Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Photograph Children with the Nikon D90

So one of the specialties I focus in is photographing children. My favorite subjects are my nephews, hence the 'uncle joe' moniker. The main problem with kids is they move. With fireworks, you usually know where they will be. A wedding, you know where the bride and groom will be, and it is usually planned out well in advance. With most engagements where you might be called to photograph, they are usually planned well in advance, and you can usually position yourself in the right place to capture the right picture.

So how can you capture those pictures you find when you buy a picture frame? I don't know about you, but my nephews are constantly moving, running around, jumping, and if you aren't in the right place, at the right time, with that split-second reaction, you won't capture the picture. So how do you do it?
There are really two elements to it. The first is lighting. Kids move around so much, and I know in my house, while the main two rooms are lit very well, my nephews wander around so much, and one of them in particular, prefers the darker rooms. So you need to make sure you have good lighting. I personally like my SB-600 for this. I usually leave it in portrait orientation, (one of the advantages it has over the SB-400) pointed at the ceiling. This allows for the more natural lighting look, and if you are photographing after dark, it can completely black out the background, while making it look well-lit. So while it might seem pointless, even in a well-lit room, you should still use the flash. The eye has a way of deceiving the brain, and making it look like there is more light than there really is.

The second aspect, and while it may seem slightly more of a no-brainer, is to not worry about the equipment too much. Don't bother switching lenses to get the optimal shot, putting filters on, etc. This will only cause you miss the one shot you need to get. Also, you will want to use a zoom lens. Unless you are willing to keep trying to get that one shot out of a hundred, use a slower zoom lens so you can keep up with their movements. And this part really depends on what type of photographer you are. I prefer to stand back, and not be at the center of everything, snapping pictures. As such, this means I use my 55-200mm VR primarily, because it has such a wide range, but it also can be used in darker situations.

You also will want to make sure you have batteries. Most of the time, you will most likely be waiting. This means you will be watching the kid, usually through the camera, constantly repositioning yourself and readjustin g your camera settings, primarily the zoom, to match the surroundings. This wears your battery down, so you will want to watch the level as the day or event goes on.

I would recommend setting your camera on AF-C, or autofocus-continuous. This means the
camera will constantly be readjusting the focus as the subject comes closer or further. You can change this by pushing the closest button the top of your D90, that has the letters 'AF' printed on it. You'll have to hold that button, while spinning the back scroll-wheel. (Note: Most people usually already have the camera set to AF-A; The reason for switching to AF-C is because kids can stand still, your D90 isn't as smart as you, and might assume they are standing still. Trust me, I have had blurry pictures of kids come out because they started moving, doing something worthwhile capturing, and the camera refused to change fast enough.)

So now, just a quick recap:
1) Lighting: Usually your own, but watch for the ambient light.
2) Lenses: Use a zoom lens. This way you can capture within a wider area.
3) Camera settings: Set everything to move fast. Most importantly, AF-C


Jimh. said...

Ah, shucks, I guess it wasn't a Cold War reference! I have used my Canon Elph for most of the pictures I have of my nephews and niece...I generally am right next to them as they move and get some awesome pics. I hope to do the same with my D-90, but I have only had it for two weeks and have yet to see the kids!

Shab said...

My subjects are usually my two boys and I love taking photos for birthday parties. Hoping to start a little something on the side one day, but for now it's just for fun. I have a lot of luck with my 50 prime and sometimes I'll pull out the 70-300 lens so that I can really be pretty far away and catch them before they realize I even have my camera out! I try to avoid flash as a general rule. I don't have an off-camera flash yet, but I do have a Light Scoop which bounces the built-in flash off the wall/ceiling. It works for now.

Thanks for the tips and tricks! I'm curious to see what the d90 replacement will be...

Péter said...


I have D90 & SB-600 aswell.
Do you use FP-mode with flash? Do you shoot in M, A or P mode?
Sometimes I get messed up what should I use, but mainly in M mode.
Thanx for your answ.