Before we headed to Destin, I had one request of Jeremy…that we carve out fifteen minutes one night to take a family photo.
Not a huge request….not life changing…but I’ve come to realize as a girl with a bulky, black, plastic, metallic and glass appendage permanently attached to my hand, it’s always best to forewarn the boyfriend. Let’s face it…most guys don’t jump at the chance to get their picture taken. And even though they appreciate having family photos, it’s not exactly what they want to do at the end of a long beach day. So in order for me to get my way (enter maniacal laughter here while I mime stirring my pot of brew), I make it very clear that a little photo-session is my only request (of course, I have to stick to that…even when there is a yardsale across vacation-town).
So anyhoo…one evening right before we were rushing out the door to dinner, we managed to snag some family photos. Of course, I also squeezed in some additional pictures of some of our friends while we were there. And I figured that I would share some of my tips – some things I learned while flopping around in the sand Baywatch style with my camera.
***Please note that all these photos were taken with a Canon 5D Mark II and my 24-70mm lens. No two lighting situations are the same – and I do post process – so the settings are pretty irrelevant. I recommend always using at least a 1/250 shutter speed for shooting children.
- Time it Right – The best time for any portrait photography is the couple of hours before sunset or right after sunrise. Same applies to the beach. I found that with this particular situation, it was best for me to get front-lighting…as in I am between my subject and the setting sun. The light source is directly in their face – not behind them – and ask all parents and friends and complete random strangers walking the beach, to stay behind you. With toddlers, it’s important to give them something to eat before getting started.
- Don’t Rush. See the photo up above? Slightly out of focus on her face – just enough to drive me insane. Even with my f-stop at 4.0 and my shutter speed high enough to catch a moth beating their little dusty wings – I rushed my focus and snapped before ready. Is it important to capture the expression (hey babies change those smiles super fast, right?!)…well, of course it is…so unless you are great at manually focusing really fast – put it on auto focus and let the camera do it’s job.
- Exposureing - Since I use natural light (no fill flash or external light source besides the sun), the lighting for me on portrait photography is usually just a smidge overexposed. It helps lighten up skin tones and give a more realistic look to folks. However, on the beach, I didn’t want to wash out the background and lose the sky and sea in overexposure. So I brought my exposure back to O and lightened my subject later in post processing…keeping my babe and beach too
- (A tip for parents) No Fixing – I know. I know. I know. It’s important to you to have the perfect hair and the perfect dress and the perfect kids with the perfect hair and the perfect dress and the perfect everything. So you fix. We all do it. But seriously. You must stop. For one, you are shot-blocking yourself. While you are fixing your kid – they might be flashing that perfect smile or show serious interest in a bird or shell or do something absolutely adorable. Secondly, nobody likes to be fixed…including kids…it’s a fly in their bacon grease if you know what I mean. So fix them once when you get there – and leave them alone. The best thing you can fix is a smile on your face. permanently.
- Be fair – it’s not really fair to head out onto the beach and encourage a kid to be playful and get all happy running free and wild, and then say “Sit still here with Mommy & Daddy”. That in kid language is a FOUL. So try to do your still family photos first. It helps…it really does.
- Get Dirty & Wet – I’m not saying to tell the kids to go get soaked and roll around in the seaweed to the point of looking like a sea mammal in distress…but if they get a little splash on their shorts or a bit of sand on them – consider it just more evidence that they are having fun. After all – nobody looks at a picture and sees the sandy clothing of a smiling kid and says “what a shame their parents don’t love them more”.
- Wear Sweatpants - I learned long ago that during photoshoots – you are kneeling, sitting, standing, squatting, laying, running and everything in between. So if you are out there to shoot your kids - it always helps me to wear a pair of capri-style sweatpants. The sand stays off my skin for the most part, if I kneel on shells, it doesn’t hurt as much and I am comfortable enough to run in the sand (gotta wear those little guys out!). Plus – you can throw a dress or skirt on over and slip them off for when it’s your turn to join in the photo.
- Consider Color, Pattern & Texture – This is mostly to help you guys pick out clothing. Personally I don’t love the whole “khaki’s & white button down on every member of the family” thing. I feel like it helps to plan your outfits – but matching like that is more distracting to me. Consider the photo above – the entire ensemble matched (you can’t see it in b/w) but the plaid of Billy’s shirt is what really makes the photo work to me. A little pattern goes a long way. And personally I like lots of color – colorblocking with white on the beach (especially when the clothing item is white & texture-less) is a sure fire way to not pop. So pull out the color – texture and a little bit of simple pattern.
- Don’t Ban the Toys – Beach toys can be abnoxious…I get it. But aren’t you the one in charge of toys? Bring down a small bag with one or two toys that you don’t hate. Especially if you need to have a time-buyer…like I did. Will simply needed one small shovel and he was a happy camper. And if you snagged a shot (like the one above) where you don’t like the toy in the hand – a little cropping can make it disappear.
- Don’t neglect the Foreground – I personally think it’s always a great idea to have a few shots where things are not only in the background – but also something in the foreground – like tall grasses, a railing, or even a few of those beach chairs lined up in a row. Just remember to keep your aperature high enough to get all of your subject in focus and low enough to get your foreground and your background slightly out of it. I used around f/4.0 but could have gone smaller if my little man wasn’t so dang fast!
- Locations – Obviously there is a beautiful beach and ocean to use as a backdrop…but also, don’t neglect the dunes, the public stairs, even some of the lush landscaping of resorts, hotels or your rental. There are even some great spots where the salty sea winds have battered painted walls and created loads of texture. Plus – kids love change. Will was literally having a breakdown before coming to the stairs. He had waited for his turn too long and was over this whole photoshoot thing. But once we changed locations – he turned into a totally different toddler.
- To Crop or Not to Crop – The photos above are my best example of how a crop could be done well. Personally I love the vertical oriented photo – but if I was going to crop for a particular frame and wanted to use this photo, I need to remember not to cut off legs or arms at joints. Does that make sense? Cropping needs to happen on thighs or shins…not knees or ankles. Also – remember to crop your photos so your subject is still in the 3rds…not directly in the center.
- Family & Self portraits – Personally I use a tripod and a wireless remote control but there are a number of ways to do self photos successfully. Just remember to have a person or a thing take the place of you while you set things up. Focus the camera (I like to up the aperature a little just in case there is any shifting away or toward the camera during the transition) and then switch it onto manual focus so the camera doesn’t automatically refocus. And then remember to take several shots so you have plenty of options.
- Less is More – Another clothing tip…less is more. Granted you don’t wanna be that gal that is taking family photos with a barely-there shirt on…but being shoeless, simple or no accessories (I took a look at the photo above and decided to nix the necklace for future family pics) and simple clothing choices and less props – it definitely helps keep that focus on your happy faces and the beautiful scenery.
- Additional Tips -
- When in doubt, meter for the face.
- Always focus on eyes.
- Silver/white reflectors work great if you need more light
- Too much light brought out squinters? Wait till the sun sets a little and then start over.
- UV filters can help protect your camera from the elements
- Change lenses inside a clean pillow case to avoid sand getting into your camera
- Keep your hands as sand free as possible. A sprinkle of baby power helps keep it from sticking!
Hope this helps a little all you moms who are looking to snag some photos at the beach this summer. Happy shooting!