A quick intro: I am a photographer and graphic designer for the government. I've recently started taking photos for the Montgomery Village Patch. I like talking about photography almost as much as shooting. You can visit my blog Nevercap.com (never cap your lens) for more intro-level photo tips.
My son is 4 years old and he loves playgrounds. He also loves not posing for photos, so I’ve been learning that the best way to get some great candids of him is in his preferred environment. The biggest trick is to anticipate where the kid is going to go and be there ahead of time, ready to get the shot. You can also find a sweet spot where the lighting is just right, and then keep directing them to hit that sliding board just one more time.
One of the first benefits to a playground is all the creative framing you can get. The kid feels like they’re playing even when posing, and because it is a playground, it’s perfectly acceptable to get playful and imaginative with your imagery in this environment. I loved the framing that the tubular slide provides in the orange tube photo, but it blasted a large amount of HazMat orange on my son’s face, so I did tweak the saturation (just on my son) a bit in Photoshop. Tubes like this, jungle gym structures, ladders, slides, can all add framing and lend themselves to creative compositions.
I used the Canon 50mm f/1.4 for these shots. You can get some really buttery bokeh (the out of focus dots of light), but the depth of field is so narrow, a bouncing child will be in and out of that narrow depth of field, and if the kid is really fast, you’ll want a faster shutter speed, so you may want a higher aperture, but even though, I got some shots I really like.
Higher aperture number = smaller hole allowing in light = more of the image is in focus. I love the composition and expression in these photos, but unfortunately some are a bit out of focus where it counts.
Due to my work schedule, I mostly shoot photos of my son late in the day (but still well before that golden hour before sunset). The mid-day sun typically puts harsh shadows on the faces (unless you have a shady playground), so I prefer taking pictures in the late afternoon/ early evening. Overcast days are also ideal. Shoot all the time, but if you’re going for some portrait style pics of the kids, hit it when the light if favorable, in the afternoon/evening. In one of these photos I love how the glare from the sun frames the subject and draws your eye straight to him.
Here are some basic safety tips I must mention
- It’s best to do this with another adult that is in full-time babysitter mode. For all of these shots I’d run ahead of where my son was going to get him as soon as he came into my shot, this required taking my eye off him several times.
- You must be aware of the other parents and their children in crowded playgrounds. A lot of dads specifically have gotten in trouble taking photos of their own kids at playgrounds because everyone is on the look out for pedophiles. I’m always very conscientious of the other parents and I always stop shooting and aim the camera straight up to the sky if other kids are running around in my shot. This way it’s very clear to everyone else watching me, I don’t want pics of your stinkin' kid. It’s like, oh please, like I want a picture of your kids? They’re kinda ugly. This is another time it’s helpful to have Mommy around.
- Be willing to sacrifice some awesome shots to be a hands-on spotter. My little daredevil wouldn’t think twice of making a leap that he shouldn’t, because if I’m taking pictures, he thinks it must be OK.
Have a lot of fun and shoot everything. And visit Nevercap.com for more photo tips. I typically put the Exif data beneath each image.