Tips for Creating Candid Portraits of Children Outdoors

One reason why I gravitate to photographing pets and children is that their unpredictable nature lends to capturing more genuine images that portray their true personalities. In my experience, the parents’ favorite portraits of their children are the candid photos in which the children are completely unaware of the camera and can just be themselves. Here are a few tips on how to create better candid imagery of kids.

Don't Take That Camera Out Just Yet

When first meeting families for a session, a common tendency is to immediately pull out the camera and start snapping away. Sometimes we think that parents expect us to be taking photos the whole time, which of course is not true.

Explain to the parents that the best way to approach the session will be to let their kids do their own thing for the first little while. For the first ten minutes or so, try to refrain from handling your camera and focus on talking to the children, playing a few simple games (or getting the parents to play games), and letting them explore the area. This way, when you do begin to take photos, the children (and parents) will be much more relaxed.

A game of hide-and-seek using the natural surroundings can keep kids excited and engaged.

Make Use of Toys and Props

I’m not one to incorporate elaborate props for children and family photography, but toys can help to keep kids engaged during their outdoor experience. You can ask parents to bring along a few favorite toys, or bring some of your own. When choosing toys, I like to pick simple items that I don’t mind showing in some of the photos. Some examples include balls, wooden blocks, balloons, and bubbles. Keeping the focus on playing and not on taking pictures is the name of the game when creating candid children’s portraits.

Give Them Space

It can be challenging to be inconspicuously snapping photos of kids if you’re constantly shoving the camera in their face. Choosing a long focal length (100mm or longer) will allow you to quietly capture images without being too intrusive. You can calmly walk around your subjects to compose with different backgrounds, and try out different angles by standing, kneeling, or lying on your stomach.

I find that creating candid portraits of children requires a bit more planning than traditional posed portraits. Focusing on getting to know the children at the beginning of the session and giving them an activity to keep them engaged will make for more genuine expressions and thrilled parents.

Encouraging imaginative play will make it easy for you to capture kids just being themselves.
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Anonymous's picture

Very helpful article and really good accompanying photos. :-)

Jordan Pinder's picture

Thanks Patrick!