I tend to get this question from fellow amateur photographers who are just starting out, “How can I take better looking pictures of my kids?” I once heard a professional photographer say the best thing an amateur who wants to take great pictures of his children can do is buy a cheap, fast 50mm lens for an SLR and simply never take it off their camera. I wholeheartedly agree.
Generally, what people see in these “better” photographs they’re not achieving is limited depth of field. They just can’t articulate it in so many words. There’s just something about a shot with shallow focus that really adds a special feeling and mood to a photo your basic point and shoot cameras just can’t replicate.
A cheap 50mm (with an SLR of course) is a great investment for folks with newborns or children that don’t move very fast. Because of their immobility, you can really take your time and get the focus just right. You’ll need to concentrate on where that focus is (no pun intended) because if you’re shooting at f1.8 or faster (you know you’re shooting with the pop up flash off, right?), your maximum area of sharpness is very limited. Even if you’re off by a half an inch your subject’s nose can be sharp and their eyes can be blurry. No good.
From a composition standpoint, I generally push in as much as I can and focus on the eyes. I think I’m going to want to remember the unique facial expressions of my kids long after I care about the Buzz Lightyear t-shirt he was wearing at the time. Getting in close with a shallow depth of field also pushes the background out of focus, concentrating more emphasis on the child and sometimes, if you’re lucky, creating some artistic bokeh to boot.
I’ve recently stepped up to Canon’s 50mm f1.4 lens after having busted two 50mm f1.8’s in a period of 3 years. The f1.8 served me well, and I shot some of my favorite shots of the boys with it, but I felt it was the right time to invest in a quality build and was intrigued by the possibilities inherent in the increased speed of the lens.
I’m still getting the hang of it, shooting at f1.4 can be perilous if you’re not absolutely positive your focus is spot on, but I can already tell I’m going to like the color quality and increased sharpness I’m seeing. So if you have an slr, and you want some memorable shots of your offspring, just turn your flash off, slap on a nifty fifty and aim for the eyes. You’re probably going to like what you see.