Whether it’s an occasion or just a casual outing, or perhaps you just want to save some memories of special moments, photographing the little ones is a tricky job. I mean, you can’t really expect them to sit still and pose for you.
Moreover, that won’t even look natural. So, it’s best to just let them be, and leave the rest to the photographer.
If you’re a professional photographer, the job gets even tougher. The kids will take some time and probably test you in several ways before getting friendly with you and letting you photograph them.
Then there are other photography factors like lighting, composition, camera angle, and so on.
Here in this article, I’ll be sharing some tips and tricks that I personally have found to be very useful for photographing children. They can be of great help for professionals as well as amateur enthusiasts.
Table of Contents
Take It as It Is
The beauty of children’s photography is the raw innocence that they have. Adults mostly tend to project a certain look or appearance or emotion based on the circumstances.
In other words, they are way too much self-conscious. Which on one hand does make the photos look just the way they want them to look, but often takes the life out of them.
But kids just show how they are truly feeling at the moment. They don’t fake it because they don’t know how to. The fact that they don’t look staged is what makes their photos stand out. You have to wait for the right opportunity to take that perfect shot. The more candid it is, the livelier it’d look.
Pro tip: Children look the best when they’re smiling or laughing. Make sure to give them plenty of reasons to giggle.
Go with The Flow
The best way to make a photo look “Not Posed” and natural is simply by... not posing.
Throw the “Pose” manual away and just let the kids strike their own poses. You’ll be surprised at how creative they can be. If you want them to look a certain way or make a certain posture, instruct them in a fun and creative way.
You can even do the poses yourself- kids like imitating and making impressions.
If they still aren’t getting your idea, move onto the next step. Don’t make it seem like a chore or task, because that might intimidate your model. Rather let your subjects have their own fun with it.
If you set up a shot, always take it no matter how good or bad. Otherwise, the child might think they’re not doing well enough. Always inspire and motivate them to be their own selves.
Pro tip: It’s a good idea to set up multiple cameras at different angles so that you can take several shots of the same pose from various angles. A single pose can give you totally different results if shot from different angles.
Communicate with Your Children
They may not seem like it, but kids actually have a lot to say and want to be heard. And they also understand certain things much better than adults do. That’s why they tend to be so prodigiously good at arts and math and whatever they find interesting.
They have the innate ability to learn and master new things. The key to putting this ability to its best use is by communicating with them.
But as simple as it sounds, it’s actually quite difficult to execute it. It requires engaging with the child in a fruitful conversation, asking, and using their ideas while sharing your ones with them.
This is difficult on so many levels. Especially, for new photographers because they don’t know how to approach a child and treat them as individual persons rather than tiny toddlers.
You should never strictly talk to them or look down on them. Talk normally, as you’d to with an adult. Don’t just go and ask, “So, how’s school?”, that’d bore them and put an off-putting impression of you to start with. Instead, pick an interesting topic to talk about.
Tell them about your job instead, in a fun way. Explain to them what you like the best about your work and why. Make yourself appear interesting to them. Then, ask them about themselves. What they like doing in their free time, ask them about their hobbies and interests. Allow them to open up to you.
Pro tip: Ask them to show you their favorite toys, books, or things they enjoy. Have a casual conversation with them. Try to use those things into your photographs. You’ll see how much they’d enjoy working with you and how co-operative they get.
The thing that makes childhood so much fun is the silliness. You can’t take the silliness out of a child and expect them to look “Childish.” Rather, use that silliness by incorporating it into your photographs to internalize with the way a child thinks and behaves. Bring out the child in you.
Engage with them in what they’re doing. Play around with them, join their tea party, enter their pillow castle. Become a part of their natural habitat so that they can be their best true selves with you.
If you want them to act natural then you need to ease them into doing what you want them to do, not instruct them to strike a certain pose.
Pro tip: Making jokes and singing along with them would help you to blend in with their comfort zone.
