How to Shoot Video of Your Kids, Pets and other little squirmy, moving and unhelpful creatures

07.06.2013 21:11

How to Shoot Video of Your Kids, Pets and other little squirmy, moving and unhelpful creatures 

by Mark Shapiro

 If you ask most people who use camera phones, camcorders or digital cameras, most of them, at one time or another, have used their imaging devices to record their kids and families. I would wager that most use their cameras to record the cute activities of our little loved ones.

Maybe you plan on posting the finished videos on the web or emailing them around the world to grandparents and scattered aunts and uncles? Are you going to share your videos via FaceBook or Twitter? Maybe you just want to burn the finished family video to a DVD? It all starts with getting good pictures.

 So how do you make your kids and pets look good on video? Make-up, counseling, or maybe better lighting? 

Number one, remove the stress. Babies, toddlers and pets often don’t enjoy having strange looking instruments being poked and aimed at them.

 Luckily most of us are no longer using big, clunky VHS camcorders. Those behemoths, perched on your shoulder, could frighten little ones. The newest breeds of camera phones and camcordersare small enough to hold in your hand and shouldn’t be able to intimidate anything.

 Let the kids play with it.

 You may shudder to hear this but in order to get your kids looking less frightened on your camcorder or camera phone, let your kids play with it a bit. Let them look through the viewfinder; let them watch the LCD monitor. You don’t need to press CAPTURE or RECORD - just let them see what you see through the lens. Flip the LCD view screen around so they can see what they look like when you are videotaping. If you are a bit paranoid about your toddlers dropping the camcorder, let them play with it on your bed or on a soft and absorbent floor, covered with blankets and pillows.

 For pets, especially skittish animals, you might want to let them sniff or lick the camera before you start taping them. However, we are not recommending that you let your pet monkey toss your new iPhone from a tree.

 Get on their level

 Once you get them used to you chasing them around with your camera, it is time to improve your technique.

The most important technique to master is to shoot kids and animals at their eye level. Number one, not having you towering over them will make them feel more comfortable. Number two – shooting at their eye level, or even below, will make them look more interesting and fun.

 Shooting down at anything or anybody lessens it – it makes the subject of your video look meek and subservient. Plus who really wants to see the top of your kid’s head?  We want to see their eyes, their smiles, their gestures and expressions.

 This means shooting on their level. This means squatting down, sitting or lying on the floor to get those shots. Not only will the kids and pets actually look better on camera when you play back the tapes, but the odds are, the kids will be having a lot more fun with you.


This is especially true of pets. Shooting your dog or cat from above isolates and intimidates them. Get down on the level, lying on the floor and let them come to you. I know it sounds silly, but at the risk of over anthromophization, you’ll be amazed by how much more happy and carefree your pets will look on tape.

 Some animals never get used to a camera. If your pet doesn’t like the camcorder close to them, sit a distance away and use the zoom lens to frame the shot. Remember, video is all about close-ups and faces. This goes for your animals and pets as well. Unless of course, the cutest thing about your pet is how his tail waggles when he gets excited.

 Give them something to play with

This goes for small humans as well as pets. Instead of just looking at the camera and expecting your kid or animal to perform, tape them doing something.  Try to find a natural behavior and document it. Get as close as possible and attempt to put yourself in the middle of the activity without disturbing the action.

 Reading a book, playing with a toy, chasing a string, whatever works.  Keep their mind off the camera and try to capture natural, organic behavior. How many of us have sat our kids down in front of the camcorder and told them “do something”?  It doesn’t work.

 Imagine you are a National Geographic film-maker trying to create a documentary about how your pets or kids behave, You want to get as close as possible with disturbing them, without interrupting what they would be doing naturally. My kids act like they hate it when I sneak up on them and discretely tape them playing or goofing around or just having a silent moment. However, days later, weeks or months, they love to see themselves as they really are. Here’s a warning though – the significant others in your life – adults and wives may not appreciate this documentary style as much as your kids do.

 On vacation or while traveling I have my kids play newscaster. I have them stand in front of the camera, with a ruin, statue or beautiful vista behind them, and then have them explain what we are seeing and visiting. Not only do I get to capture my kids having fun performing for the camera, I also get some great material for our family travel and vacation videos. 

