Photographing Kids in Motion

Kids are constantly on the move, aren’t they? In fact, simply watching them in action is enough to send most of us straight into mommy nap time. But don’t go to sleep just yet. While your kids are exerting some energy, pick up your camera and put everything you know about shutter speed into action. Not sure where to start? Then hang on tight, because today’s post is all about photographing kids in motion.

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Increase Your Shutter Speed

If you’re like us, you sometimes wonder how professional photographers can capture children being so perfectly posed and still. Think back to when we talked about shutter speed basics. Remember “freezing action” at various speeds by placing an object in the sink and adjusting your shutter speed? The same thinking is going to apply to photographing kids. You may not be able to pose your kids, but if you have any chance of capturing your children without a trail of motion blur, be sure to increase your shutter speed. 

Keep your shutter speed above 1/200 when photographing young children.

The only downside to using a faster shutter speed is that your camera will require more light. If you’re shooting outdoors during daylight hours, no problem. However, indoor photography can be a challenge. Heck, it’s hard enough to shoot indoors without a moving target. Here’s what you can do:

1. Use a prime lens

Look for a lens with a low f-stop (f/1.8 or lower preferably). The lower the f-stop, the more capable you will be to shoot in low light situations.

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We recommend using a 50 mm f/1.8  or 35 mm f/1.8 lenses. In fact, go ahead and toss your kit lens (the one that came with the camera) into storage. Once you start shooting with either of these prime lenses, you won’t have any desire to shoot with your kit.

2. Use a tripod

If you’re going to use a tripod to capture your children in motion, it may be best to position yourself in the middle of the action. Alternatively, you can set yourself up in a room with great light and then create an activity for your kids to engage in while you shoot. Using a tripod will overcome the extreme blur that you often get with low f-stops.

3. Use a flash

We haven’t talked about flash photography yet (coming soon), but flash can certainly freeze action.

Overcoming Shutter Lag

If you’ve ever tried to photograph your toddler or your kid playing sports, you’ve probably come in contact with shutter lag.

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Shutter lag is the delay between the time you press the shutter release button and the moment when the image is recorded on your camera. Shutter lag often happens when using point and shoot digital cameras. If you are using a point and shoot, the best way to overcome shutter lag is to anticipate the shot. This approach is not guaranteed, but with a little practice, you might get a few good shots.

Luckily, DSLRs don’t have shutter lag. However, if you are using continuous shooting mode (or just taking multiple shots in a row), you may find that your camera has to pause from shooting in order to record the images to your memory card. If this happens to you, don’t freak out. Simply allow your camera a moment to catch up with you and keep shooting.

Embrace the Blur

While we all are quick to give ourselves a “high 5″ whenever we manage to capture our kids in focus, the reality is that the focused shots are often sandwiched in between a bunch of blurry photos. However, a little bit of blur in your photos is a great way to illustrate movement.

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In order for a “blurry” photo to make its way into your “keep” folder, at least one element of the photo should be in focus. Continue trying to focus on your child’s eyes or face. Then, if his or her hand is moving, it’s not a big deal. For example, in the above shot, the little girl is playing with trains. Her face and right hand are in focus, while her left hand is a bit blurry. The hint of blur indicates that she is actively playing.

Pan the Camera

Another way to create a movement in your photos while maintaining a sharp subject is to pan the camera (move it horizontally) along with your subject.

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Simply focus on your subject and keep your camera moving at the same speed as your subjects. Take a few shots while the camera is moving. You’ll find that your subject will stay in focus, but by panning the camera, you’ll create motion blur that will intensify the motion within your photo while you freeze the action of your subject.

Don’t forget AL SERVO OR AF-C

As we mentioned in Getting to Know Your Camera: Focusing and Focal Points, Al Servo (Canon) or AF-C (Auto-Focus Continuous, Nikon) mode is great for photographing children or any moving target. With this setting, place your center focus point directly over your subject’s eye and push half-way down to focus. DO NOT recompose.  As long as you have the shutter release button pressed half-way down, your camera will stay focused on whatever is in that center point, even if it’s moving.  Press the button all the way down when you’re ready to take the picture. 

Photographing Kids In Motion

There’s still much to discuss with regard to photographing motion. In a few weeks, we’ll talk about sports photography, so stay tuned. In the meantime, get out there and practice photographing your kids in motion!

For more tips on photographing kids in motion, check out this post on 10 Tips for Photographing Your Toddler. 

Photo Credits: Ashley Sisk and Jay Ryness



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Ashley Sisk
Ashley Sisk
Ashley lives in North Carolina with her husband, two kids and Kitty Paw. She’s a work-from-home mom with a natural light photography business and a passion for sharing everything she knows. Since leaving the corporate world, she now spends her time trying to get through elementary school with her daughter, chasing her firefighter loving little boy, writing and finding ways to enjoy life. You can find her on Facebook, Google + or on her website.