Four Tips for Shooting Children’s Portraits With Shallow Depth of Field

Four Tips for Shooting Children’s Portraits With Shallow Depth of Field

Have you ever wondered how to create portraits with those dreamy watercolor backgrounds? In the following tips, I’ll give you a few tricks on how I achieve this whimsical, ethereal look in my work.

Try Shooting With a Prime Lens!

While many photographers prefer to have a collection of lenses, I only shoot with two: the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II and the Canon 200mm f/2L IS. It’s true that a zoom lens offers more convenience and versatility; however, I choose to shoot with prime lenses. Not only are prime lenses sharper and faster, but using a fixed lens allows for a wider maximum aperture. The wider the aperture is, the more light enters your camera. This allows for faster shutter speeds and a lower ISO. At the same time, the wide open f-stop creates an extremely narrow depth of field, and in turn, gives that gorgeous, blurry background. I will admit that nailing perfect focus is much more challenging at f/1.2 than f/8, but for me, the dreamy, shallow depth of field is worth the risk. Yes, shooting with a fixed lens is a workout of running around and rolling in dirt, but I promise you won’t regret the extra effort.

Choose Your F-Stop or Aperture First!

One of my technical goals is to always nail exposure in camera. When selecting my manual exposure, I always choose my aperture first. Aperture allows you to control your depth of field. I’m a bit of a rebel, so I shoot children’s portraits at f/1.2-f/2. This decision is part of my style! It’s not for everybody. I found that with practice, I was able to capture sharp images with a very shallow depth of field. Choosing your depth of field gives you complete creative control over how much of your image is in focus. Shooting with a shallow or open aperture allows me to have my subject in focus. The rest of my image falls out of focus, resulting in a creamy, blurry background and a sharp subject.

Consider Your Distance!

As a rule of thumb, the closer you are to your subject, the shallower your depth of field. The farther away the child is from the background, the more blur will be behind them. This eliminates distracting elements and brings more attention to the child. The closer you are to your subject, the less area will be in focus. When I am shooting wide open at 1f/.2, I make sure I’m focusing on the eye closest to the camera. If you focus on the eye farther from the camera, the viewer may feel uncomfortable, even if he/she doesn’t understand technique. It’s appealing to look at images that mirror the biology of our eyes.

Choose Your Angle!

Angle and composition are very personal. I tend to center my subject. I also prefer to shoot landscape instead of portrait. However, a helpful trick is lying on the ground. This angle gives you the opportunity to get bokeh in front of and behind your subject. Remember, as you increase your focal length, you decrease the depth of field. Anything along your focus plane will remain in focus. Thus, anyone that falls within your depth of field will remain in focus, and everything else will fall out of focus.

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Michael Kormos's picture

Great tips! That portrait of Ana from Frozen is a favorite of mine.

Good seeing you here Katie!

Katie Andelman's picture

Thanks so much Michael!!

Mark Bowers's picture

Great post Katie! If you don't mind me asking, do you any presets in post to get that dreamy color scheme??

Katie Andelman's picture

Thank you Mark! I am a hand editor, so no presets. When planning a shot I try to choose a color scheme beforehand, and enhance the SOOC in post-production.

Anonymous's picture

I already knew and sometimes use your tips but seeing your examples made the time well spent! Really good photos!

Katie Andelman's picture

Thank you very much Patrick!

Love your photos Katie! The article was very only if I can get my 5 year old daughter to sit still long enough for me to take a photo......... :)

Katie Andelman's picture

I'm so glad you found it informative! 5 is a tough age for posed images :)

Kyle Medina's picture

OK the last image (white dress) is playing with my head. Branch looks like a macro lens and then you added the girl. My head is spinning trying to figure it out. You have fantastic sample images.

Katie Andelman's picture

Thank you so much Kyle! My assistant lifted the girl into the tree. I loved how she looked like a snowflake on the branch. The branches falling out of focus added an interesting texture and some mystery to the background.

Bartosz Kwiecien's picture

Great photos. What kind of light you use for most of the shots ?

Great tips, great picture and also great post processing.

Sorry but I don't like them at all. Not only am I missing composition (all brave centered) but to me the children all look like artifical puppets. Have you ever looked into happy children eyes? I think your style is better suited for adult models.

Terry Henson's picture

Clicked on this article with negative thoughts...then I saw the photos. Wow!!!

Amber Goetz's picture

Incredibly UNIQUE work. I unlike the Bert dude above me happens to think the way you're capturing them is truly fresh! These girls want to have a magical image of themselves dressed as one of their favorite princesses or heroin. I have an 8 year old daughter who always asks me to set up cool photos of her, or just go play with the camera, teacher her about the camera and composition while we go!

Ray Wong's picture

great article and amazing images Katie, I wish I had your skills and vision. I also only have 2 young boys, 2.5 and 5 months old. Let me ask my wife if i can have a daughter also :)

Great advice!!! I will have to try working with the 85!!! Wish me luck!!!

Thanks katie, I admire your work