Aiming For The Lens

My high risk strategy for getting young James to look directly down my camera lens (and why safer alternatives are a good bet for engaging portraits, too)

To get this shot, I challenged James to throw one of his marbles and land it inside my lens hood. He thought this was very funny and set about the task with enthusiasm. This gave me plenty of opportunities to capture the right moment just as a marble went airborne. I happily acknowledge that this was a high risk strategy.

Because James is aiming for my lens, his eyes are completely focused on the target. This gives really lovely engagement with the camera and is a great approach to use whenever you’re working with children. If you can get them involved in a game that they enjoy, they’ll relax and be themselves in front of the camera. The game doesn’t have to involve endangering your camera equipment: you could look for fairies under leaves, play hide and seek or sing/chat/tease as appropriate for your subject’s age and personality.

Setting up the shot

I’m using a relatively slow shutter speed (1/100 sec), so that both James’s hand and the most recently dispatched marble are slightly blurred. I’ve set the aperture to f/4 to blur out the details of the room behind him, so all focus in the final image is on my subject.

The room we’re in has large windows on either side. These have lit the edges of his face but left the mask – the oval containing the facial features – in soft shadow.

I am lying flat on the floor to get a camera angle that is lower than James’s eye level. This is my preferred camera angle, looking slightly up towards the subject.

I’m using a fast-repeating shutter, so I can take a succession of images within milliseconds of each other. Afterwards, I shortlisted these down to just the ones with a marble in mid-flight, just released from James’s hand.

Finishing up

I changed the image to black and white in post-production to change the multi-coloured marbles into a series of varying tones of light and dark. I’m a fan of restricted tonal palettes, so this is my go-to solution when a subject or a scene has lots of colours.

Lastly, I’m happy to report that James didn’t quite manage to land a marble in the lens. I’m using a long zoom lens set at a focal length of 175mm, so the marble-in-the-lens challenge was a tougher one than it might initially appear!

Location Diagram

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 175mm
  • Aperture: f/4
  • Shutter speed: 1/100 sec
  • ISO: 800