On Assignment: Shoot Your Kid

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Family members, and especially kids, offer a fantastic opportunity to practice your lighting techniques. Kids work cheap. They love the hyper-attention of a "professional photo shoot." And the photos you get from these sessions will mean more to you than anything else you could be shooting as you improve your lighting skill level.

If you are a photog looking for a great, quick Father's Day gift for a spouse or grandfather, you have a week to play. Maybe you'll even get a photo like the one above that Portland-based photographer Robert McNary posted of his son, Owen, in the Flickr Strobist Group. I thought it brought up so many conversation points that I would bump it up to an On Assignment feature.

Rob set up some black cloth on his couch and photographed Owen with a Canon EOS 20D and a 28mm 1.8 EF lens at f5.6, 1/125 at ASA 100. His flash was a Canon speedlight, on manual at 1/2 power. He jury-rigged it to fit (rather awkwardly he adds) into a small softbox. He felt it would have been too much of a production to set up (and tear down) his bigger monobloc-style lights while keeping an eye on the kid. I totally agree. An umbrella would have worked fine as a light softener in this situation, too.

"I placed the softbox to my right and about 30 inches from the edge of the futon," Rob said. "I also set up a second light with an umbrella on another stand and positioned it behind me and to the left."

"The image above shows the result of that setup," Rob adds. "It's lit well, but is flat and boring. It would probably work well as a high-key shot with a white backround but I knew that I wanted to go for something with more shadows and depth. I wanted to really bring out the shape of his face and his baby fat wrinkles, so I just turned off the second light."

Rob experimented a little more with the second light, but ended up nixing it for the nice, rounded shadows of the single soft light source from his right. Satisfied with his light, he started working with Owen to get a better photo.

In yet another example of a slick photographer using a camera to coax a young, naive model out of their clothes, Rob soon had Owen buck nekkid on the black cloth. Happily, Owen lasted for the full (15-minute) shoot without testing the waterproof material under the black cloth.

Any time you can get all the way through a studio shoot without your model peeing all over the set, well, that's a good day in my book.

"These images were all shot in the middle of the day," Rob said. "I just used my shutter speed to control the ambient light. It might be good to remind people that they don't have to do this kind of "studio" photography in some dark room dedicated to that purpose."

I totally agree. Studios are just big rooms with no windows. No magical quality to them. And not much environment to creatively include in your photo, either. Don't think "studio light." Think "light."

Note Rob's angle of attack when shooting these photos, too. When photographing your own little rug rat, (or someone else's) get your camera down to their eye level or below it. When you get down there, you enter their world. Your photos will be much more engaging, and avoid that condescending visual feel of the kid looking up at the adult with the camera.

Crawl on your belly if you have to. I almost always do when shooting kids. You'll get better involvement from them, too.

All Photos ©Robert McNary

Next: Developing an Idea, Part One


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Anonymous Chad Worthman said...

Good article, I followed almost the same methodology last October when I took some photos of my new daughter on some black velvet on the couch. Most of the light was bounced off the ceiling, before I bought a light stand and umbrella. There was also a window providing some fill.

It was the photo shoot that prompted me to upgrade my Coolpix 5400 to my D70s and pickup the umbrella and stand.

Flickr photoset

June 12, 2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger ieatcrayonz said...

As a newbie starting out and trying to figure out what to buy and how to use it, this was an excellent, quick tutorial.

So maybe I really can get away with just two strobes...or even one.

June 12, 2006 1:53 PM  
Blogger EssPea Photography said...

Uh ohh, digg links. This is getting serious. :)

I have a black futon that would be perfect for a setup like this. Never even thought about that. Thanks for the reminder.

PS Nice title (and the funny comments through out the article were good too).

June 12, 2006 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Andrew Kantor said...

One thing that's obvious to me: McNary doesn't own an orange cat! I've tried similar setups (but with nowhere near as good results -- thanks for this article!), but always end up Photoshopping out a gadzillion little hairs. :(

June 13, 2006 8:52 AM  
Blogger Robert McNary said...

If you only knew. I actually have an Australian shepherd that sheds so much it's a wonder that she has any hair left.
I put away the black material the second I'm done using it and keep it up high in a closet.
I feel your pain.

June 13, 2006 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here is my attempt using Robert's technique


- Sanjay

April 24, 2007 12:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful tutorial, and I can definitely sympathize with everyone fighting against the domestic hairy beasts trying to ruin our photos! Enjoy your lighthearted tone immensely.

May 15, 2008 11:23 AM  
Blogger .felix said...

Great shot. I'd be interested in the flash mounted softbox. Any DIY equipment here (besides the kid?)

November 10, 2008 5:41 PM  
Blogger petehud said...

Great article, here is my attempt


- Pete

February 03, 2010 11:39 AM  
Blogger petehud said...

Great article - Here is my attempt


- Pete

February 03, 2010 11:40 AM  

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