Point & Shoot: People at Play

This photographer managed to capture both peak action and a sunstar. Photo by Victor Siu


A very appealing portrait of a child at play. Photo by Caycee Reloza


It pays to be quick and spontaneous when photographing people at play. Photo by Tabitha Gayle Smith


The sports mode on your camera will freeze action. Photo by Carrie Fitzsimmons


Use the landscape mode to get a slow shutter speed (or a slower film, like ISO 100), and pan with your subject to get blurred motion. Photo by Nabeel Jambi


Find different vantage points—such as this one, shot from above the subjects—to emphasize a playful spirit in your photos. Photo by Debra Kroh
It's fun to take pictures of our friends and loved ones having a good time. The trick is to have your camera ready—a point-and-shoot camera is ideal for this—and to be quick and spontaneous. Taking pictures of people at play means that you must be prepared to grab some fleeting moments on film or memory card. In other words, if you snooze, you lose! Forget the stiff poses and stilted expressions; you'll want to capture the essence of playtime (more-informal candids) on film or memory card.

On vacation or during weekends, people often get involved in sports or other recreational activities that can produce great action shots. When shooting film, it's best to use high-speed film to freeze action, such as ISO 400-1600. Also, set your camera on its sports mode to utilize faster, action-stopping shutter speeds.

On the other hand, you may want to emphasize motion by deliberately blurring your subject. A good way to do this is by panning, which involves following the subject with your camera as it passes from side to side across your field of view. Try to keep the subject centered in the viewfinder as you turn (even though the image will be blocked during your exposure if you're using an SLR). When using this technique, you can use slower films, like ISO 100. You can also set your camera on its landscape mode for a slower shutter speed.

Although it's usually best to fill the frame with your subject, it's a good idea to include some of the background when photographing people at play. This will provide the viewer with a sense of place; whether it's children at a playground, or a group of hikers in the wilderness.

You don't always need an ultra-long telephoto lens like those of professional photographers to take pictures of people enjoying themselves. You simply need to plan ahead to stake out one or more vantage points that are close to the action. At a child's Little League game, for example, you'll probably be able to find a position close to home plate. This way, you may be able to get great shots with a moderate zoom or even a wide-angle lens setting on your compact camera.

If you're photographing games or activities under artificial light, and you're shooting with color film, you need to pay attention to your film's color balance. If the illumination comes from ordinary incandescent bulbs or floodlights, and you can't get close enough to your subject to use your camera's flash, it's best to use tungsten film. Shoot with color negative film, as its color balance can be adjusted when prints are made.

After shooting pictures of the entire scene, consider zooming in to capture a person's facial expression. Like freezing action at a pivotal moment, getting a good photo of a person's face during sports or other activities is a matter of timing. If you watch people during their leisure-time activities, you'll be able to determine when their faces are the most expressive. Again, try to position yourself close to the action for best results.

When taking pictures of sports, learn to recognize the point of "peak" action. This will give your photos a sense of drama. A baseball player jumping up to catch a high ball, a golfer finishing a stroke, and a pitcher releasing a ball are all examples of peak action. Whatever action you want to freeze, try to anticipate the moment you want to capture, and press the shutter button a split-second before that moment happens (this allows for the time it takes for your body and your camera to respond). Capturing peak action takes a lot of practice, and you may miss opportunities when first starting out. But don't give up—all you need are a few great shots to capture the spirit of the event.