Photographing Kids in Low Light

One of the most photographed subjects (and also one of the most difficult subjects to shoot well) are children. They are fast-moving, you have to get down to be on their level, and you must think fast enough to anticipate what activity they’ll be jumping to next and if it is photogenic. Despite these challenges, kids can also be some of the most rewarding subjects. Unlike adults, they don’t usually pose for the camera or put up a front when the lens is pointed in their direction. If they do get pretty theatrical, it levels off if you spend more than 10 or 15 minutes with them (which is A MUST for getting any subject to act naturally).

When shooting for my first group project, I originally thought a photo slideshow was in order. It turned out to be a 3-photo requirement, but the photos I ended up being unable to use were not wasted. Instead, they provided me with practice fast-moving children at dusk– one of the most difficult situations.

Action photography (whether sports or just fast-moving subjects) is tricky when working with little light. The camera needs the correct exposure for the shot and will lengthen the shutter speed to times that don’t work for freezing action and also will shorten the depth of field to make focusing on a subject that zooms from the background to the foreground of your frame challenging.

As expected, some of my results were blurred. I was on a 1600 ISO in hopes of making as little light necessary as possible. Still, it was a bit of a struggle. Here are some of my attempts:

Although not comparable across mediums (digital SLR versus 8×10 view camera), Sally Mann is one photographer that naturally comes to mind when I think about children as subjects. She shot photographs of her children in their rural cabin in Virginia. However, these photographs are extremely different from journalistic photographs of children in action. Because of the limitations of her view camera, the vignetting and shadowy effect she wanted to create, and the ultimate difference in goals from being published as a news-piece versus gallery work, Mann’s results differ a great deal from the work I am assigned to. Though my first reflex is to think of her work as I shoot children, my aim for journalistic pieces should not be the same. This schism in thinking brings me back to my struggle between the definition of photojournalism and what that looks like versus examples of fine art photography that I have been exposed to and strive for in my art classes. This is an overlap that doesn’t seem to occur in most other artistic mediums (journalistic paintings would be quite the sight and strictly documentary sketches and drawings only exist within the supreme courtroom). It is interesting to note that both artists and journalists can be shooting with the same equipment, yet yield very different results for very different purposes.

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