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Capturing a child's mood and emotion



Even in partial silhouette you can feel their curiosity and sense of awe or wonder
Even in partial silhouette you can feel their curiosity and sense of awe or wonder

A portrait of a child should contain more than the youngster’s physical appearance; it should also provide insight to the child’s personality, character and even his or her mood. (The same applies to anyone's portrait, young or old.)

Generally, children’s moods are clearly evident from their expressions and in their body language. Younger children have usually not yet learned to mask their emotions. Quite the contrary, in fact, because children often use their emotions to communicate with their parents. A bright smile can say, “That makes me happy” a lot quicker than words will, and tears provide immediate evidence of a troubled child, evincing displeasure, sadness, pain or dissatisfaction, unless of course they are tears from laughter.

CAPTURING EXPRESSION IS IMPORTANT

Capturing a significant emotional moment is the key to many a good child picture, even if the composition is not ideal or if the picture itself is not technically perfect. To get a particular show of emotion on film, you often have to shoot it the instant you see it, because with children it can be gone in the blink of an eye. That is why you should be prepared to shoot without notice. You don’t want to be fiddling with your light meter when your child has a sudden character-revealing look of curiosity, surprise or melancholy that you rarely see and that will disappear when you finally have the camera’s exposure settings correct.

BE READY SO YOU WON'T MISS THE MOMENT

When you see a situation developing where your child may react in a characteristic or even an uncharacteristic manner or when a mood change can be anticipated, take your light meter reading and set your camera’s exposure controls immediately so you will be ready for the moment. There are many examples of when you can reasonably predict such a moment – opening gifts at Christmas, particularly when you get to the much-hoped-for or unexpected present that will bring particular delight; saying good-bye on the first day of school when the tears are being bravely held back; presentation of a first puppy or kitten; a baby switching to solid food; a best friend sneaking up on a child from behind; looking in awe at a newborn baby brother, and so on.

REMINDER HINTS FOR BETTER PICTURES

Use a telephoto or zoom lens that will keep you out of your child’s space and make you less obtrusive to him or her, a fast film so that you won’t require the disruption of flash, and even consider black and white film, which seems to show certain moods with more drama and feel than color does. Make sure you have gotten down to the same height as your small subject, and check the framing and shooting angle beforehand. Watch out for distracting backgrounds and foreground clutter. Always focus on the eyes, and remember the viewer’s eye is drawn first to the eye, then the mouth, in most portraits because those are two parts of the face that portray mood.

CANDID SHOTS CAPTURE NATURAL EXPRESSIONS

Photos that express your child’s mood are invariably candid, unless the particular mood you are expecting is boredom or anxiety to get away from a stilted pose. Ideally, your child should not even be predominantly aware that you are about to take a picture. Attracting your child’s attention, therefore, is a no-no. Photographers about to shoot a beautiful candid of a child who is preoccupied and perfectly-posed dread hearing the words of a parent from the sidelines, saying “Smile, dear, and look at the camera for the photographer.” Aaagh! Another great picture opportunity down the drain.

Don’t do that to yourself, no matter how tempted you may be to get the child to look your way. Just let things take their course, wait for the moment, move your shooting angle if the child moves, and – bang – capture a natural mood shot you will be proud of for years to come.

Don't forget your camera when viewing your new baby.
Don't forget your camera when viewing your new baby.

Thinking about trading his star pitcher to the Dodgers
Thinking about trading his star pitcher to the Dodgers

Hay dad! I can see your eye in there.
Hay dad! I can see your eye in there.

 Friends help friends when the game is tense.
Friends help friends when the game is tense.

Mona Lisa was the first to smile like this
Mona Lisa was the first to smile like this