If you’re a parent and are going to be spending March Break with your kids, it can be a great opportunity to capture them at their best — playing, laughing and often spending time with family or friends. Whether you have plans to travel or simply to staycation your way through a week off, here are some tips for photographing them — and you with them — easily and playfully.
I think one of the biggest advantages of an entire week off is the opportunity to photograph during the day with natural light — a luxury at this time of year, especially if your kids are usually in school all day and it seems to always be dark or just too rushed in the morning and evening.
You can find natural light even when you’re inside — think about taking pictures of the kids playing games, baking or doing crafts next to a big window at home; or bring your camera to a local cafe to get some shots of everyone enjoying a special treat (and coffee!). I always bring my camera when we head out to museums or galleries in the city — they are often architecturally stunning and designed to take advantage of natural light. To really get a sense of the space and how your kids are enjoying it, get down to kid level to capture them looking up at a dinosaur skeleton, or snap them running in the wide open spaces.
Outdoor activities are your chance to catch the kids in action. For movement shots without the blur, I make sure my shutter speed is always set to freeze a funny face or catch a jump mid-air. To help make my life a little easier when I’m out with the kids and don’t want to be worrying about adjusting my settings for each shot, I usually keep the ISO on auto and then set the shutter speed to at least 125 (higher if you really want to freeze movement; more like 250+). Depending on how out of focus I want the background, I’ll adjust the aperture, but I’ll usually be a few f-stops above the lowest setting. I shoot on a Canon 6D and my go-to lens for everyday trips out with the family is my 24-105mm f/4L. It lets me zoom in for close-ups and shoot wide to capture big spaces and outdoor areas. For a trip to the ROM, for example, I want to make sure I get the feel for both the expanses of space and the details of the kids with the exhibits — I’ll look at an f-stop of 4 to 5.6 and a shutter speed of around 125, with ISO on auto. If you’re in a really bright area, you may need to adjust your shutter speed so as not to blow out your shots.
Even simpler is to leave your camera on more automatic settings, like aperture priority or even full auto, and give yourself the freedom to focus on composition. If you want to capture a specific moment like enjoying an ice cream or watching a movie at home, get in close – physically or by zooming in – and put the focus on the kids’ faces and expressions.
And don’t forget to get in some of the shots yourself! This can be as simple as handing the camera to someone else, but I prefer to be a little more in control of the shot. Wide railings, pillows, chairs, counters and even the floor all make great supports for setting up your camera on timer function to allow YOU to get in the photo with your kids. You can certainly use a tripod, but often it’s about quickly responding to capture a moment before it’s gone. I take lots of photos with my camera perched safely on a chair in our kitchen and the timer set to 10-second release, or I use my inexpensive remote control to release the shutter. I get to set up the photos the way I want, but still keep it spontaneous and playful.
Finally, don’t underestimate the little moments. Fun excursions and trips are certainly worth capturing but remember: a picture of your kids eating a lazy breakfast in their pyjamas or of a giant pile of Lego dumped out on the living room floor can be just as magical. No one ever said the best memories of their childhood were the elaborately staged photo sessions their parents made them sit through 😉
Jessica Kosmack is a family and lifestyle documentary photographer in Toronto who also spends time capturing her family’s adventures at their country place east of the city. at www.jessicakosmackphotography.com and she is on Instagram at www.instagram.com/jesskosphoto.