10 Tips for Photographing Children

We all take so many photos of our kids, but it can be difficult to get that perfect shot when your little model won’t sit still, won’t smile, or will only smile like a cheesy gameshow host! When you try to direct children to pose, they tend to assume bizarre, twisted positions or do things that they never normally would… They say never work with children or animals, but we think it’s all in the approach and the method rather than trying to direct a little bundle of energy to do what you want: “Stand there!” “Don’t make a face!” “Hug your sister!” If there’s one thing you can rely on, giving a small child a direct command is likely to result in the complete opposite!

You need to take a different approach when taking portrait photos of little ones, from teeny newborns to boisterous toddlers and pre-schoolers to teenagers! No matter whether they’re feeling shy, nervous, defiant or grumpy, you need to do your best to show their best side, and – most importantly – make your child feel comfortable and enjoy themselves during photo shoots.

1. Follow their lead
Placing a child where you want them to stand and asking them to smile nicely rarely works. Let them roam, explore their surroundings and any objects or props that might be around. There will be plenty of natural smiles, gorgeous expressions of surprise and curiosity along the way – it’s your job to catch those moments, not force them.

2. It’s not all about the smile
Any new parent can attest to the fact that you can spend hours of your day just staring at all the little subtle expressions your baby makes. Although life becomes busier as they get more mobile, they still possess a wonderful array of quirks, frowns, grimaces, grins and funny faces that really show their personality when caught on film. A great way to get a good expression and pose from a child for a photo is to ask them to think about something in particular – What are clouds made of? How high can they jump? What does the world look like when you’re upside down?

3. Make them feel at home
There needn’t be a great rush when photographing children. They don’t perform to order, so sometimes you just have to be patient and let them get used to where they are and what’s going on. And there’s no reason why portraits need to be taken in a studio – why not shoot on location at a place that is special and meaningful to you, whether it’s your home, a favourite playground, the beach or on holiday? Familiarity makes us all relax, and especially children, so some beautiful candid snaps can be taken when your child feels totally at ease.

4. Don’t put the camera down
Every moment with children is an opportunity for a great shot. And you might have noticed they don’t tend to stay in one place for very long… Keep shooting, keep watching, keep the creativity flowing. And if your child just wants to make funny faces that’s fine – if you keep photographing for long enough, their facade will drop eventually and suddenly you will get a flash of the real them.

5. Get down to their level
A great big looming adult with a camera hiding their face can be frightening and overwhelming – get down on your knees or crouch down to their height and you will be instantly more approachable. Photos from this perspective also look much better than ones from above, which can skew proportions and make for odd angles.

6. Be quick
Set your camera to its fastest shutter speed and use a high ISO for ‘freezing’ high speed moments. If you’re using automatic camera settings then there should be an option for sports or high-speed shots. Catching photographs of children in action – if you’re quick enough – can create some spectacular images that reflect the 100mph nature of having kids.

7. Vary your shots
If you’ve taken a load of full-body shots, then move in a little closer and focus on their busy hands, their little feet, their angelic (most of the time) faces. Even photos where your subject isn’t facing the camera can still translate a lot of personality and body language. Move around with them and get a great choice of photos.

8. Be sneaky
There are times when you don’t even need to let the child know you’re taking photos. Observe and pick a moment where they are completely involved and engaged in an activity and start snapping away. Candid portrait photography often produces the most beautiful images (with both children and adults), because the subject is relaxed and not trying to pose or look a certain way.

9. Don’t force it
If a child is not enjoying themselves and is getting upset, it’s time to put the camera away. Respect their privacy and their self-confidence – after all, you wouldn’t like a camera shoved in your face if you were feeling shy and vulnerable, would you?

10. Make it fun
If you are a budding photographer, or just want to get the best portrait photos possible of your children, then you have to make it worth their while! Making photo shoots fun and enjoyable means that your kids will want to do it again, and again, and again… Let them get involved and take some pictures of you for a change! Show them all the images afterwards and let them help choose which ones to enlarge or how to edit them. Digital cameras specifically for children (ie: VERY robust!) are becoming cheaper and cheaper so why not provide them with their own camera and start seeing the world through their eyes.

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