Photographing kids is always a tricky business because they are fast, emotional and prone to accidents. Once past the easy smiles of infancy, capturing the essence of a child in an outdoor portrait shoot has many pitfalls. From distracting sand and dirt to inexplicable meltdowns, it can all go sideways quickly. In achieving the widest range of emotions possible, I find that the more invisible I am, the better my images. Kids are suspicious of moments that focus on them at this in-between age and so being discreet and natural is extremely important.
I used a 70-300mm lens so that I could move in and out of the action without drawing attention to the camera. By staying low, moving slowly and not talking, it was easier for the girls to stay focussed on their play. To keep the subjects on target, parents and caring adults are the foundation of a successful date, in my practice. Here, Crystal and Ellen worked hard to keep the emphasis on the playground. By having them look at the girls in some of the shots, the viewer’s eye shifts to the animated emotions of the child.
Without studio elements that can be controlled, outdoor portrait shoots are a little more akin to a sporting event. I must be set with the light, which on this day was perfect, and then compose and take shots without hesitation. A colourful playground backdrop was helpful to create a joyful feeling and I want to use it as much as possible. The kinetic action of kids in play is often not graceful or clear but I find the moments of transition from one activity to another very interesting because the child’s eyes are taking you towards something new, such as a direction, reaction or thought.
Like the feeling you get in sport – when the ball leaves your hand, the puck is released from your stick or your swing makes perfect contact with the golf ball – the emotion of a good shot is equally mysterious but understood. The art of ‘knowing’ is what I am working towards. The joy of childhood should always appear in the shot; it’s just the mercurial matter of attaining it with so many factors at play.