A series of columns on outdoor photography
The f-Stops Here
"Kids in the Outdoors"
Cameras often "trail" kids around, but when those kids are in Idaho's great outdoors, a photographer can quickly be exhausted!
by Sharon Watson
Beyond the confines of buildings and fences, kids are everywhere at once and nowhere in particular and dance between these two places at the speed of light. They're clearly too busy for mere photos, but follow them if you can! What you steal from them in 1/500th of a second will be worth it.
Many nature photographers, myself included, shy away from people-pictures. Humans, in general, and kids without question, are too much like butterflies that you can't capture and put in the freezer for a second to slow them down. But as I move cautiously into more Idaho outdoors people-photos, I'm finding it easier to start with children. For me, kids in the outdoors seem to complement nature, whereas adults often appear as foreign elements.
Children aren't as easy to track as elk in Yellowstone, but you'll get more fascinating shots of the kids. Adult elk often just stand there for hours on end, which sure isn't true of children!
With outdoor kids you have to be fast, so use wide f-stops, fast film, fast speeds, and flash if necessary. What you're mostly specializing in when aiming lenses at children is ACTION photos. Let them do their thing, and try to capture the essence of the action.
A telephoto zoom lens in the range of 70mm to 105mm, or l35mm to 200mm are ideal for using on Idaho's kids. A telephoto keeps you "outa their face", while a zoom prevents gasping as you try to keep up with ever-changing ranges. Telephoto lenses limit your depth of field, though, so focus carefully and use a smaller aperture (f-stop), if light allows. Fast films (200 ISO and higher) will permit smaller f-stops. Fast films also allow faster shutter speeds to capture action without blur.
To include more outdoor surroundings in photos with young people, a wide angle lens (28mm or 35mm) is normally used. Wide angles tend to keep foreground and background in focus, even at wide apertures, so they produce more of a "scenic" photo in contrast to the "portrait" feel of a telephoto shot. A wide angle is especially useful for cramped situations such as inside tents and boats where you can't back up to get more in the picture frame. DO NOT take close-up shots, especially of kids' faces, with a wide angle lens unless humorous distortion is your intention. (Focal lengths of 50mm and up won't distort faces close to the lens.)
It's important to get kids used to the camera. Once they pay less attention to you, their reactions and expressions will be more natural. Sometimes you have to take a few shots just to satisfy them before they'll relax. Some kids will deliberately foil anything an adult is trying to do. If you can't get another subject, try to stare them down with the camera until they give up on the weird faces and show-off stances. Or, take some shots, then quickly take some more when they're off-guard.
Mostly you need to spend hours following the kids with the camera, and pretty soon they forget you are there. And, if you're always using a camera on outings with your own kids, they consider it a normal part of the outdoor activity.
Trying to capture a particular child's behavior and facial mannerisms is especially hard. Their expressions and movements are so subtle and fleeting. Asking them to "do that again" usually backfires. Sometimes a set-up shot will work, if you can get them absorbed in what they're doing. Patiently waiting for that special reaction, though, is enough to drive you back to taking elk photos!
Overcast days are best for photographing children. Sunny days cause ugly harsh shadows on faces, unless you use fill-flash. Plus you don't want kids squinting at bright sunlight.
Avoid clutter. Don't let their image or outline blend with background distractions. (Telephotos usually provide a shallow depth-of-field and help to "fuzz out" background clutter.)
In catching the mood of a good outdoor kid picture, certain tricks of the trade can help. A silhouette might better express what you feel about the scene. Blurring movement with slower speeds, in combination with a flash, can sometimes communicate outdoor action more effectively.
Soft focus can be especially dramatic when a child is caught in a pensive mood -- hiding in bushes, sitting on a rock, reading at lakeside, or holding a lizard. For the soft-focus effect, use a fog filter or soft-surround filter, or stretch a piece of nylon stocking over the lens with a rubber band, or smear a filter (NOT a lens!) around the edges with Vaseline for a sharp center photo with fuzzy edges. Vaseline has to be cleaned off, though, so I prefer the nylon stocking or buying the right filter for this.
Try different angles, lenses, and levels, and don't forget to get right down to the child's level -- this is usually your best shot.
Getting specific events and unique personality traits on film has its rewards, but capturing a sense of "timelessness" can sometimes take your breath away. Such photos go beyond the specific. They represent all children in the outdoors. They capture a moment that seems to go on forever, a picture we never tire of looking at. It's hard to describe artistic shots of this kind, but you'll know it when you see it. They are those precious few you'll want to blow-up and frame.
Many parents confess to putting away the camera when child #2 is born. They're now too busy to bother, and the miracle of their first child has sadly paled. With all those photos you took of the first child, you now have all those repetitive, predictable snapshots out of your system! Now's your chance to become really creative! So, keep taking those kid pictures!
Idaho's ever-active outdoor kids sure won't let you down as perfect subject matter -- if you can keep up with their energy and if you can "ambush" them with patience and a quick trigger finger for those classic shots.