10 Tips for Great Photos of Kids in the Backcountry: Part 2

By Uncle Dan

In my last post I discussed the first five of ten tips for taking great photos of your kids in the backcountry.  In this post I continue with the last five tips.  Here they are:

6) Include nature’s drama

Perhaps one of the best ways to take your photos of the kids to the next level is to include some of nature’s drama in them.  After all, aren’t you out in the backcountry for the scenery?  Taking your kids out on calm misty mornings is a pretty sure way to get some dramatic shots.  The mist tends to add simplicity, serenity and calmness to the photographs. It also simplifies the background, making your kids stand out in the photos.  Another way to achieve some drama is to flare the sun.  This requires some careful watching of the sun and some clever positioning, but if you do it right, you can capture a dramatic sunburst that can turn an otherwise mundane shot into a winner.  If you have a DSLR camera, make sure you set your aperture around f22 to create the flare.  To add further drama, take a trip in late September or early October and make use of the fall colours.  And, if you are by a river, slow down your shutter speed and blur the water for added dramatic effect.  You can also use the still water to spruce up your shots:  Still water acts like a mirror and so you can get amazing shots by putting the waterline in the middle of the photo and letting the reflection fill the bottom half. As a general principle, look for drama that naturally occurs in the backcountry (sun rises, sun sets, mountains, unique landmarks, bears – just kidding, keep your kids away from the bears), and include the drama in your photos of the kids.

The fall colours and the blurred river add some drama to this photo of Anna.

Misty shots are always pretty cool!

 7) Use the depth of field

A common technique used by professional photographers to draw attention to a person in a photograph is to blur the background.  This requires a camera that allows you to control the aperture.   To blur the background make your aperture as wide as possible (i.e., adjust your settings to low f values), which reduces the depth at which things will appear in focus.  Then focus right on the person you want to be the main subject of your shot and fire away.  Because at wide apertures the depth of field is narrow, only objects at the same distance away from the camera as the person you focused on will remain in focus, and objects behind the person will appear blurred.  If you are taking a tight shot of a person’s face, make sure the person’s eyes are in maximal focus.   When viewing portraits, people typically look at the subject’s eyes and if these aren’t in focus the whole shot will seem blurry.   

Notice the blurred background behind Eva.  

The blurred background really makes Anna stand out in this photo. Also notice how sharp the eyes are.

8) Use thin white tarps

If you are going camping for any extended period of time, you are likely going to use a tarp.  Because for some reason it often rains when we go camping, tarps have become a regular fixture on our campsites.  We have used many different kinds of tarps and over the years I have found that photos taken under a thin white tarp are best.  I highly recommend the white version of the 1.1 oz silicone coated Tundra tarps from Cook Custom Sewing.  Not only is this a very lite and incredibly strong tarp, capable of withstanding fast winds and heavy rain, the white version of the tarp allows lots of light underneath, which is great for photography.  On sunny days, the tarp also acts as an effective light diffuser, providing the perfect conditions for portrait shots.  I find that under a thin white tarp I can take great photos of the kids regardless of the weather.

Here is the tarp we use.  Notice how I flared the sun to add some drama to this photo.

 9) Increase volume and variety

On a five-day trip, I might take roughly a thousand shots, but only about eighty of these end up being keepers.  Great shots are rare; sometimes I might take ten to twenty good to bad photos for every one great shot.  I have found that the likelihood of taking a great shot increases with the number of shots I take.  But, it is important to keep in mind that for this principle to hold, I have to be trying to take great photos, implementing all of the strategies I described in this and the previous post.  You can increase the volume of your shots in several ways, with some ways being more effective than others.  One way is to judiciously take multiple shots in a given moment.  This way you end up with several similar shots, which means that if one of the photos is slightly out of focus or if it captures an awkward momentary expression you'll have another one that might be better.  Another possible way to increase shot volume is to shoot on burst mode, letting the camera just fire off a bunch of shots in succession.  The problem with this approach, however, is that in most situations burst mode yields too many very similar photos, and if the framing or lighting isn’t right, you just end up with a pile of crappy photos.  I would reserve using the burst mode only for rapid action shots, such as when your kids are jumping out of the canoe or running on the beach.  A third suggestion for increasing the volume of photos is to increase the variety of situations in which you take photos.  Rather than taking many photos in a few moments, pull out your camera at different times of the day and when you are in different locations in the wilderness.  That way you are more likely to capture nature's drama and those 'special moments' with your kids.

I took several versions of this shot of Eva, which gave me the opportunity to choose the best one.  Two other versions are below.

10) Teach the kids about photography

Taking great photos of your kids often depends on their willingness to cooperate with the process.  If they start staring in your lens making goofy faces every time you pull out the camera, you are not going to have much success.  Or, if the kids are uncooperative during posed or candid-posed shots (see Tip # 4: “Master the “candid-posed” shot), you’ll miss out on a lot of great photo opportunities.  Finally, opportunities will be missed if the kids are unwilling to get out of bed for those early morning sunrise and mist shots. The key to eliminating these problems is to teach them about photography.  I do this two ways.  One way is to get the kids on the other side of the lens.  When they experience the excitement of getting their own great shots, and when they start learning how difficult it is take good photos, they become much more cooperative during the whole process.  Another way to increase cooperation is to show the kids photos in which they look amazing because they were cooperative and also ones that didn’t turn out so well because they were not cooperative.  Usually, when they get this sort of feedback, they are much more willing to ‘get into it’ next time.  Teaching the kids about photography is fun and exciting, and I hope to write more about it in a future post.

This would have been a great shot but Josh heard the timer on my camera and decided to make a weird face for the photo.  I showed him this photo and he agreed it would have been awesome if he didn't make a goofy face.  It was a good learning experience.