#1- Use Continuous Autofocus
Kids move constantly! By setting your camera to AF-C (Sony/Nikon) or Ai Servo (Canon), you can keep the kids in focus and adjust to their movements. When you focus without continuous autofocus, any movement can result in a blurry image, as the kids move out of the focal point. It can also help to use high speed drive on your camera (the ability to take multiple photos quickly with one press of the shutter) when your kids are at play. This gives you more photos to choose from, as their expressions and actions can change so quickly.
#2-Use a fast Shutter Speed
Using the same principle as #1, where kids move quickly, it is also handy to have a faster shutter speed, as this will freeze action. If your kids make a sudden movement, having a fast shutter speed will help to keep the image sharp. Imagine your kid has the cutest smile on their face, but they suddenly wave their arm. If you have a faster shutter speed, say 1/200 or higher, it will help to freeze the movement so you don't miss that cute smile.
#3-Informal Posing is your friend
Getting kids to hold still can be a nightmare. I have been confounded on multiple occasions, thinking that I have a great pose for some kids, but then one of them looks away at the last second, or starts to say something at the EXACT moment I want to take the shot. Try posing them in a "general" pose that you like, but let them be themselves. and interact with each other. Spontaneous, un-posed shots will have a fun, lighthearted look to them and can show the kid's true personality better.
#4-Use SURPRISE props!
There are a host of things you can do to surprise your kids when taking a photo, especially the younger kids. See an example here. These are a great way to get kids to focus on the camera, and maybe get a great smile as a result. Another DIY tip, is to use a Pez dispenser and trim the foot of it, and stick it CAREFULLY into the camera hot shoe. Anything you can do to surprise a kid will help get that hearty, natural smile from them.
#5-Always be ready to shoot
Sometimes, just having your camera at the ready, with aperture, shutter speed, and autofocus all setup, will help you get that "melt your heart" moment. The photo in the title is an example. My kids were walking to a play area and suddenly started to hold hands. Luckily, I was ready to take the shot, as the moment was fleeting.
#6-Look for the WINK!
Another great way to get kids to look at the camera is to get down on their level, and then tell them to watch the lens and see if it "winks" at them. As you press the shutter button, the shutter will be visible to the kids as your camera captures the image, and it will appear as if the camera is winking at them.
Perhaps most importantly, be patient. Children are notoriously difficult to get great shots of. If you allow yourself to get impatient and frustrated, you will only make matters more difficult. Enjoy the circus that it can sometimes be, and be on the lookout for that one, unscripted photo that will make all the effort worthwhile.
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