Pictures of cute kids? Can't I take pictures of spiders instead?
October 15, 2012 3:30 PM   Subscribe

Volunteered to hover around company Halloween event & take pictures of cute kids in costume. Turns out that I am Designated Photographer. Help me take some decent pics!

Beginning photographer here. I belong to my company's photography club and I volunteered to take pictures of cute munchkins in costume at the company's annual Halloween party next week.

Well, it turns out that I am Designated Photographer, meaning that I expect to be the only one there. The expectation is that I'll take "posed" pictures of the kids as well as whatever impromptu shots I come up with. My company doesn't expect miracles out of me, and they certainly do not charge the parents for the pictures, but I'd like to take the best pictures that someone at my skill level can take.

I'm not terribly comfortable around kids, either. (Way out of the comfort zone here.)

Finally, I'm a nervous nellie, so there tends to be a lot of camera shake. I will be bringing a tripod.


* Nikon D40 with 18-55 mm kit lens and onboard flash. (I do have a 40 mm macro lens but I don't think anyone will want super-duper closeups!). I might be able to borrow a co-worker's better-quality flash that he uses to take pictures of people at work, but I'm not counting on that.
* Tripod as mentioned above and (somewhat flaky) remote control.

The lighting will be some overhead fluorescent from inside and probably some late-afternoon sunlight (lots of windows, northwest exposure).

I do have a basic/intermediate understanding of my camera's settings and photo terminology.

All pointers much appreciated, especially cheapo suggestions for bounces, etc. However, too much equipment that I've never used before might wind up with me being a trembling heap in the ladies' room. Which I'd rather avoid.
posted by Currer Belfry to Technology (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Basic info, perhaps, but: watch out for odd backgrounds. The plainer the background, the better. Be careful that things hanging on walls don't end up looking like they're growing out of people's heads.

Also, take multiple shots, not just one or two. I've read that professional photographers can take literally a thousand photos just to get the one they'll use; the least you can do is take five or ten!
posted by easily confused at 3:54 PM on October 15, 2012

Um. Well, if you're going to use your camera's flash, don't push yourself too hard to get the beautiful look of "posed" photos, because ultimately that requires an off-camera flash. Then you are also committed to a particular spot, unless you want to run around all night carrying a stand with a flash on it. Which you don't.

With a DSLR you can't really attach any diffusion or use a bounce, because after all, you don't have an assistant. And with most built-into-the-camera flashes, you can't change the direction of the flash. If you had an actual separate flash that attached to the hot shoe, then some photographers do change the direction of the flash to use white walls or ceilings to bounce their light off of, and they use a little card that sometimes sticks out for an additional spread. This makes the light a lot less harsh, but is something that takes a little practice learning how to do, and may require you using the flash in manual mode. Again, not a great problem to be dealing with for a beginner event photographer.

One other big factor with events is you have to direct people to look into and pose for the camera. Communication is of ultimate importance. Ask them if you can take a picture of them. Tell them to get closer. Tell them to smile. Tell them to do something crazy. Tell them to hug or whatever. People in these situations won't automatically do anything, you need to direct them and you will find they are very receptive. If you are dealing with babies, you have to make ridiculous noises. (I refuse to make ridiculous noises, so I don't shoot babies.) So even though you are running-and-gunning, these shots aren't totally candid. I learned this on the job at a dinner party once. I ended up taking a ton of pictures of people eating until I finally broke down and started asking people to look up and smile at the camera. Made a huge difference.

Use your 18-55mm because it is more versatile and you don't want to be running around carrying extra lenses. Also, the super-duper close-up comment about the 40mm is a little erroneous. Yes it is a macro lens, but it should shoot as a normal 40mm as well (which falls in the range of the 18-55mm.)

If your camera has an automatic mode, try shooting with that instead of manually. Changing conditions - moving around rooms, the sun setting, running and gunning - will make it very difficult to shoot in manual. The best thing for you to do is get there a little early, test out your flash, see what the results look like, and lock down your settings so the rest of the night you can focus on having fun and being social. Chimping (looking at your camera's LCD), staring at your camera with a confused look, or asking people to stay still for a long time will disrupt your flow.

Don't forget if it's going to be really dark, you're going to have trouble focusing anyway. If you end up shooting manually, I would use a really small aperture in the f/11 - f/18 territory so that if your autofocus misses, things aren't going to fall out of focus immediately. If you shoot with a flash and your shutter speed is near its sync speed - say around 1/200th - then things like dim flourescent lighting aren't going to really affect your image, so you can pretty much ignore the ambient lighting.

Finally, I don't think a tripod will necessarily do you much good but I guess if you've got some serious shakes you better put your camera on one. But to be honest a tripod - adjusting it up and down - will just slow you down. A lot of novice users don't know how to hold a camera. You put your right hand on the right side of the camera obviously where the buttons are, but the left hand should cup the bottom of your lens. A lot of people hold the left side of the camera with their left hand and I believe this is a lot less stable.

I'm actually doing something similar this year for the first time (Halloween) and I would pretty much follow all the advice I gave you here. I might in addition set up an area with a separate light just in case and see if people end up wanting to take really beautiful photos. I make sure to set that up before the party gets started so I don't have to tinker with it much.

Good luck (and have fun)!
posted by phaedon at 3:58 PM on October 15, 2012

Talk to the people who are in charge of organizing the party.

