Home photography ideas: Children's portraits made easy

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Photographing the family is the reason that many people buy a camera in the first place. However, taking portraits of young children can seem like more trouble than it’s worth – especially when it comes to your own kids who refuse to pose or smile as soon as you get your camera out! 

The key is to have fun outdoors – much easier now that the warm weather is here, as we can head into the back garden or even take a camera along during daily exercise walks. And, as children don’t like sitting still, you need to shoot fast before they run off or get bored. 

Reach for your telephoto zoom lens, as it enables you to shoot from a distance so that you’re not crowding your little subjects. And, by using a wide aperture, it will help capture a shallower depth of field to blur surroundings for a more dreamy  portrait style. 

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A 200mm focal length is ideal, and you’ll need to match this figure with a fast shutter speed to overcome camera shake and blurry shots. On the full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark IV we’re using, we employed a shutter speed of at least 1/200 sec to combat camera shake – though on crop-sensor cameras, you should aim for a shutter speed over 1/320 sec. 

Make use of specific AF points to focus on the kids’ faces or eyes for a sharp result – and if your camera has face or eye detect AF, it can do all the hard work for you and keep features sharp even while the little ones are moving!

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Simple steps get great results

01 Camera setup

We shot in aperture priority mode with an aperture of f/2.8. As it was a little dark under all the tree cover, we needed our ISO set to 640 to achieve a shutter speed of 1/200 sec. If it’s darker, up your ISO further to get the shutter speed fast enough.

02 Telephoto zoom lens

Using a long focal length of 200mm, with a wide aperture, will really reduce depth of field and blur the foreground and background details around your subjects to ensure they stand out. We used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, but any tele-zoom will do. 

03 Blur the background

A wide aperture of f/2.8 or f/4, depending on your lens, will help blur the background behind your little subjects, but make sure that they are a good distance (at least 25-30 feet) away from the background elements – otherwise they will remain too noticeable in the frame.

04 Get down to their eye level

Get down low to the children’s eye level for the best results. This also reduces how much foreground is in the shot, too. Getting a family member to stand behind you making faces is a good way to get a fun reaction from the kids – which is what we did for our main image at the top of the page! 

Make sure to have fun!

01 Aaaaand… action!

As kids rarely sit still, make a virtue of it and shoot the action as they run around the fields or woods. It gives them something fun to do, and also provides you with great expressions to capture – but you’ll need to be quick!

02 Silly poses!

Kids often won’t smile nicely for photos, but they will happily pull silly faces. It can be frustrating sometimes, but have fun with them instead, showing them the shots as you go – they’ll enjoy seeing the silly faces, and want to do it again!

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Read more:

The best lenses for portraits
Best telephoto lens: top zooms for your camera
The best 70-200mm lens: top constant-aperture telephoto zooms

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Peter Travers

The editor of PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine, Peter 14 years of experience as both a journalist and professional photographer. He is a hands-on photographer with a passion and expertise for sharing his practical shooting skills. Equally adept at turning his hand to portraits, landscape, sports and wildlife, he has a fantastic knowledge of camera technique and principles. As you'd expect of the editor of a Canon publication, Peter is a devout Canon user and can often be found reeling off shots with his EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR.