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Shoot Your Kids! (with the iPhone 4S)

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Childhood is fleeting. Joanna Silber recommends catching your kids on video as often and as freely as possible, so you'll all be able to enjoy reliving those moments anytime as they grow. By following her suggestions, you'll end up with more (and better) footage, instead of the ordinary out-of-focus "happy birthday" and "recital torture" moments that most parents get - and everyone else hates watching.
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The iPhone is a perfect tool for shooting video of your kids—just like them, it's probably almost always hanging off you somewhere. If you're an iPhone user, you have no excuse for missing the shot of your son's first skateboarding adventure down the driveway, or his explanation of the mess in the kitchen when he was in charge of his own lunch. Catching those moments becomes a matter of training yourself to reach into your purse or pocket, grab the iPhone, and start shooting. It's a wonderful habit to learn. These digital moments, so easily and safely stored, can bring endless joy to you, as you play and replay them; they're also great to share with family and friends who aren't nearby, and with your kids when they're older.

And while the subject of your video is likely, by your own definition, the most adorable thing on earth, a well-shot video can make a cute kid that much cuter—or, if not actually cuter, then certainly more fun to watch. We've all had the experience, whether in person or on Facebook, of viewing home videos that are too long or poorly shot, have bad audio, and generally aren't that enjoyable. Using more polite vocabulary, perhaps I could say that we've all seen videos of children that don't do justice to the cuteness of the subject.

In that spirit, let's consider some kid-specific tips to capture your children on video, making the kids more adorable and your clips more fun to collect, view, and proudly show off.

Framing the Shot

The rule you'll hear over and over again about framing kids is to get down to their level. Why do you hear it so often? Because following that rule makes all the difference in getting great results—and yet, it's so easy to forget.

What does "get down to their level" actually mean? It means you. Moving. Squatting. Putting your stuff down and getting on your knees. It might involve crouching or even crawling. It might not actually be very comfortable, in fact. (Then again, given that you have kids in the first place, you're probably used to this kind of discomfort.) The value that you buy from shooting at your kids' height is precious. When you shoot kids from their eye level, their faces, expressions, and eyelines show them off as they are, without either the distortion of a bird's-eye view, or the all-too-frequent shot that mostly shows hair. It's a way to let the viewer more easily interact with the child's world through the photo—as opposed to superimposing the adult world on the children—through more engaging, participatory shots (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1 By shooting down on this young carpenter (left), I got a lot of excess headroom, hair, and unwanted shadow. By kneeling down just a bit (right), I can capture more of his expression and more of his body language.

Once you're down at the child's level, you can consider more delicate nuances of framing:

  • How close should you get? Kids tend to fare well in "extreme close-up" situations; their beautiful skin and relatively big eyes help a lot.
  • Should you tilt the camera? It's often a fun way to make a shot playful or quirky.

In fact, these are the same questions that you would (or should) ask yourself as you're framing adults—but by shooting at the child's level, you're asking those questions on the correct horizontal plane.

With babies who aren't yet upright, try experimenting with the same idea, but take it a step further: Shoot a sleeping baby while lying down. The angle, equivalent to the baby's own view of the world, will likely be very intimate, giving the viewer a sense of lying across from the baby and adopting the baby's perspective.

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