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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!