Teach Your Child To Get Close When Taking Pictures

Getting close

“Typical Riley Pose” by Peasap is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Have your child take a picture of their little brother or sister, or even you without any instructions. Their first reaction might be to get the subject’s whole body in the picture.  Many times there is clutter in the background that takes away from the subject. There might be toys on the floor or distracting lines or textures on the walls. If you are outside you might notice a tree or sign post that seems to sprout from the subjects head.  

“Eye See You” by Peasap is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Review your child’s first picture.  Then have your child walk in closer or even use the zoom button to make the subject’s head and shoulders the only things in the picture. This will help to eliminate distracting backgrounds.
Eyes show a lot of emotion. To add a bit of mystery to your photo you can go even closer and make their eyes the only thing in the frame. Perfect focus is hard to get when shooting this close.  We’ll talk about focus next.

Focus is important

Focus is always an important technical issue, but when you are getting in close you have to pay even more attention. If your subject is a person, make sure their eyes are in focus. When we are looking at a picture of a person we are automatically drawn to their eyes. Even animals do this. If you have a dog or cat you might notice that your pet will look directly into your eyes. I’ve always wondered how animals know to do this.

“Impression” by Jenny Downing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

“Dusty” by Jenny Downing is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Ask your child to identify which picture above is out of focus.

For this lesson your camera should be set to autofocus. Most cameras will focus on the object in the middle of the frame.  Your camera may even show a little box on the screen that indicates where it will be focusing.  To focus you will need to hold the shutter button halfway down. Watch as your subject becomes clear.

Most lenses will only focus when you are 1 or 2 feet away. If your camera is not focusing, move back slowly until it does. To find out how close your camera or lens can focus you can do three things.

  1. Find the minimum focus distance in the owner’s manual if you have it.
  2. Look at the lens itself. Some lenses will have the minimum focus distance written on them somewhere.
  3. Find a toy or other non-moving object and position your lens one inch away from it. Slowly pull back while trying to focus on the object. Make a note of the distance where the camera actually focuses.

“In God We Trust” by Kevin Dooley is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When taking pictures of very small things like flowers and insects it may be almost impossible to get close enough. Macro mode is the solution. If your camera has a macro mode try using it to take a picture of a
quarter. This will allow you to focus at shorter distances.

Get rid of distracting backgrounds

Have you ever seen a picture of someone who seemed to have a tree or light pole growing out of their head? When taking pictures it is easy to only think about your subject. You also need to notice the background.  One step to the left or right will easily get rid of the tree problem. You must also be on the lookout for cluttered or distracting backgrounds. If the background is cluttered just move in closer to your subject.

If you are taking pictures of someone and they do not seem comfortable with you being so close, step back a little bit.  Always use courtesy when photographing people.

Make the eyes pop!

“Baby Monkey in a Basket” by Mohd Khomani Mohd Sidik CC BY 2.0

Take a look at this monkey. Where do your eyes come to rest in this photo?  Most likely you end up staring into his eyes. Have you ever seen a picture from a professional photographer where the eyes just seem to glow?  To get results like this you must know where the light is coming from. In this picture you can tell the light is coming from the top right by finding the reflection in the monkey’s eyes.

Here’s a handy tip to find the light. Carry a marble in your camera bag.  When you arrive at your shooting location put the marble in your hand just like an eye socket. Then slowly turn your body around while watching the marble.  Stop when you see the reflection of light in the marble.  Remember this angle. If you shoot from this angle your subject will have beautiful catch lights in their eyes.


  1. Get close to your subject – Fill the frame
  2. Remember to focus on the most important part of the picture
  3. Pay attention to the background

Photo Assignment #2

Take a close-up picture of a person, a pet, or a toy.

Click the link above for a printable photo assignment worksheet.


Share Your Thoughts:  What photo techniques do your kids want to learn next?

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