Hack 17 Capture Kids Without Going Crazy

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Sure, kids are cute in real life. But when it comes to capturing them with your digital point-and-shoot camera, they can be as elusive as leprechauns.

Digital point and shoots are great general-use cameras. But most of them are plagued by a phenomenon called shutter lag: the response time from the moment you push the shutter button to when the picture is actually captured is too long, sometimes as long as a second. In kid photography, a second might as well be a week.

2.3.1 Choosing a DSLR Camera

This next section of this hack provides ways to increase your odds of success with point and shoots. But first, if you want to cut right over to the fast lane, consider getting a digital SLR (DSLR), which has a much faster response time and performs better overall. DSLRs look and behave just like your favorite 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) cameras of years past, but they have a sophisticated image sensor instead of film.

Not long ago, this wouldn't be practical advice for parents, because DSLRs were just too darned expensive. But you no longer have to choose between a camera and a college fund. Both Canon and Nikon have introduced quality DSLRs for under US$1,000, and more are sure to be on the way. The Canon Digital Rebel and the Nikon D70 are two examples of DSLRs that will help you keep up with your kids without maxing out your credit card.

DSLRs have minimal shutter lag times, allow for generous sequential shooting, accept a variety of lenses, and enable you to use external flash. In other words, they are perfect for action, er, kid photography.

2.3.2 Hacking the Point-and-Shoot Camera

Now that you know what your next camera should be, how do you get the most out of the one in your hand? OK, here are some tips to increase your odds of success.

First, get everyone outdoors, where there's more light, better backgrounds, and lots of things for kids to do. Then, make these three adjustments on your camera:

Set for the highest resolution your camera allows.

This enables you to later crop out part of the picture, yet still have enough pixel information to make a good-sized print. It's like adding a powerful telephoto lens to your little point and shoot.

Find Infinity Focus mode and activate it.

Essentially, this disables the autofocus (which is slow as mud on most consumer digicams) and lets you capture perfectly focused images from about eight feet to infinity. By doing so, you've just shortened the length of time from when you push the shutter button to when the image is recorded. This also allows you to hang back a few feet, so you're not spending all your energy chasing kids around instead of photographing them.

Enable Continuous Shooting mode.

Instead of taking a bunch of single shots and missing the action, Continuous Shooting mode lets you hold down the shutter button and fire a series of frames. The knack to this is starting the sequence right before the decisive moment and shooting through it. Then, review your pictures on the LCD screen, remove the obvious misses, and keep the winners.

Here are a few other things to keep in mind. Arrange your shoots for the time of day that your children feel the best. They will cooperate more and act less fussy. Remember to get down low, at their level, for the most intimate photographs. If you can engage them in an activity, such as playing with their favorite toy, you will get more natural expressions and fewer posed-looking shots. Don't be afraid to bribe them with treats either, such as a slice of apple, to get them to slow down just a bit (see Figure 2-3).

Figure 2-3. Bribe a child to slow down with an apple slice (photo by Jan Blanchard)

Once you're back on the computer, select a few of your favorite images to refine. Use the cropping tool to select the most interesting aspects of the image and discard the rest. I recommend you copy the image (using the Save As command) before resizing it, just so you have the original handy if you want to crop it another way later on.

Now, make your print or send it as an attachment to show others how utterly beautiful, brilliant, and charming your kids are.