Tips for Photographing Children

Tips for Photographing Children

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.

Don't be afraid to stomp through the leaves or march to the next location. The younger you would have done it.

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.

Starting with a longer lens gives kids a chance to warm up to you before moving in closer.

Demonstrate

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.

Favorite Toy

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. 

Noisemaker Doohicky

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.

One hundred dollar toy, or five cent squeaker? The silly little squeaker always generates more interest.

Have Fun 

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.

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7 Comments

Nice and cute points, Dusty. I've found that photographing children can be really fun and rewarding. It documents a human life at a precious time. And photographing skin at its best is an added bonus. ;) I've also learned, particularly with a small group of those little monkeys, that the window for a good capture can be really really brief! One has to start and stop and start and keep fingers crossed. Also, great point about sharing images... there's a sense of excitement and anticipation when doing so. "Can I see? Can I see?" :)

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Great article and tips Dusty!

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Omg so cute, she loves the camera. Totally support the demonstrating and sharing the images, with adults or children this is so important to build their confidence

Great tips.. some that I plan to start using soon. Do you ever find that the large zoom lenses have the opposite effect and scare the children ?

Dusty Wooddell's picture

That isn't something I've experienced yet, but they're all different for sure.

Rex Larsen's picture

May I also suggest securing light stands, heavy monolights, and modifiers with weights or an assistant to keep children safe.

One thing that is very very important, but not mentioned is the time of day. Photographers may love the golden hour, but the most important thing about photographing children is to make sure that the session is at their best time of day, not yours, and not the parents. Golden hour is usually never good. Young kids are usually best in the morning. Ask mom, she will know. If you time the session to the child's best time, your success rate will be exponentially better.