How do I take photos of a little girl and her grandparents on the beach?

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Q. Do you have any tips to help me to get great shots of my friend’s little girl and her grandparents at the beach? I am not very confident but love taking photos – Karen Kindt, Brisbane Australia

A. Hi Karen, This month, on one side of the world we’re talking about winter portraits, and on the other side of the world we’re talking about sunny beaches!

Beaches are wonderful for photos, but can also be difficult because of the bright light, which can be really unflattering if you’re not careful.

Having some ideas up your sleeve will help your confidence, but remember to keep an open mind, and don’t be afraid to try different things – some will work, and some won’t – it doesn’t matter, just experiment – enjoy the things that do work and move on and try something else if they don’t!

Here are some tips:

1. Watch the children playing, digging in the sand, etc. – and if the sunlight is directly on their faces, ask them to turn around the other way and carry on playing – because then the sun will be behind them, and you can shoot in that direction, carefully exposing for the face (check out my blog on: Set up your camera the easy way…).

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If you let them play and then call their name – often they will look up and you’ll get some great expressions.

If you are not showing their faces, then it’s fine to run around in the sunlight, as it won’t matter about squinting if they are not looking directly at you – see below.

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2. If you are taking photos of the grandparents, they will not always appreciate them if they are too close up – so I find it’s best if you create more of a scene than a “portrait”. Try setting up a shot with them running towards you – stand everyone in a line so they are all holding hands, and then say, “When I say, I want you to keep holding hands and run towards me laughing… ok… go!”

Mum and Granma run on the beach with the children - it all looks natural, but a lot of thought has gone into it beforehand.

Mum and Granma run on the beach with the children – it all looks natural, but a lot of thought has gone into it beforehand.

Stand quite a way back and zoom into the shot – focus on someone’s face in the centre – and just take several shots.

Ask them to repeat it a few times – you will have lots of hit and miss shots – but there should be a few great ones in there which will look natural as they all laugh together when running. If there is a very small child – make sure they are in the middle of two older ones, or holding hands with the parents or grandparents, otherwise they may fall over, or have someone run in front of them. Holding hands helps to stop this.

In the shot above, I asked the children and their mother to stand at the edge of the patch of water, and then when I was ready, I asked them to run through it to the other side, thereby giving them something to focus on. You could lay a line of stones or shells to get the same effect.

In the shot above, I asked the children and their mother to stand at the edge of the patch of water, and then when I was ready, I asked them to run through it to the other side, thereby giving them something to focus on. You could lay a line of stones or shells to get the same effect.

3. If there are sand dunes – stand them at the top of the sand dune and then ask them to run down it – you stay at the bottom and shoot up at them. Again, do it several times and see what happens!

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4. To take individual close up shots, you really need some shade – try a beach hut, or the shade of an ice cream kiosk! You don’t need much background for a close up shot, so you can move to somewhere with just a small area of shade. If there is absolutely no shade, then ask an adult to hold a towel above the child’s head, which will create a lovely soft light on their face. Often you need to do these shots first, before the kids are let loose on the beach – otherwise you may never get them back! Say, “If you sit here and just do this one shot, then we can all go and run on the beach” – bribery works wonders!

5. Think of your shoot as setting up scenes where people can “play” and then you are capturing the moments that happen within those scenes.

6. Give the child a stick and ask her to draw her name in the sand, or make her name out of stones and shells, while you shoot candid shots of her. Try taking a shot which includes her name too.

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Tip: Take a photo of your child’s work of art, print it up as a canvas block and attach it to their bedroom door.

Oh, and remember – grandparents still feel like they are 35! Don’t expect them to sit on a picnic rug and behave like old people! You (and they) will have much more fun if you see them as younger, and they will really appreciate you doing this.

Annabel x


For more ideas check out: