We could talk about portraits in general until we are blue in the face, but in reality it does make a difference whether you are indoors or outside – so let’s talk specifics so the next time you step outside you have the confidence to pick up your camera and take some amazing outdoor children’s portraits.
Tip #1: Large Aperture
Av, or aperture priority mode is really your go-to mode when it comes to portraits, indoors or outdoors. The reason is that it gives you maximum control over depth of field, the amount of your image that is in focus, from front to back. The majority of portraits of your kids, particularly outside, are best when you use shallow depth of field to keep your children in perfect focus, but mute extraneous details.
Tip: Start with an aperture of f/4, work up or down from there. The closer you are to your child, the more you’ll have to make sure you’re focus is perfect (see below).
Tip #2: Perfect Focus
Here’s where it can be tricky, as your camera will automatically try to decide on the best place to focus, or may try to split the difference between foreground and background, meaning you won’t have a crisp, clear focal point. Find out how to switch to a single focus point or try manual focus for more control
The next step is to choose an eye for your portrait’s focal point, if one is closer to the camera then that will be your focal point. With moving kids this can be tricky, but you’ll soon have it sorted.
Tip: For really active kids, set your focus mode to continuous autofocus. Once you achieve focus (by holding your shutter halfway), if your focus point moves your camera will refocus automatically, for crisper children’s portraits.
Tip #3: ISO Sensitivity
As long as it is decently bright (a sunny or even overcast day), you should be able to get away with an ISO sensitivity of 100 (or the lowest your camera offers). This will give you clear, grain-free images. However, your camera can automatically adjust if need be, particularly in lower light situations or where a faster shutter speed may be required. It can be beneficial, at some point, to learn how to automatically adjust ISO just in case you aren’t happy with what your camera selects.
Tip #4: White Balance
When your white balance is off, it can negatively affect your images by giving them a weird color cast. Primarily, your concern will be during midday, when the bright overhead sun can give your images a bluish tone, rather than the warmer tones typically associated with children’s portraits. Sometimes it can help to play with white balance settings to get one that is more flattering, or use a white piece of paper to set a custom white balance.
Tip: Try out the “shade” white balance setting for warmer tones.
Tip #5: Set the Scene
Look for interesting scenes or locations to compliment your portrait: a checkered picnic blanket, flowers, beach, or sky. If the background is uninteresting, add a prop or two (hat, ball, stuffed toy, etc.). Try a range of settings, angles, and close-up vs. pulled back shots – or as many combinations as you can get away with before it’s time to move on. Don’t forget to keep practicing!