A girl playing in a park holds a yellow frisbee in front of her, framing her face. Taken on a Canon EOS M50 by Katja Gaskell.


Take better portraits: 5 fun family photography challenges

For travel blogger Katja Gaskell, there's nothing better than travelling with her family and photographing their special moments around the globe. Katja, her husband and their three children have recently returned to the UK after 12 years living abroad in Australia, India and Mexico. During that time she documented their adventures online on her travel blog Globetotting – using a £400-£550 smartphone – and shared photos with her 16.4K followers on Instagram.

Her children have grown up across four continents – Alfie (now aged 11) was born in Sydney, Tess (9) in Delhi, and Sam (4) in Mexico City. "I'm a big believer in family travel and think that travel is the best education," she says. Photography is a big part of their life. "I really like taking photos both for my work and for documenting family life and travels.

"Ever since I started Globetotting, I've been taking photos on a phone," Katja says. "But I've been wanting to improve my photography and I've realised that a phone camera has some limitations."

She's seeking the zoom capabilities not currently offered by an average phone's camera, and higher quality files so that she can zoom into details and print her family photos out at different sizes. "Every year, I make an annual photo album, but sometimes I can't use the photos that I've taken on my phone, because the quality is just too low, in my view."

Now back home in London, Katja is working on new ways of photographing her family. Using the beginner-friendly Canon EOS M50 and a Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens and Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens, she's exploring manual features such as depth of field and shutter speed.

"The great thing about the Canon EOS M50 is that it's really portable," she says. "You can just sling it over your shoulder and head out anywhere. And even though it's small, you can use different lenses for different situations. So it's really easy to capture photos of the kids when we're out together as a family."

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To help her become more creative with her photography on the Canon EOS M50, Austrian portrait photographer and Canon Ambassador Christian Anderl set Katja a series of photographic challenges using techniques that will elevate her photography to a more creative and impressive level.

1. Use a shallow depth of field

A portrait of a girl smiling, the background blurred. Taken on a Canon EOS M50 by Katja Gaskell.

By widening the aperture, Katja can try taking portraits with a shallow depth of field, where the subject is in sharp focus and everything else is out of focus. "Take a portrait very close up, using the widest possible aperture [smallest f-number], then play around, gradually narrowing the aperture, "Christian challenged. "Focus on the eyes, and make sure that if one eye is closer to you – if the subject isn't looking at you directly – the closest eye is in focus." While some smartphone cameras can simulate shallow depth of field with subjects such as people, and apps enable you to add similar effects to pictures after you take them, it's not a real depth of field adjustment. Christian says: "You'll see how much more you can get out of a camera if you take the time."

Katja used the Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens to take portraits of her children in the park, the garden and their home. Shooting in Aperture Priority (Av) mode, she tried both extreme ends of the aperture to experiment with what the setting could offer her. "The great thing about this lens is that it has an f/1.4 aperture, which means you get a really shallow depth of field," she says. "I can really see myself using this on my travels, to have the kids in the foreground and wherever we are slightly faded behind them. It will also make my Instagram feed a lot more interesting."I'm really pleased with the results – I haven't been able to get anything like this on my phone without using a filter. I really like the effect of the eyes being in focus with a softer background, and how it makes the people stand out."

2. Photograph your kids having fun with water

Three pictures show a young boy playing with a cup of water. Taken on a Canon EOS M50 by Katja Gaskell.

Christian suggested that Katja could test out the Canon EOS M50's high-speed continuous shooting mode by photographing her kids playing with water. "Use a fast shutter speed, find good light and use the high-speed continuous mode in the camera to take as many pictures as you can," Christian advised. This means you can later select the shots where the water's movement and position is most interesting and visually pleasing. "See if you can position yourself to face the sun, so it backlights the water drops. A dark background can also emphasise the water. See if you can capture rainbow colours in the reflection on the water."

By using the Shutter Priority (Tv) mode, Katja was able to get a feel for how manually setting the shutter speed on the Canon EOS M50 can freeze movement. Using the Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens, she photographed her youngest child, Sam, pouring and throwing water from a cup. Making the most of the camera's 10 frames-per-second capability and f/1.4 aperture, Katja captured an image that froze the stream of water.

"I played with using a fast shutter speed," says Katja. "It was fun to try to capture the movement in the water. It's been really straightforward to focus on different things – so instead of focusing manually on specific areas, I can see what effects I get with changing just the shutter speed."

3. Capture the laughter

A brother and sister play in a huge tree, laughing. Taken on a Canon EOS M50 by Katja Gaskell.

"With a camera, you have fast continuous shooting mode, so you should be able to capture moments of your kids laughing and moving," says Christian. "Try to see how many sharp, laughing faces you can get! You don't have too much time when you're photographing children, so build one setup and give it a go for five minutes until they lose the fun."

Katja and her kids set off to the local park for the afternoon so she could photograph them enjoying themselves. "For me the best way to keep the kids on side is not to keep them too long and to give them treats afterwards," she says. "I got shots of them playing on the swings, running around and climbing trees. There's lots of smiling and laughing, and for some of these I used a shallow depth of field as well."

4. Shoot fun movement

A young boy swings on a swing, laughing. Taken on a Canon EOS M50 by Katja Gaskell.

Children rarely sit still, and being able to capture their dynamism makes for vibrant family photos. "You have to just be aware of the movement around you – if it's fast or if it's slow," says Christian.

To shoot her kids skipping, dancing and playing on the swings, Katja switched to the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens. "I used the zoom lens and a fast shutter speed to make sure I didn't miss a moment. The lens is super versatile and gives you every opportunity to capture kids on the move."

To take this image, Katja shot at 1/640 sec, f/3.5, and ISO 100. "It was great because I really captured moments that I haven't done before, like Sam on the swing. It makes my photos a lot more interesting, as there's a lot more variety."

5. Create a timelapse

A great way to add variety is to try shooting short timelapse videos of your family. The best way is to find engaging family action, rather than slow subjects, to create dynamic, fun clips, says Christian. "Everyone who tries out timelapse photography for the first time tends to make the mistake of photographing the clouds and taking a picture every 10 seconds. Clouds move really slowly, so the resulting timelapse becomes extremely slow. It's about getting a feeling for the movement around you and seeing what works if there are kids moving around."

Katja found that shooting a timelapse on the Canon EOS M50 was straightforward and enjoyable. "It really is as simple as turning on the timelapse setting, getting your kids to co-operate and pressing record," she says. "It's a fun function that I initially didn't think I would use very much, but now that I've got the hang of it I can definitely see myself using it more for Globetotting."

A boy looks into a yellow bowl on the table in front of him. Taken on a Canon EOS M50 by Katja Gaskell.

Overall the Canon EOS M50 has inspired Katja to be more ambitious in her photography. Considering composition has also introduced her to a whole new way of thinking about photographing her family. "It was a completely point-and-shoot approach before," she says. "I would just say 'stop' and take lots of photos, and maybe one would work well. It's fun to be more creative in thinking about the kind of image you can create, rather than the on-the-fly photos I was taking.

"It's been a surprisingly easy transition from my phone to the EOS M50. It's really easy to use, the settings give you full control and there's room for growth so you're really able to push your photography skills. There's so much more scope for shooting things differently."

Written by Lucy Fulford

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