shadows in eye sockets like you would when the sun is directly overhead.
Even if you don't have a fancy camera on hand, a point-and-shoot camera can produce some really nice pictures if used the right way.
Use that zoom to bring you subjects in closer and knock out the distracting background elements.
Use the exposure lock feature to make sure you get the right settings on the subject and not the lighter or darker elements in the background. Most of all, no matter what camera, lens or lighting scenario you use, it's ALWAYS a good idea to get closer to your subject.
Fill the camera frame with your child's face and see what happens. Get right in there with them and have some fun. After all, it IS fun, right?