Friday, October 3, 2008

What do penguins and four-year-olds have in common? (Hint: get some measuring tape)

Neptune Pool at the Hearst CastleYou’ve arrived at SeaWorld, camera in hand, and youngsters in tow. In the back of your mind is your spouse’s complaint that on the last family vacation, many of your kids’ photos showed little more than the tops of their heads.

So my question to you is, “What do penguins and four year olds have in common?”

Don’t tell me it’s their waddle.

I know. You think I’ve asked you a totally crazy question, but humor me. If you’re on a family vacation with young children, the answer will definitely help you get great family vacation photos with the kids.

Have you figured it out yet? Give up?

Alright, the answer is, they’re both short! You need to understand that their height, compared to your adult height, makes a significant difference in how you photograph children.

Recently, a neighbor of mine was really upset when she got her prints back from Costco. Most every Disney World photo of her kids featured their great heads of hair. Parents know what their children look like. It’s in their minds’ eyes, but the camera only captures what it’s actually pointed at.

In wildlife photography, I often kneel or lie on the ground to take a photograph of a bird nesting in the sand, or a small animal resting or feeding. To facilitate those shots I often use a right angle viewfinder on my DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera) so I can just bend over or kneel, and look down into my camera while it’s low to the ground. The important point is I put my camera’s lens down to the level of the animal I’m photographing, thereby allowing me to capture their body, head, and eyes well.

While you’re on vacation, regardless of what camera you own, the problem of taking anyone’s photo from above their eye level, especially children, is that it most often gives a domineering impression. This can be used effectively if you’re a news photographer and you want to show how small and helpless a child is, but for a family photo, it’s unflattering to say the least.

So, whether you need to bend, kneel, sit or lie down, get the camera at approximately your children’s eye level when taking their photo. If your family vacation includes grandparents, try to set up your photo with the grandparents sitting, to even their height with your youngsters.

Here are some more tips for getting great shots of your children on a family vacation:
  • Kids move fast and have short attention spans, so use a fast shutter speed to freeze their motion. Have some of the kids belongings around to use as props. A great environment for taking their photos is when they are busy and concentrating, such as when they’re building castles on the beach.
  • Don’t be afraid to take close-in head shots. You might even consider filling the frame with their full faces, but get some full body shots too.
  • To get down to the kid’s level, you might even roll around on the ground with them. Try shooting them from below their eye level to give your shots a different perspective, showing the world from your children’s point of view.
  • If you’re at a location like Disney World, use their mascots as props to engage your children and add extra life to the photo.
  • Let the kids make faces if they want to. That can make some wonderful photos.
  • If you’re using a digital camera, extra shots cost nothing if you cull out the bad ones before having them printed, so use the camera’s ability and its memory card’s capacity to continuously take photos of your children at a particular spot, instead of just one or two. Getting that perfect shot is a matter of chance to a large extent, which is why professionals take so many shots when shooting children.
  • If the lighting for your photo requires a flash, remember to stand close enough to your children that your camera is within its flash’s effective range. For most point-and-shoot cameras, that means you have to be within 10 to 15 feet of the kids. I always get a big kick out of all those people at arenas and stadiums who think their flashes are helping their photos.
  • Since you’re taking these photos at eye level, if you’re using a point-and-shoot camera with the flash, consider turning on the “red eye” prevention setting to eliminate or reduce that awful look. If you’re using a DSLR, get a separate flash unit, and mount it on a bracket about 6 to 8 inches or more above your lens to eliminate “red eye.”
  • Take some practice shots with your digital camera to make sure the settings you’ve chosen for your camera are right, before you get going with your photos. You don’t want to take great photographs, only to have them be under or over exposed.
  • Kids generally hate to pose for your photos, so most posed photos don’t often end up as keepers. Don’t be afraid of just snapping away for candid shots. You’ll be happy with the results.
Good luck. I think you’ll find these tips can help you get some wonderful family vacation keepsake photographs.