You Have to Respect Kids While Photographing Them

Last year I got a chance to work with UNICEF on a maternity project where I had to work with a lot of moms-to-be and kids. I have been surrounded with kids all my life and was a new mom myself, so I instantly agreed to be part of it. This was a challenge I was happy to embrace. It is not hard to photograph your own child, a sibling, or someone you already know. Kid photography is probably one of the most difficult genres in the industry if you don’t have a proper approach. In this article I will share my knowledge and experience I gained during years of working with kids.

Respect and Don’t Force

Very often I get a question about how to take better pictures of kids from random people. It might be trivial, but never force a child to be photographed. I very often see parents forcing their child to pose or have those fake smiles just to have a photo of that moment, but is it really worth it? Isn’t a child photograph a memory of a sacred moment, or is it a documentation of a pretty outfit and a fake forced smile? Do you like your own photos when you didn’t want to be photographed? If I had to give just one tip, that would be to respect the little human beings. 

Create Engaging Environment And Be Playful

Create a playful environment kids would enjoy and be more open instead of forcing them to do something. If you are hired to shoot a child you don’t know, arrange these things with the parents:

Stylized portrait of a football-lover kid at their backyard.
  1. Meet the child in their own safe zone prior to the shoot and try to become friends if possible. This little step will contribute to a more candid outcome. If it is not possible, try to be as kind and playful as possible. You have to earn the trust of the child in order to take really worthy photographs.
  2. Ask the parents to inform the child about the shooting day in a candid manner.
  3. Nature or a playground is a good choice to work, kids can engage with a variety of objects letting you catch the best moments to shoot.
  4. Make sure they wear something they feel comfortable in, this are usually the things kids also like. If the child wears something pretty but feels uncomfortable, you will just have a disturbed kid face in every photo.
  5. Be ready to postpone the shoot if the child doesn’t get into mood, is sick, or any other circumstances, which won’t let you get the perfect shots. Inform parents about this, it will take a lot of tension away. You can apply your own requirements at this point.
  6. Less is more, try to choose and environment with minimal interior. Clutter won’t add much interest in your photos and most likely will take the focus out of the child.
  7. If child has specific pronounced interest then you are a winner! The best images are those, where you have child’s personality and are able to showcase his world. This is such a fun place to experiment and be creative! Show interest in their world and they will open up a universe to you: from sports to arts, or dance to construction!

Perspective

You must have read this thousand times, but yes – the perspective matters! In my workflow I usually either go low angle to the level of child’s vision or take top angle shots having the environment in the frame. It does make sense. Getting low makes everything around them more balanced, even if all seems bigger. The child also appears more dominant in the photos. Top shots have their advantage, but are more challenging. There is no issue to get down on any surface and get your shot, but not always we have an available place to climb and take a proper angle shot. Top angle is a great choice if you have an interesting environment or mood to photograph. 

Portrait of twins for the UNICEF project at one of the far Armenian villages. I had to bring to armchairs to each side of the crib to stand on them firmly. My assistant provided extra safety for the sleeping kids by holding me firmly.

Lens Selection

A lot of kid photographers prefer telephoto zoom lens. I am a prime lens lover and find it rewarding running around kids instead of zooming. This approach enables a personal contact with the child, and if you are a good person, the surely you will have the best photos. In addition, you can have really outstanding depth of field with a prime lens, which means a more pronounced portrait. I used to shoot a lot with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens  before, but after moving to wide angle primes such as Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens or Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens, I prefer the feel I can approach with these. Prime lenses also offer more flexibility with lighting. Of course you can put some complex lighting for a stylized shoot and that’s perfectly cool, but most often you will not have that advantage due to age of a child and their ability to teleport from one place to another in a matter of seconds. Knowing your camera well and how to work with available light will be the best investment if you are into kid photography. Don’t forget kindness and respect towards little human beings!

Situation when you better work with daylight. Shot with prime lens at client's apartment. We took time to have the baby relaxed and comfortable.

Posed versus Candid

We all have different preferences. Make sure you have the proper agreement with the parents. Little kids won’t really stay to make poses, and usually when they do, they will try to give you’re their best, biggest smile, which honestly isn’t that appealing to have on all the images. You have obligation to educate and inform your parent clients about the nuances and details of child photography. Having reference mood-boards online will serve you well anytime and anywhere. Next time you are asked to shoot a newborn, toddler, child, or a teenager, just show some reference images to see what concept your client falls in. Candid photos of smaller ones are usually the best. Kids turn more responsive as they grow up and you can get some nicely posed, but still authentic portraits of them. As Tyra Banks says, make them Smize!

Posed but candid portraits of 8-year-old Sophie.

Notes

Presentation of the final photos is no less important as capturing them. If you really aim to capture child’s personality, then put them in a cool environment, play with them, and keep shooting. Afterwards, take up to five best shots of the set and put in one frame. Putting multiple photos together to tell a story is always winner. By doing this the still frame instantly turns to a story, and I can assure you parents love it!

Gallery of baby emotions shot with 50mm with natural light coming through big window.

If you are working with older kids, try to have a few outstanding shots rather than number of funny and nicely lit same kind of photos. An older child will have a more pronounced sense of personality and you want to get closer to see it. One really strong shot might be a better approach than 10 regular photographs.

Nowadays photography is so subjective that you don’t have to limit yourself at all, just be open and creative. Share your tips and tricks on this topic!

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5 Comments
Diko Jelev's picture

Absolutely share your opinion! I hate it when the parents try to make some idiot clown out of their child for the sake of cuteness factor.

Kids are great to make photos with. And IMHO that's the spirit to capture. To remember the real kid. To show it to him or her 20 years later without him or her feel their dignity has been stolen.

Emma Grigoryan's picture

absolutely agree with that! as mentioned above, it is our obligation to spread some light on what's good and what doesn't work

Richard Morwood's picture

"Make sure they wear something they feel comfortable in"
Absolutely!
My mother-in-law puts my daughter in super pretty dresses that she doesn't like and tries to make her to sit in places she doesn't want to be, then wonders why there's no smile

Emma Grigoryan's picture

Unfortunately this is a very common situation, I have seen this even with very good parents. Back then I was not a parent myself and gave a chance to the though that it might be something coming in a package with parenthood. I am happy that I was wrong, there is still hope. The cover photo is my daughter and I don't realy shoot her that often, just when I see it is some special moment then I would grab the camera, and no matter what she wears at that moment. The point is to take authentic photos of them,
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