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Guide to Photographing Active Kids

By: Jennifer Borget

May 12, 2017

three images side by sie of two children in a swing, a boy playing with a toy train and a boy flying a kite


Every Parent's Challenge...

Like life, my son is all over the place. It’s hard to get him to sit still, much less for a photo. Photographing active kids isn’t easy, but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way and thought I’d share some so you can learn how to photograph kids in motion and make your active toddler (and even athletic teen) moments to cherish forever.


Take a Lot of Photos

A huge perk of digital photography these days is the chance to keep snapping and delete the outtakes. Don’t feel like you need to take one perfect picture and be done with it.

Set your shooting mode to continuous and hold that shutter button down to take a burst. Later you can go back and delete the blinking and blurry pictures, but you’re more likely to capture a good one amongst many.

This photo of my kids playing in the water fountain is one of several I took in a burst.

little girl spraying water fountain water into a little boy's face

Use aperture priority mode (could also be portrait mode) If you aren’t comfortable shooting in manual yet, or find it difficult to have to continuously change your settings as your toddler runs from shade to sun and all over the place, try using aperture priority or Av mode.

This allows you to change your f-stop. The lower the number the more “blur” you’ll achieve around your subject. My lenses go as low as f/2.8 and f/1.4. Don’t go too low and too close or their whole face won’t be in focus. You can set your lens to the f-stop you want, focus on your child, then let your camera do the rest.


Let Them Play!

Don’t feel the need to stifle your child into a pose. Just let him do what he loves and be nearby to capture that. I like to have a great zoom lens on hand when capturing my active kids so I have the option of zooming with my feet, or my lens if I’m confined to the stands. The Canon 24-70mm lens is a great option for this.

two images side by side of little girl playing in the autumn leaves and a little boy jumping on a couch


Use a Higher Shutter Speed

If you’re noticing a lot of your photos are coming out blurry, check your shutter speed. This will help you freeze the scene as your child is in motion. I try to keep my shutter speed above 1/500 when I’m trying to photograph my active kids. This may mean raising my ISO to compromise and give myself more flexibility, especially when I’m shooting indoors.


Get Creative and Silly

What makes your child laugh? Your singing? Dancing? Pretending to tickle him? A natural laugh will come across much better than a forced smile. And there’s a good chance if you’re being silly, he may stand still to watch long enough for you to snap a picture.


Pay Attention to the Background

The environment can give context or be distracting. It’s so frustrating when I get a great picture of my kids but there’s a bunch of junk behind them. Try to get it out of focus or move to get a better angle. To make it out of focus in your shot, try lowering your f-stop number and/or zoom in more with your lens. This will cause your background to go out of focus or out of the frame.


Follow Them in Action

If you move your camera at their speed and snap the photo you can freeze them in motion while blurring what’s going on behind them, making for a fun action shot called panning. You’ll want your shutter speed to be around 1/50 to 1/80 to achieve this. It can be tricky to achieve this but practice makes perfect. I usually raise my f-stop over f4 to give myself some leeway if I miss the focus, and use Al-Servo Mode for continuous focus.

little girl on the Disney teacup ride

It keeps tracking the moving subject versus focusing using One Shot mode when you hold the button halfway down. This will make catching a clear shot of your moving target a little easier.


Be Patient

It’s rare that the very first picture I take is the one I want to keep, print and frame. If they did something cute, they’ll likely do it again with a little encouragement or patience.

Good luck and have fun making memories with your little active ones.