Photographing children can be a fun and rewarding experience, or it can be a stressful and daunting one. Ultimately, the type of experience and success you have photographing children is on you. In no particular order, here are a few tips that can help make working with children a little more rewarding.
First Let Them Explore
If you’re anything like me, you prefer to shoot on location over shooting in a more comfortable studio environment. This often means working at locations with interesting features. For children, these intriguing features can be nearly irresistible, so do yourself a favor and spend the first 10 minutes of your shoot exploring the area with your subject so they can get it out of their system before you begin shooting. If you need to adjust your shooting schedule or start time to make time for this, do it. This can also be a great opportunity to capture a few candid photographs, just be sure to advise against anything that may ruin their outfit or upset their parents.
Let Your Inner Child Loose
While we’re often paid a significant amount of money to photograph children and families, this can be quite grounding. It’s important to remember that the children likely have no idea what the sum of money paid for their pictures even means, so it’s quite alright to let loose a little bit when working with kids and give your inner child an opportunity to come out and play. Parent’s might think you’ve lost your marbles, but your subjects will reward you with genuine smiles and interest in what you’re saying and doing. Parents will understand later.
Focal Length and Comfort Level
All children are different and with their varying personalities come different comfort levels. Perhaps it’s the first time a child has seen a large expensive camera and professional lighting. This can be intimidating. One of the tricks I’ve learned over the years has been to evaluate my subject's comfort level during introductions. If I recognize that my subject is a bit on the timid side, I’ll typically start shooting with a lens like a 70-200mm f/2.8 and keep a little bit of distance between us. This gives children a chance to feel you out and see that this whole picture taking thing isn't so bad after all. I’ll also limit my use of off-camera lighting when working with kids that may find them a intimidating at first.
People all over the world communicate differently. One form of communication that seems to be pretty much universal is body language. If I need to direct a child to stand or face a certain way, I don’t just say it verbally, I physically show them using my body. This often generates a laugh from the females as I demonstrate feminine poses, but hey, whatever it takes it get the point across and for everyone to have an enjoyable time.
Before I even meet with families for child portrait sessions, I’ll suggest to the parents to allow the child to bring one of their favorite toys. This can be a savior when kids become upset. Sometimes the best thing to do in the event that a child becomes upset while shooting is to simply take a break and give them a few minutes with their favorite toy.
Share Your Captures
I've photographed kids who couldn't care less about what I'm doing, that is until they see it with their own eyes. I always show children select images we've created and sometimes even have them make silly faces or jump in the air, just so I can show them what I've captured. Showing kids the pictures you're taking of them can give them a sense of accomplishment following each pose, and almost always improves the shoot. Something inside me tells me that it also helps create future photographers.
Families love to participate in child photo sessions. This can be both a blessing and a problem all at the same time. While children love their families and tend to be much more comfortable when they're around, it’s sometimes difficult to direct their attention away from their favorite siblings or mother. This is where my noisemaker doohickey comes in; a squeaker from an old dog toy to be more precise.
I’ve used this little squeaker to get the attention of kids for about five years now and I’m always amazed at how much it can come in handy. I place the small plastic squeaker in my pocket and when I need to gain the attention of a distracted subject, I’ll press on my leg a few times and let it squeak. Immediately heads turn towards me and I’ve regained the attention I need.
Lastly, it’s important to have fun when photographing children. If you can’t seem to do that, perhaps you should consider another genre, as in my opinion, kids who enjoy shooting with experienced photographers at a young age grow up to be great subjects later in life. They also tend to become the type of person who hires professional photographers to photograph their young ones when that time comes.