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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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