There’s a reason why photographers love to shoot outside – lots of light! This gives you a lot of options as far as your camera settings, because once there’s lots of light for your kid’s portrait photos you can experiment with shutter speed and aperture to get just the look you want. So what camera settings should you aim for when you’re preparing for an outdoor kid’s photo shoot?

Camera & Lens

Entry-level camera have come a long way, but keep in mind that the more manual control you have over your camera, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to achieve the look you want. At the very least you want to be able to manipulate the three points of the exposure triangle: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

As for lenses, everyone has their preferences. Many photographers prefer a 50mm or 85mm prime lens (as in, it doesn’t zoom in or out) because this typically gives you a lower f-stop (aperture) for those fantastically crisp kid’s portraits with blurred-out backgrounds. Keep in mind this means you have to be relatively close to your subject if you want to fill the frame and might have to move around a bit to get the right shot.

Another popular lens for outdoor kid’s photography is a telephoto zoom lens (such as a 70-200mm) which offers a bit more flexibility as to whether you pull back or zoom in and gives you the opportunity for more candid photography. Only once you’ve spent some time photographing children will you get a feel for the best types of lenses for your style.

Aperture Settings

Aperture is by far one of the most important settings to learn how to control on your camera when it comes to portrait photography. Larger aperture (like f/2.0) will give you a blurred background, while a smaller aperture (like f/18) will keep details in the background crisp, depending on the distance between camera, subject, and background. Again, this is a setting you need to experiment with, even with still-life subjects, in order to understand just how it works and how it affects your photography. If you’re unsure, start with a mid-range aperture (f/5.6, for example) and decide whether you want more details or less in your background.

Tip: Keeping the details in the background is more favorable if the setting is important – such as at Disneyland or in front of an important building, monument, or city scape. For every day children’s portraits it’s probably a good bet to blur the background.

children's outdoor portraitsShutter Speed Settings

Kids aren’t always going to stand perfectly still for portraits, so what do you do when you see blur? You can embrace it – creative blur can create some interesting kid’s portrait photos – or you can switch from aperture to shutter speed control on your camera. Simply increase the shutter speed until the images are crisp.

Hint: A larger aperture (see above) will result in a faster shutter speed, and vice-versa.

Exposure Compensation

This is one setting that is commonly overlooked, but can be a real lifesaver when it comes to outdoor kid’s portraits. Simply put, your camera has sensors that decides how to balance the settings of your camera (besides the settings that you set manually) to make a “correct” exposure – but sometimes it’s wrong! The simplest example is when the background is really bright, usually your subject is dark but your camera thinks everything is a-OK. With exposure compensation you can tell your camera to change the settings to make the scene brighter or darker. Easy! Look for the Av +/- button on your camera and consult your camera manual if you’re unsure how to use it.

kid's outdoor photographyISO Sensitivity

For outdoor photography during the daytime, ISO isn’t typically a setting you’re going to have to think about it. However, at dusk or later it starts to come into play, especially if you are hoping to use faster shutter speeds. Increasing the ISO sensitivity can give your camera that extra “push” in order to capture the perfect kid’s portrait. However, try to keep your increases to a minimum to avoid grainy photos.

Autofocus Settings

Choosing where your camera focuses is one setting that can require a bit of practice – especially when working with active kids! Once you do get the hang of it, though, you’ll be rewarded with consistently crisp photos that always have your focal point in sharp focus. Here’s how:

  • In autofocus, selected a single point (it can be the middle point or somewhere else)
  • When shooting, make sure your focus point is overtop of where you want perfect focus
  • Hold the shutter button halfway to focus
  • Recompose – move the camera to place your subject/focal point where you want it (typically using the rule of thirds) ideally, set your focus point so you don’t have to recompose, in case your subject moves
  • Press the shutter button completely to take the photo

A second part of focus is the mode your camera uses to set focus. Cameras can have two or three settings:

  • Single shot: When you depress the shutter halfway, the camera focuses. That’s it – if you need to correct focus you’ll have to start over.
  • Continuous: When you depress the shutter halfway, the camera focuses. As the area (subject) where your focus is locked moves, the camera readjusts focus.
  • A blend of the two, depending on whether your subject is moving or not.

Most photographers feel more comfortable with the first setting – but if you are working with moving subjects (kid’s at play, sports, etc.) you might want to try the other settings to see if they can work for you better.

Additional Settings

There are still MORE settings! White balance is one that comes in handy when you’re working with different lighting conditions. Other settings have more to do with how you see/review your shots – we’ll be back later to offer more advice that can help with kid’s outdoor portrait photos. In the meantime, get outside and have some fun!

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