Whether in my personal or client images, there is nothing I enjoy more than capturing happy, funny, true-to-life moments. And one of my favorite tricks to get big smiles and belly laughs during a kids photo shoot is definitely the jumping-on-the-bed one.
Let’s be honest: I actually love to jump on beds. I know, I’m 37, it should be a habit from the past, but hey… it’s fun. So if I’m breaking the rule myself, I cannot possibly forbid my boys to do it, right? But on the other hand, you cannot let a 6-year-old and a 9-year-old jump on beds all day long. So I created a ‘Momtographer’ rule for my house: kids are allowed to jump on the bed ONLY when Mom is taking pictures. It’s the perfect win-win situation; they are happy to be in front of the camera and I get images that I love. I dare you to try it!
It’s actually the same strategy during a client shoot for my lifestyle family sessions at home. I always check beforehand with the parents to be sure that they are okay with a little rule-breaking, and they usually are. During the session I keep the jumping-on-bed trick under my belt until the perfect moment: it can be at the very beginning of the session to warm up a shy child (works wonders!) or when the child is getting tired of the camera and ready to call it off since it helps renew the interest in the session.
But getting the perfect image of a kid jumping on a bed can be quite challenging. Here are a few tips to make your life easier.
1. Safety first
This is probably the most important element. Jumping can be risky, and the last thing you want is to end up going to the ER because of a photo shoot that was supposed to be fun and ended up being a nightmare. Here a few things you might want to consider:
- No item on the bed while the kid is jumping (like a toy he or she might fall on).
- Always position the kid on the middle of the bed, never on the sides.
- Make sure that the parents are close to the sides of the bed, ready to stop the action if anything looks remotely dangerous.
- If the kid gets too excited and beyond control, be ready to stop. No image is worth an accident.
- You can also add pillows or blankets on the floor around the bed, just in case the previous precautions weren’t enough to prevent a fall.
2. Shutter speed is key
Now that the set up is safe, let’s have fun. If you’re like me and love to have as much clarity on your images as possible, be prepared to use a very high shutter speed. Jumping creates very fast movement, especially on hands and feet. If you want to freeze that movement, you need a shutter speed above 1/500s. With a very energetic kid, you might even get a bit of motion blur at 1/500s, so 1/800s would be safer.
3. Crank that ISO
The consequence of Tip#2 is that you need LOTS of light to get perfect exposure at 1/800s. But not all of us are fortunate enough to have a bedroom flooded with daylight. If you’re like me and have an averagely lit house (not a cave, but not exactly a natural light studio either), you will need to use your camera’s ISO capabilities.
Don’t be afraid to bump that ISO number! To me, grain is a lesser evil than motion blur. I want to see every detail of the kid’s face when he’s grinning from ear to ear, so I need a sharp image.
The family image shown below were taken at 5000 ISO. I slightly overexposed my image to minimize the noise in camera, and used Lightroom’s noise-reduction tool during my post-treatment and I’m very happy with the result. I have to admit that this image was taken with a Canon 5D Mark III, which is just fabulous at high ISO. The result wouldn’t be the same with an entry-price DSLR but I used to get great jumping shots with my faithful little Rebel, years ago!
If your bedroom is really a cave, or just not suitable for a photoshoot, don’t give up! You can make it work anyway, jumping on the couch is a great option, too!
4. Focusing tips
Getting perfect focus on a jumping image can be a challenge, for two reasons. First, because the child is moving fast, so the risk of missing focus is high. Second, because even if you bump your ISO number, you might also need to open up your aperture quite wide in order to get enough light for keeping a high shutter speed. And the wider you shoot, the shallower your depth of field is, increasing even more risk of missed focus.
In order to reduce that risk and nail my focus almost every single time, I use a combination of 3 factors: selecting a dynamic AF mode to follow the movement (Ai Servo in my case, since I’m a Canon user), choosing my focal point and placing it on the face of my subject (I make sure that I follow the movement with my active focal point), and using back button focusing because it’s more reliable when capturing movement.
Don’t forget that if you shoot 2 or more subjects at a time and need to use a wide aperture to keep your shutter speed as high as necessary, it will be difficult to get both subjects in sharp focus. In that case, make sure that you focus on the subject that is closest to your lens. Our eyes are trained to look at the foreground first; if the first plane is sharp we get an impression of sharpness, even if the subject in the background is actually out of focus.
One more thing, once I have chosen my settings to make sure that my image will be sharp, my only priority is nailing my focus. Which means that I won’t pay as much attention to composition as I would on a static portrait. I usually frame my shot a little wider than what I need for the final image which leaves me some room to re-crop and achieve a pleasing composition after the fact. Sometimes you just can’t get everything perfect in camera and have to give up on something and with a jumping shot focus should be very high on your priority list!
5. Step back, go wide
Don’t underestimate how high your subject can jump. If you have some room around the bed, step back as much as you can and/or use a wide angle lens. Make sure you frame your shot as wide as possible otherwise you’ll end up with a frustrating head chop as in the example below.
And yes, this is me, making a total fool of myself. Can you believe how far I’m ready to go to make sure that others won’t repeat my mistakes? You are totally allowed to laugh, I do find myself pretty ridiculous too. Not everybody is an expert of graceful jumping…sorry.
6. Get low
This is a simple but very effective tip. If you choose a low vantage point, you exaggerate the distance between you and the jumper, making the jump look higher than it is in real life. The visual impact is more powerful.
7. Before and after
Freezing the kid in mid-air with a joyful expression is definitely one of the pleasures of the jumping exercise but it’s not the only one. Another fun thing about jumping is falling on the bed. Or lying flat on the bed with a big smile, totally exhausted after several minutes of intense jumping. This is what you want to capture: the jumping moment, but also the various emotions and expressions before and after the moment itself.
By the way, the exhaustion that follows the effort is a perfect moment to catch quiet but happy portraits on the bed. This is very helpful with energetic kids that won’t stay still otherwise!
8. Create some contrast
If you include several subjects in your shot, it can be fun to underline the energy of the movement by creating some contrast with a still subject. It makes the jumping action stand out even more.
9. Younger kids can play too
When kids are too young to jump on their own or if you are worried about their safety, invite their parents too! A dancing contest on the bed is fun for the whole family.
10. Feeling playful?
Now that you are a master of those jumping on the bed images, you might want to spice it up a little bit.
Here was one of my recent challenges: nailing my shots with a Lensbaby. Yes, you got that right: MANUAL focusing on a jumping kid. Haha! That was pretty interesting.
In the past months I also tried to include some jumping into my self-portrait project, which was quite a challenge too (you’ve seen two examples in this article, one success and one failure!).
There are dozens of ways to renew the exercise, just be creative and don’t forget to come back to share the results with us!