 Get in the Middle of the Action

 Instead of standing off to the side watching the kids opening up their Christmas or birthday presents, sit in the middle of the floor, holding the camcorder, and have the toys piled around you. Follow the action as the your kids reach in for their presents, tape them as they tear off the wrapping paper, and then zoom in on the beaming smile as they see what wonderful gift they got. Pan around - SLOWLY - and capture the action.

 Most adults feel more comfortable standing apart from the action and just recording a wide shot of what is going on. Loosen up your comfort zone and get into the midst of the action.  There’s nothing a little bit of editing can’t do to fix a few shaky or unfocused shots.

Kid Sports

 This goes for sports videos as well. Whenever I watch my girls playing softball or soccer or other organized sports, I am amazed by how often the parents just stand on the sideline and pan their camcorders back and forth to capture their kid in play.

 Unless you truly need to document the whole field, the best option is to figure out the most exciting angles for shooting the sport. In general, shots where someone is running towards you are a lot more exciting than shots of them running away, or shots from the side, panning back and forth. This means positioning yourself in the best location to get the action coming at you.

 For sports like soccer, football, basketball, hockey, etc., position your camcorder towards the ends of the field. If possible, get behind the goal or next to it. Now you can get shots as the team members rush towards you. Not only will you be able much more dramatic shots of your kid, or the team, in action, you’ll also be shooting their faces rather than their sides or backs of their heads. Yes, you might miss some action at the other end, but the shots you will get should be great. 

 Focus should be easy as well especially if you are shooting outside on a sunny day. By focusing tight when the players are on the far side of the field, you can simply pull out and widen your shot as they run towards you.

 You might want to enlist other parents to help tape. Maybe position another parent at the other end and then share copies of the videotapes.  If you really prepared and are a true video enthusiast, get a third camcorder off to the side, above the mid field line to capture the action as it goes back and forth. Then edit it all together and share among the team members. Now that’s what video is all about.

 If all the parents are into it, you can position them at various spots around the filed. However, to maintain correct screen direction, make sure they are all on the same side of the field. Split the field down the middle longways and make sure all the cameras stay on either the left or right side, home or visitor.

 For sports like softball or baseball, once again position yourself in the right location to get action coming at you. When your kid is at bat, stand along first base and capture them as they run out a hit. This is an especially great position if your kid bats right-handed.  Once they get on base, get behind third so you can get a shot of them rounding second and sliding into third.

  For other sports, as well as other activities where your kids and pets are at play, figure out where the action is heading and be there ahead of time. For example, maybe your dog loves to chase Frisbees. Have someone throw a Frisbee towards you and then track your dog as it runs towards you and then leaps high into the air to capture the flying disk.

 When my kids first learned to ride bikes, I positioned myself in our driveway, sitting on the concrete and taped my kids as they wobbly rode their bikes towards me. Yes, it was a bit scary for my personal life and limb but I got some great shots.

 In all these movement shots, you’ll note that I am encouraging you to shot kid and pet action with the camera as low as to the ground as possible. Imagine shooting from behind third base as your teenager sprints towards you and slides safely into third base, sending up a cloud of dust and dirt.

 By the way, you should always have a UV or clear neutral density filter on your camcorder of digital SLR.  Most camcorders have screw threads around the front of the lens to attach these inexpensive filters. You can usually find these filters for under $10.

They don’t do much to improve your image. Their primary task is to protect your camcorder’s fragile lens from damage from dust and dirt and water. Replacing a scratched or broken lens on your camcorder can be very expensive and can take weeks or months to get back from the shop. Replacing a damaged filter is cheap and easy.

 The Important Points

 You’ll find that if you just adopt and try out a few of these suggestions, that when you and your family watch these videos back, they will look a lot more interesting and a lot more fun. Even better, they will be a lot more real. When you post the videos at FaceBook you will get a lot more LIKES.

 Your pets won’t run away from you every time you pull out your camera. Your kids will not make silly faces or act shy when you are trying to show how cute and pretty they are.  By getting into the action, shooting from their eye level and from low angles, and positioning yourself to have the action come to you, your video camerawork will look a lot more professional, and a lot more interesting.