This guest blog post is written by Karen Kelly. Karen is a Boston-based photographer specializing in the preservation of family history. In 2016, she was humbly voted one of Boston’s Top 2 Wedding and Children photographers by WGBH. She spends her free time chasing her 19-month-old with her husband, Jarett, and escaping to waves in Kennebunkport, ME.
I love photographing children because their energy is uninhibited and unpredictable. That means you need a lens to match. It’s been almost a decade since I began photographing families and if I had to pick one lens for these sessions, I would choose the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 every time. Here are the top 6 reasons why:
1. Constant f/2.8 aperture
The constant f/2.8 aperture at any focal length is crucial if you tend to shoot with a shallow depth of field. While it won’t achieve the fall off a 50mm f/1.4, it will still create enough visual separation between the subject and the background to create a powerful visual. It can also give the photographer a bit more wiggle room with the accuracy of your focal point, which can be especially helpful when photographing moving subjects.
2. Zooming Capability
The flexibility to get wide enough to include 4 or 5 subjects is so important with families because while a composition might begin with one subject, it can quickly evolve to include siblings and parents. Likewise, a photographer might compose a frame with the entire family at 35mm or 24mm, then notice a smaller interaction between a pair of siblings that he wants to zoom in quickly for. One twist of the lens and you can recompose around this sweet moment that might have been missed otherwise.
Photographers often squat or lay down when documenting children to really capture their perspective. At this point, he may be composing a frame with a toddler 3 feet away, but if that baby decides she’d like a closer look at his lens, he needs the flexibility to quickly widen the frame. If the photographer was shooting with a prime lens (fixed focal length), he would need to be ready to scurry backwards to keep the toddler properly composed in the frame. Here, I was laying on the ground and was able to flex the lens wider as the subjects got closer, eventually allowing them to fill the entire frame.
4. Ability to get closer
When it’s your goal to capture as much detail and personality of your subjects as you can, the 24- 70mm f/2.8 allows the child to get CLOSER to you than almost any other lens. The focus distance for the 24-70mm is 1.2 feet, compared to the 50mm f/1.4 at 1.5 feet or the 85mm f/1.4 at 2.6 feet. Enabling subjects to get this close to your lens will allow you to capture some incredibly powerful, personality-filled images that will make mom’s heart swoon.
Alternatively, being able to achieve compression of 70mm with one twist of the lens is a great contrast to the ultra wide 24mm. I usually try to make one portrait of mom and dad during family sessions, and if I don’t have the 105mm macro with me, this does the job nicely.
6. Ability to stay mobile
One of the most frustrating parts about being an adult photographing a child is the ability to stay mobile while down on their level with the camera. The photographer will often wind up in an awkward, bent-over position running along side their subject and most adults can’t do that for more than half a dozen steps. But I learned this trick with the 24-70mm a few years ago, and if you’re willing to take a little risk, it produces beautiful results:
- Open the lens to 24 mm
- Move focal point to the center of the frame
- Set your autofocus selection to AF-C with 3-D tracking, priority “release.”
- Hold your camera about waist high, with your finger on the shutter.
Without looking through the viewfinder, closely chase your subject while shooting. Yes, it’s a no-look shot (that sounds kind of bad ass!), but if you can keep your subject towards the center of the frame, you’ll wind up with at least a few gorgeous moments like this one.
If you’re thinking of trying out the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens for your next family session, I recommend bringing along the 105mm f/2.8 macro. Both are great lenses to contrast the width of the 24mm by providing added compression and extended shooting distance while also allowing you to get up close and personal with the little details of your subjects.