Tips on Capturing Mesmerizing Images of Children

Tips on Capturing Mesmerizing Images of Children

It can be difficult enough to photograph adult models, but using children as models is a new level of challenging. There are a few tips to remember to make your shooting process a bit easier.

Treat Them With Respect

For the most part, kids tend to catch on when you’re trying too hard or being condescending. Show them early on when you first meet them at the photoshoot that you have respect for them and their time. As you should with any model; be friendly, make eye contact, make them feel comfortable, and respect their personal space. If you’re talking with their parent or agent on set, make them feel a part of the conversation as well.

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Showing Them References

This also goes for any model, but show the kids you’re working with what your goal is. Mood boards with examples of poses or expressions work great to give them an idea of what you would like. To get started, ask if there's a particular image on the mood board that they like or connect with. If there is, set a goal with the child to get the mood or expression down. 

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Getting Low

Kids are tiny — get tiny too! For the most part, shooting at eye level with your subject will give you a much better portrait than shooting them from far above. Kneel or sit with them or even lay down and shoot from slightly below to give them a larger than life appearance.

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Technical Bits

Getting a shallow depth of field, around  f/1.2 to f/2.8, will eliminate distractions in the background and give your image a dreamy effect that works great with little humans. When doing this, just remember to keep your focus on their eye and to stay still. If you’re moving your camera forward or backward after focusing, you risk losing your focus where you want it to be. As for your shutter speed, if you’ve got a wiggly kid and there’s a lot of motion you’re having to capture, make sure to raise your shutter speed to keep your images sharp while they’re bouncing around.

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Let Them Play

Even if you have a set image or mood in mind, remember to give the kids a chance to have fun and play around in the photoshoot. This could be photos of them jumping, dancing, twirling, or even setting your camera down to play a game with them so they’re re-energized and ready to keep going. You can allow them a couple wacky faces in between those expressions you want to work. Stay patient with them. Depending on the theme of your shoot, you can run around with them and grab great candid shots while they do. If I trust the model to be careful, I’ll sometimes give them my camera and allow them to take photos of me. It’s fun for them and also balances the power structure so they feel more comfortable in front of your lens.

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Give Them Breaks

Aside from playing, breaks to just decompress can be important too. Check in with your child model and see how they’re feeling. Do they need a snack or water? Time to sit? Even just the short time it could take to change a lighting set up or location can give them just the bit of downtime they need.

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Encouragement

Many kids tend to want to please adults. It can be nerve-wracking to have their photos taken and many things can affect a child's self-esteem, so make sure to remind them they’re doing a good job and that you’re happy with the results. If you’re not though, try phrases like “almost there” or “great start, we’re getting somewhere”.

Emily Teague Photography Fashion Commercial Children Lighting Creative Portraits Images Los Angeles

Rewards

Let’s face it — bribery works, right? Having treats around can be a great incentive for kids to just behave and perform their best when things start going downhill. Check with the parent or agent first, but be prepared to have some kind of treat like candy or fruit with you at the shoot. You can get creative with your incentives.  

Have any further tips that work for you when photographing kids? Challenges you face? Let us know in the comment section below! 

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12 Comments

Studio 403's picture

WOW, so enjoy how you capture these children. I have captured some children in the past, but not in the way you have “pulled them out” to pose. The unique color grading for children you have done I would thought would not work, but again, you have giving me new ideas. Thank you. I hope to lean from you. I am inspired.

Great photos, even though I find it a little weird when children are posing like adults. I find it much more appealing when children are acting like children. The PP is great too! And nice tips!

Agreed, but I find it more than a little weird.

"When doing this, just remember to keep your focus on their eye and to stay still. If you’re moving your camera forward or backward after focusing, you risk losing your focus where you want it to be."
If you use a Servo Focus mode, especially in combination with back button focus - I'm assuming a DSLR is being used - then this is not an issue. Servo autofocus will forgo an auto focus lock in favor of the camera constantly refocusing the lens for every micro movement which helps to ensure that your subject is tack sharp. This is what I used to do when I shot Canon. Now that I'm shooting Sony I'm still using a button on the back of the camera and continuous autofocus but the button on the back of the camera is programmed for eye AF. The compositional freedom this allows has been incredibly liberating!

I can see Eye AF being useful at times but is there an easy way to over-ride or change it? I can think of times I wouldn't want it to do that

James Kent's picture

I’m not familiar with mirrorless sonys as much but my a99ii can customize every button. I use extended zone af and then have a button near the lens that is comfortable for me to press that initiates eye af.

That's cool! I thought it might be more difficult to change from one to another and back. Does it confirm which eye is in focus?

Of course. Eye AF isn't on by default, ever. You have to press a button to initialize it. A tiny green box apears over the eye in focus.

Krisztián Roppantó's picture

Well, this advices are giving new inspirations to me! These photos (I always see on Fstoppers) always give me a lot of motivations tho. I've never disappointed of your articles. Good job!

Heikki M's picture

Great article. I agree with your points. Been shooting kids a lot and sometimes especially outdoors it can help if you are a bit invisible. Just let them play and they forget it's a photoshoot. It really depends what the vision is tho. and being invisible is easier outdoors with a 200mm. Your work is so great. I love moody and styled portraits in general also.

Levi Keplar's picture

Great article and even better photos!