Learn Sports Photography

Photographing a moving child

Written by Digicamhelp Editor

With perseverance and practice…and a bit of luck… it is possible to take memorable shots of a child on the move with a compact digital camera.

Kids move quickly. Here are a few tips for photographing them with a compact camera.

Taking photos of moving children with a compact digital camera can be challenging to say the least. Many compacts have slow response times and only a few have effective continuous shooting (burst) modes.

I recently received an email inquiry about the techniques I use for taking photos of children on the move:

♥ How do I get the focus right?

♥ Do I prefocus?

♥ Do I use AutoFocus tracking or Servo AutoFocus?

Single area focus and other modes

One of the first things I do when getting a compact camera is change the focus setting from continuous focus or face recognition to single (center) area focus. This way I have control of where the camera focuses when I press the shutter-button halfway.

Using burst mode can be effective but you need to start taking photos earlier than when prefocusing. May times the first few photos in a continuous series come out blurred so you need to practice getting the timing right when following a subject.

Some compact digital cameras have a “quick release” setting or “high speed” focus mode. If yours does, certainly give it a try.

On the many compact digital cameras I’ve owned, I haven’t found Continuous AutoFocus or Servo AutoFocus as reliable as when using a DSLR. I found Tracking AutoFocus on the Canon G12 worked pretty well in good light but I generally avoid using these modes when photographing a moving subject.

The basic technique


Most cameras have a setting to lock focus and exposure independently (AE/AF Lock), and some cameras let you focus manually. Both methods can be effective…if you have time to fiddle with settings before the action takes place. But it’s not always possible.

So I stick to a very basic technique of first locking focus on an area where I know the subject will move into place. My camera is usually set to P Mode and Evaluative metering mode, also known as Matrix or Multiple metering.


The better the lighting, the easier it is to capture a moving subject with a digital camera. The lower the light, the slower the shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds can result in blurred images when hand-holding a camera.

Since you can not manually adjust shutter speed on most compact cameras, I generally shoot at the widest angle when light is low. The lens opening (aperture) is largest at wide angle so more light enters into the camera and results in a faster shutter speed. Sometimes it’s preferable to crop a photo, rather than zoom in with the camera..

You can also increase ISO to raise the shutter speed but you run the risk of having noise in the image if you increase it too much. But a higher ISO setting can be a better alternative than using the tiny built-in flash since the recycle time for compact cameras can be painfully slow. Plus, the flash is usually ineffective for photographing subjects even at a moderate distance.

Prefocus first

The main trick is to prefocus on an object of equal distance to where the subject will eventually come into view. Depress the shutter-release button half-way to lock focus on the area.

Hold the camera in place and keep the shutter button halfway down. Also keep the corner of your eye on the lookout for when the subject comes into the focus area. A moment before the subject approaches the area, fully depress the shutter-button to take the shot.

X marks the spot where I prefocused. Out of several shots, one was a keeper. Sometimes my timing was off, but I was persistent.

One shot is not enough

It’s important to take as many as photos as possible. After each shot, and as soon as the subject passes the focus area, prefocus again if you’re not able to lock focus (AF Lock). Repeat the process again and again. With patience and practice…and a bit of luck… it is possible to take memorable shots of active children.

Now for a few samples. All images were cropped, reduced in size and sharpened:

Sometimes a subject is in focus but another part of the scene shows movement, which makes for a more dynamic photo. Canon S90: 1/125s f/4.0

Because I was far from the subject and knew there would be deep depth-of-field, I prefocused on the curb, recomposed and took a shot every time the fellow came into view. Canon S90: 1/100s  f/4.0

Taken in Continuous Shot mode.

Canon A510: 1/320s f/4.0

We welcome your comments

Have you had success photographing an active child with a digital camera? If so, share some of the tips and techniques you’ve used in the commenting section below.

1 Comment

  • I’ve been struggling to take some good photos of my son at play. Thank you for the helpful tips and photo examples. I’m going to try the prefocus technique, though I guess it’s easier said than done. 😉