Kids move pretty fast in the summer. There's so much playing to cram into 15 short hours of daylight. As parents, we naturally want to remember these fun times, both to relive our own fond memories of childhood and to preserve these memories for our children when they grow older.
The natural tendency when shooting a group of kids playing is to step back, zoom out, and get a single shot that documents the entire scene. While this does show the viewer a brief summary of what was happing, it rarely tells a good story. Good photographers -- especially those who shoot people and animals -- are good story tellers. Think about the best storytellers you know. Garrison Keillor and Bob Newhart are two that immediately come to my mind. What sets them apart from the average Joe? Is it their ability to sum up the general theme of an occasion? Of course not! It's their ability to fill in the colorful details really bring a story to life. The same holds true for photographic story tellers.
When capturing your family at play, don't fall into the trap of trying to fit everybody's face into every picture you take. In fact, don't worry about getting anybody's face in all of your photos. Often, concentrating on a few feet or hands that are engrossed in an activity will fill in more of those colorful details than a wide angle shot ever could. Of course, don't forget to capture a few tight facial shots to catch the expressions of somebody deep in play. Compiling a good variety of these close-up details will paint a much better picture of the emotion of the moment.
Take, for example, the shot above of my niece dying Easter eggs. Sure, I got a few wide angle shots of everyone, but it's these detail shots that illustrate the many colors present as well as the egg-dipping action that was constantly taking place. Can't you almost smell the vinegar?
Similarly, this tight shot of my son's face, his egg, and the scattered markers shows the viewer his level of concentration and the careful detail he was putting into each masterpiece. The spread of markers sprawling out from him toward the camera add a sense of depth to the composition.
This isn't to say that you can't have close up details and complete action at the same time. Take the shot at the top of this post of my kids playing street hockey with the neighbors. The boys in the background summarize the event, but the details of my daughter's skates and home-made stick flesh out the event.
Professional newborn photographers have mastered this concept, filling countless nursery walls with larger than life shots of adorable baby toes, hands, lips -- you get the idea. Those little, wrinkled hands clutching a father's single finger tell a great story of how tiny and helpless the little girl is, and of her complete trust in and dependence on her parents. Take a cue from these pros and put away your wide angle lens the next time the kids go out to play.
Got any pointers to share? Speak up in the comment section below!