The local playground is a great place to take your kids for a photo shoot. Obviously it’s a great place to take your kids anyway but it’s ideal for a fun interactive time with your loved ones that will result in some memorable photos.
They’re in Charge of the Shoot
The playground overcomes many problems that we often have trying to take photos of our children. They often want your attention so much that it’s impossible to get your camera out of the bag never mind frame an actual shot. At the playground they will be so preoccupied with the slides, swings and roundabouts you’ll have a hard time keeping track of them. Following them through your lens is a great way to make sure they don’t get out of sight and capture some nice photos.
I never try to pose them in this type of situation. Let them run wild and capture the natural beauty of them at play. At first it can be a little frustrating as they are often milling around so quickly you can barley get focused before they dart off through plastic tubes and metal bars. So it’s important to travel light. Don’t bring a cumbersome bag full of gear. One camera and one lens.
Speed is Key
Kids at play has far more in common with pro sports photography than you might imagine. In fact it’s more demanding in some ways. Most pro photographers are so familiar worth their sport that they can often guess the next move of certain players. Your little acrobat is about a predictable as a hungry mosquito in the dark. You never know where the next turn or tumble will come from or lead to. You have to stay on your toes. As Mohamed Ali said, ‘float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’. Keep your shutter speed fast enough for low flying aircraft, say at least 1/500th, your aperture open as wide as it will go and your ISO on auto - especially if the light is changeable. And be ready for anything.
Allow them the freedom to run around even if it means for the first while you’re not getting any photos. Give them space. They will eventually tire and slow down a little and it will be easier to catch them. Pay attention to them like an eagle tracking a field mouse. The photos come here and there and usually when you’re least expecting it. Observe them carefully and wait for them to smile or jump for joy or do something in charming or unexpected.
Use the Playground to Frame Your Compositions
So you can forget about tasteful colours or subtle patterns. Playgrounds are loud (visually) places so just embrace it. But there are so many shapes and frames that there are great compositions just waiting to happen. If they’re not peeping through a hole you can. Include those playground elements in the photos when it helps you make a nice composition or actually adds to the fun and meaning of the photo.
As you probably have experienced, with smaller kids you can be on the way to the playground when they get sidetracked by a something you think is far less interesting. But they are smitten and you cannot persuade them to leave. Go with it. Let them do their thing and forget the spectacular location you had in mind. Capturing their happiness and natural ability to play with anything is the key to memorable photos and not a miserable child in a beautiful park. The key is to be flexible and loose. Don’t be afraid to abandon any plans and stop at that corner park or even a chair. Yes, a chair. My daughter actually stopped and played on a bench outside the local metro station for an hour and we never got to the park we were headed to. But it was fun and memorable, in fact one of my best memories from the holiday because when they’re having a good time so are you.