Shoot what is important to you
My son is used to being photographed, but sticking a camera in his face is never the way to get the best images. Most people ‘feel’ the camera and react to it. To capture natural images, we would go out and I would let him play. And these pictures were important - for the first few weeks we were not able to see our families, so these images were a way for us to connect with them, without being together.
How to photograph your family
If you are starting with ‘family’ photography, start with scenes that have less movement. Choose moments where your subject may be sitting, thinking or reading. It is at these moments when they will be less conscious that you are taking photographs, and you will have the time to try different settings. This is more difficult to do when people are moving around, particularly children.
I always carry my Sony Alpha 9 II with me. Many people would say that it is a camera for shooting sports, but in reality it's a camera for shooting everything, particularly fast moving subjects. As any parent knows, children can move very quickly, and generally will ignore you if you ask them to stay still for a photo. So, the Alpha 9 II is an ideal camera for capturing images of children!
Lens choice is obviously important. If you usually shoot with a zoom lens, I would suggest trying a fixed focal length lens. You will usually get a wider aperture, which will offer better performance in low light, as well as a shallower depth of field to separate your subject from the background.
I use a variety of different lenses for taking these types of images, and each offers something different. Wider lenses like the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 G Master, Sony FE Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4, or the FE 35mm f/1.8 lens are fantastic when there are more people in the picture. When there is something going on, the wide angle can capture some action between the subjects. But when there is a single subject in the frame you can get lots of empty space. You may not be able to isolate the subject very well or if you do, you have to be very close.
Longer focal lengths are very good in isolating the subject, but due to the longer shooting distance it is easier for my son to run away, which isn’t ideal as a photographer, or a parent! I have found that the ideal focal length was around 50mm, just enough distance between us, plus natural rendering of the surrounding space. Many of the images that I shot were taken with the Sony Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f/1.4
Getting the most from your camera
There are many features of the Alpha 9 II, and Sony cameras generally, that will help capture great family images. One of the most important functions is Eye AF. It allows me to focus on the composition while the camera makes sure the eyes are perfectly in focus, even when shooting at large maximum apertures. I sometimes also used the Small Flexible Spot option for tracking when my son was further away. It is easy to move the focus point thanks to the joystick on the rear, then the AF Tracking does the rest of the work. And, of course, with the Alpha 9 II I can capture all of these images at 20fps.
Another useful feature is a tilting screen. This enables me to shoot a little more discreetly and allows me get lower to the ground, at the same height as my son. I can get shots that are otherwise tricky to capture using a non-tiltable screen, or the electronic viewfinder.
As for exposure settings, I tend to always use Aperture Priority when I am shooting, along with Auto ISO. I set the Auto ISO up to have a minimum shutter speed of say 1/500th sec. This means that I know the camera won’t drop below this shutter speed, so any movement is frozen. If the camera needs more, it will automatically increase the ISO sensitivity to keep the correct exposure. Having the exposure set up like this is really useful as it means I don’t have to think about anything other than the composition.
When I look back, these simple pictures of my son and my family bring me back to those nice moments when we had a good time together. Photographing people that are close to you and that you love is the greatest photography project of all time. So never stop photographing your family, it's a life-long project!
"Photography gave me the greatest gift – seeing the world with a unique perspective. There is so much beauty and magic around us that is worth capturing. Just keep searching for it and always be ready"