Portraitist Negin Sairafi shares her tips and tricks to photographing children.
By Heather Camlot
If pictures speak a thousand words, then mine say: “She couldn’t take a good one if her life depended on it.” I can manage when the subject is motionless (a tree, a flower) or willing (a tree, a flower). But I have kids. And they have grandparents. Enough said.
So when I was invited to a Kodak photography tutorial with family portraitist Negin Sairafi, I was game. “We take lots and lots of pictures, but we’re not really aware of the photographs any more,” she explains. “The trick is to take fewer pictures and have those come out better.”
The first step to taking good photographs is understanding lighting. “Natural light is a lot more flattering,” says Sairafi, “and you can avoid those shadows that the flash can cause.” When outdoors, overcast or shade is best and when indoors, shoot in bright areas. If the conditions still aren’t conducive, switch to a higher ISO on your camera for more natural light.
It’s common knowledge that no one looks good when shot from below, but that doesn’t mean you should shoot straight on. Sairafi suggests playing with angles and tilting the camera for more creative and interesting shots. While doing so, keep the background in mind and avoid including distracting elements in your shot. “Only have things in the background purposely,” she says. “Crop and zoom into the image and focus on exactly what you’re taking a picture of.”
In photography, there’s something called the rule of thirds, which helps the picture-taker capture more creative images. Imagine a square divided into nine equal boxes. “If you want to create a dynamic picture you want to off-centre,” says Sairafi. “Keep the subject in the outer thirds of the grid.” That includes faces, which, when shooting up close, should have the eyes in the upper-third of the grid (it’s okay to cut off the top of the head, as long as it’s not too close to the eyebrows). When you want to focus on a certain element or action, put it on one of the “power points” – the spots where the grid lines intersect.
So, what happens when the subject is incredibly animated and won’t stand still, never mind pose for a picture? “Let kids be kids,” says Sairafi. That means parents should follow children around and not expect them to stop what they’re doing so we can “capture the moment.” “Get down to their level and capture their spirit at their age,” she adds. Keep in mind that if you keep the flash off, the camera works faster to snap those precious times. If that’s still not quick enough, try the camera’s action setting, which opens and closes the shutter faster.
What’s the use of all those perfectly composed shots if you don’t share them? Not much. “I encourage you to not leave the pictures on the computer. As soon as you upload them, delete the bad ones, or put the good ones in a separate folder, get them printed and put them on a disk,” says Sairafi. “And create photo books at the end of each season. They make wonderful gifts.” Not to mention a wonderful way to appease the grandparents.
First published August 9, 2010, on WorkLivePlayCafe.com.