Parenting Tip: Photographing your children with your iPhone
As a parent, I think the iPhone is a fantastic camera. Although it doesn't have the optics of a DSLR, it's always in my pocket, ready to snap a photo at a moment's notice. My children are my favorite subject, but I must admit -- they are a challenge to photograph. Kids don't sit still, and the iPhone just isn't good enough to freeze motion like a DSLR, especially when I'm trying to snag a photo inside my dimly lit house. Because of this camera limitation and my very active kids, a lot of my iPhone photos come out blurred. Over time, this Mom photographer (not professional by any means) has learned a few tips and tricks to increase the odds I will capture a photo that lasts a lifetime. I've listed a few of these hints below. If you have any other suggestions for photographing children, please share them in the comments.
Get them to pose
I will start with the most unrealistic tip as it is hard to get children to sit for a photo without moving or goofing around. Posing, however, is the easiest way to get a focused, non-blurry shot. When posing my children, I try to keep it simple and short, so I can maximize the odds that they will stay still. I try to frame the shot so they can sit or lean on something, which will help keep them from fidgeting. Giving them something to hold will work sometimes, too. I arrange my children so they have some wiggle room as well. This minimizes the chance they will poke or push each other, either on purpose or inadvertently.
Turn off the flash
I leave the camera flash off by default for two reasons. First, the flash slows things down. I can't tell you how many times I've missed a shot because I accidentally left the flash on. Instead of a quick snap, I have to wait for the flash to fire before the camera snaps the photo. It might only be a one second delay, but that's long enough for a smile to turn to a frown.
Second, I find the flash tends to overexpose a subject, especially when you are taking a close-up photo. Turning off the flash increases the chances of getting blur in your photos, but it preserves the lighting and color balance of a shot. When possible, I'd rather turn on a few lights or take things outside, instead of using the flash.
That being said, there is an exception to my "No Flash" rule. I find that the flash is great for inside or low light shots in which the subject is more than four to five feet away. In these photos, the flash does a good job of lighting the area. As a bonus, it also helps to minimize motion blur. So feel free to turn on the flash when needed for a far away shot, just remember to turn if off when you are done. Remember, the iPhone camera remembers its last state and will fire up the flash again if you used the flash in your last photo.
Of course, you could set the flash to Auto and let the iPhone decide when to use it, but, in my experience, that option is not without its problems. Sometimes the flash will fire when I don't want that extra light, and other times it won't flash when I think I need it. Personally, I would rather take control over the flash by turning it off and on as needed.
Take things outside
Shooting photos, especially shots of kids moving, is much easier outside. The lighting outside is better, and the iPhone is able to capture motion with minimal blur.
Turn Off HDR
I turn off HDR as I don't want the few second lag while the iPhone saves the three photos that it uses for the effect. This lag slows down my shot-to-shot speed, which is critical when you capturing something spontaneous. For most of my kid's photos, I'd rather capture the moment than the correct shadow and highlight details.
Use tap to focus
Tap to focus was added in iOS 4, and it is a great feature for photographing kids. Point your iPhone at your child and tap them on the screen. The camera will focus in on them and not their background.
Use the lock screen camera
Don't forget that iOS 5 added the very handy lock screen access to the camera. In the bottom right corner of the lock screen is a camera icon. Tap it and swipe upwards to open the camera without typing in your password or hunting for the camera app. In this mode you only have access to the camera app and not the rest of the phone. If you can't find the camera icon on your lock screen, you may have disabled it in the Restrictions. Follow this tutorial at OS X Daily to restore the camera to your lock screen.
Consider alternative apps like Fast Camera or Camera+
The iOS App Store is filled with apps that'll help you with your photo-taking. I use Fast Camera from i4Software because its rapid shutter feature lets you take a hundred photos in less than a minute. When you take this many photos in succession, you will have at least a handful of keepers. The toughest part, though, is wading through all those photos to find the gems.
Another alternative is Camera+ from tap tap tap. Camera+ lets you add stabilization to your photos and take burst shots, both of which will help you snap some great images. It also has a Live Exposure setting that'll show you the ISO, f-stop and shutter speed of a shot. You can't manually change these values like you can on a DSLR, but you can add lighting to your environment to improve these parameters. When you have taken a photo, you can use Camera+ to edit the image and apply effects like a clarity filter, flash filter or backlit filter to improve the quality of the shot.
When in doubt, take it out
Some of the best photos I've taken have been on a whim. The one I used in this post is a great example. I was running a 2K with my kids, and I saw that they were all going to line up in front of me with their feet flying. I pulled my iPhone from my pocket, swiped up on the lock screen to quick launch the camera and grabbed a few shots. They were some of the best photos I took that day.
Be patient and don't expect perfection as you likely won't get that one shot that has everyone smiling or even looking at you. Be in tune with your children and read their cues. Try to call it quits before they get frustrated. Keep picture taking light-hearted and fun, so your kids will be willing to pose again in the future without grumbling and you will enjoy recording their lives as they unfold.
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