Ask for a bunch of things and maybe you'll get one or two of them:

-An assistant for you (intern? older teenaged child of employee?) to help corral kids and equipment. (And send off to take candids if you need to cry in the bathroom for a couple minutes.)
-A designated location for posed photos where you can set up any lighting equipment you may acquire as well as a consistent background. If there are decorations happening, ask for a curtain or some drapery or something. Depending on the venue this might exist at the location somewhere and you can use it.
-Party themed props! (If you have a photo station thing you can have a bucket of props by your camera. If you have an assistant they're responsible for them.) Props instantly make people more comfortable being photographed.
-A small budget for clip-on lamps and poster board from the hardware store. Get two cardboard boxes and attach the poster board to one side of each. Clip a lamp to the bottom and bend it up, so the light is reflecting upward. Place a box to either side of your photo location. (Decorate the other sides of the boxes with themed stuff?? Tombstones?) That will give you MUCH fuller lighting on the cheap.
-Have your assistant, or a pre-party-helper pose for a bunch of test shots before the party starts, so you have a better idea of the light in a bunch of different areas.
posted by Mizu at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2012

Those lighting options give me nightmares. A single big soft light on a stand would give you pictures infinitely better. I'm talking about a light that bounces off a brolly or through a soft box. One light generally looks better than two (there's only one sun in the sky). One light and a reflector on the other side (eg a big white sheet of polystyrene) looks better still.

Very cheap random example from Amazon.

That's continuous lighting, pros use flash systems that look similar, but that's a little more complicated and expensive.

used to be a pro photographer, shot many magazine covers
posted by w0mbat at 4:35 PM on October 15, 2012

For the posed shots, make sure the background is at least a few feet away. This by itself will help the photos look better if you just use the on-camera flash, because you won't have any flash shadow right behind them on the wall, and the background is more likely to be out of focus [particularly if you're using a small aperture, which will increase your depth of field]. Sort of this versus this [note: neither of those are using flash, so far as I can tell, but they illustrate the shallow depth of field].
posted by chazlarson at 5:01 PM on October 15, 2012

About how many kids will there be?
Will you get a list of people you're meant to take pics of, or is it "whoever wants pics, go over to photo corner"?

Expect that parents will have their own cameras/phones to take pics with - and encourage this! Give them time before or after you take your shots and be sure the kids know who to look at.

Have a little script to keep yourself cool. Eg, some set things you ask of the kids - depends on age, but you could try:
-get them to say cheese/give me a nice smile
-easy question about their costume - eg what does (kid's costume character) say? [what does dora say?] or, where does spongebob squarepants live? etc
-get them to say "happy halloween"/"trick or treat"!/ say "BOO"! (you can try to time the pic for when they are smiling right *after* they say this)
You could also look up a list of silly Halloween-related jokes or riddles to tell them.

With really small kids, they won't necessarily sit still. Practice taking some pics with settings for fast motion.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:36 PM on October 15, 2012

Also, if you can't understand something a younger kid has said, on the second or third try, you can generally reply "my goodness" and be okay.
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:38 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Get on their level so you aren't shooting down at them. They'll be more comfortable without an adult hovering over them.
posted by meindee at 6:09 PM on October 15, 2012

Make an effort to get down on their level. It's a different dynamic, both in terms of interpersonal interaction and photographic composition, than looking/shooting down at them.
posted by workerant at 6:11 PM on October 15, 2012

A couple of stools and a black background and you can make a photobooth. People love these, just have people sit down in front of the camera on a tripod, then aim and click. Make 'em take turns, but let them have as many sittings as they want.
posted by rhizome at 7:08 PM on October 15, 2012

Seconding shooting from their level, not from on high.

Another tip for interacting with younger kids - The high-five is a good reliable kid interaction move. If they are walking on their own, they probably know how to give/receive a high-five.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:31 PM on October 15, 2012

I am not sure what your budget is, if any or how big is the place you are all going to be in, so just throwing this out in case it helps.

Try getting a bigger zoom, like a 28-135mm zoom ( has some great prices). This will allow you to go low on aperture (f/2.8 or f/4), which will give you great portraits. Another major benefit is that you don't need to constantly be in people's faces, which makes them conscious, which in turn gives you "posed" photos. A zoom will allow you to perch in a corner and take photos when people are not looking.

I would also recommend taking a laptop or other viewing device and shoot some photos - I once got the white balance wrong (forgot to set it up for indoor tungsten) and got a bad set of photos :(

A charger for your camera's batteries will help you to take a break and recharge yours, while extra memory cards can ensure you don't have to put all photo eggs in one memory basket.

Oh and if possible, turn off the flash unless its too dark. The one thing that annoys people is a flash going off every few seconds in the small hall!

Good luck.
posted by theobserver at 11:52 PM on October 15, 2012

Be glad you're taking pictures of kids and not adults - much easier, they are way more photogenic and less camera-shy!

Is there any way you can get some kind of "backdrop" (spooky or otherwise) for the photos? That would help eliminate any background awkwardness and provide a cute "scene." Oriental Trading and Party City are good places to look.
posted by radioamy at 4:43 PM on October 16, 2012

The event was yesterday. I survived, and so did my subjects - no trembling heaps in sight! I kept the advice from this thread in mind and just knowing that I had some good suggestions in back of me made the whole thing easier. Some of the shots came out great, some not so hot, but on the whole I feel pretty good about it.

A coworker brought her infant son (in costume) and her husband was there too. I got a couple of decent shots of the family. She emailed me this morning to ask for the pictures; in passing, she said that mine were the only pictures taken before the costume came off (presumably because of fussy baby). So these shots are pretty important to her. Hearing things like that makes me feel really good - even a technically poor photo, in certain circumstances, can mean a lot to the subject. And I got to take them. :-)
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:47 AM on October 26, 2012

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