Wow. Kids can be tough to shoot.
A few weeks ago I was asked to take some portraits of my partner's sister's kids. As I am always up for the experience, I happily agreed. The kids and I are good pals so I figured it would be a snap. My only real worry was the venue. We were doing the shoot in my partner's parent's house, which, without mincing words, is a terrible location. It is just way too cramped. To make matters worse her sisters were engaged in Christmas baking (big distraction) and the kids came in late, had being going all day and were tired and hungry. A long day, tired and hungry pretty much described my condition too. Perfect.
Things started a little rough. There was no room to set up my eight foot seamless background so I decided to improvise with a table cloth. It wasn't horrible but it had some big creases that were not working for me. To counter I kept the backdrop dimly lit, I opened up the aperture to blur it out as much as possible and moved my subject far away from it as I could. An example is below.
I thought that the background ended up a bit too dark but otherwise my subject looked good. The ugly table cloth had won round one.
I started the session taking pictures of my partner's niece Felicity, not her nephew Aidan but after taking about twenty pictures of grumpy face, disinterested face, completely annoyed face and I would really like to be doing something else face, I decided to switch subjects. Usually Felicity is an incredibly patient and cooperative subject but not tonight. However with the help of her mom (we all know what happens when mom threatens punishment) we were able to get some keepers.
The next task was to get a shot of the both of the kids together. I tried to work them in with the table cloth background but it was not quite wide enough and it was getting harder and harder to hide its ugliness. I decided to switch settings. I took down the backdrop, placed the table cloth on the couch (the couch colour and pattern was way worse than the tablecloth) and moved the kids there. I took a few trial shots and things looked pretty good. The background was not the best but I did like the combination of the brown blinds and green couch. They complimented well. There was an antique looking clock to camera right that I kept in Felicity's solo shot but left out of the group shot. I though the time piece added a bit of interest to the background.
The shot of both kids was a pretty simple light set up. The main light was a 580EX II flash at camera right, shooting through an umbrella. At camera left another 580EX II shooting through an umbrella but this one was set about one and half stops lower than the main light, giving me a 3:1 ratio. This was done for a couple of reasons. One, I wanted to diminish the light on the blinds to de-emphasize them and two, to help contour the faces of the subject, adding depth. The lighting turned out pretty good. I would have liked to play with it a bit more but the kids and I were getting tired and just wanted to be done. They had cookies to decorate and eat and I just wanted to go to bed after a long day. So I settled for adding a bit of a vignette in post-production to darken the background a bit.
Moral of the story...
When you are taking pictures of kids the number one rule is eliminate distractions. If you are not the most entertaining thing in the room (think cookies = more entertaining), you are not going to hold their attention. Even other siblings, friends, moms, dads, grandparents and others can serve as a distraction. I think at one point we even had a hyperactive dog in there too! Simply, the less people the better. Rule number two is probably equally important. Make sure your subjects are rested, watered and fed, which is a rule that certainly can apply to the photographer as well. Being tired, thirsty and/or hungry will also serve as a distraction and likely lead to impatient, uncooperative subjects. And lastly, patience is your best friend. If you follow the rules above and still have trouble getting your subjects to play along then threaten them with physical harm. OK, OK, I am absolutely kidding. Get their mom to do that.
This was my favourite shot of the two of them.