It’s All About Growing Down
It’s pretty obvious that your subjects are going to be much smaller than you. So, you need to find angles that make the photos look like they’ve been taken from their level. Don’t take all of the shots from angles that are way above their height. Be experimental.
Take advantage of your height and the compact camera when it’s needed, but don’t forget to go down to their level if the shot calls for it.
When you’re photographing adults, the thing that you need to keep in mind is the poses. In case of young ones, you just want to get an image that looks and feels connected to them.
Grown-ups sometimes need to grow back down to get a better view of the child’s world.
Pro tip: Don’t make them have to look way up to or straight into the camera. Instead, place something amusing or interesting in front of them right beside your camera like a toy or a pet. Or, simply make goofy faces at them.
Don’t Tire Them Out
Unless the child you’re photographing is a professional child model, your shoots should not take more than an hour or so. At least, not at a stretch. It’s crucial that you keep an eye out for signs of fatigue and frustration.
Children will never tell you they’re tired, but they will get cranky and lose interest in the work soon.
It’s never a good idea to push a kid beyond their limits. It won’t do any good to anyone. Time is precious, and it’s even more precious when photographing children.
Don’t waste too much of it fixing your equipment or toggling with the settings of the camera. Get going with what you have and make do with it.
Always come prepared; never make your subject wait for you to set up your equipment while the perfect moment slips away. Have a thorough knowledge of the gear you’ll be using, as well as the environment and the circumstances of the setup.
Your photos should be well-connected to the context while being unique themselves.
Pro tip: Be fast. Children always tend to be in a hurry, and you can never get them to do the same thing the same way twice. So, you have to make the best use of the short window they grant you before they sprint away doing something else.
Make the Best Use of Natural Light
Yes, studios are useful. You get to create any atmosphere you want with any backdrop of your choice using whatever kind of lighting you prefer. But that’d make it look really artificial. It’s better to not stay stuck inside a studio unless it’s a commercial project.
Venture out of those four walls. Take the model out for an outdoor shoot. See what magic the natural lights do to the whole composition. There is something about natural lighting that creates a style of its own which is unique.
Children usually don’t have the patience to sit around and wait while you set up your lighting. So just leave the speed lights and studio lights back home and make the best out of the sun’s rays.
Of course, in case of moody monochromes, you can take it indoors and use artificial lights any time of the day. But if you want your photos to look dreamy and ethereal, natural light is the only way.
Pro tip: Notice how the natural lighting blends in with the environment. Utilize that tuning. Whether you’re shooting in a park or at home, let the raw lighting bring out the genuine emotions of the child.
The Wider, The Better
It’s a good idea to use an aperture field that’s larger than F2. Unless you’re shooting urban setting with a wide and well-lit backdrop.
If you want to give your photo a dreamy effect, then you can try F2 aperture on a 85mm lens that leaves enough distance between and the background.
Pro tip: Children never sit still. So, you’ll need a super-fast camera to capture them at their best moments before they slip away. Crank up your ISO speed to at least 1/160 to get the job done.
It All Begins at Home
If you’re planning to begin a career at professional children’s photography, you need a lot of practice at first. Invest some time into developing your own style. Practice with the kids in your family, or ask your friends for letting you take photos of their kids, they’ll happily oblige. Every good thing starts small.
Pro tip: Start by covering family events such as birthdays and weddings where there are many children gathering in one place. It’d be easier for you to get used to having kids as your subjects.
Always Take Permission
Just like adults, there are certain ethical boundaries and considerations when it comes to photographing children as well. The best way to ensure that these boundaries are maintained is to work with a parent or a guardian of the child.
Often, it’s easier for the child to feel at home when there is a caregiver, they know present at the spot. Just remember to ask them to remain at a certain distance so that they don’t get in the way of your photographs or distract the child.
It can be a bit tricky when you’re shooting outdoors. Then you’d have to maintain work ethics, professional boundaries, personal space, all the while being creative and out of the box.
Pro tip: Even if you’re at a public gathering like a wedding or a carnival and you see a child you find photogenic; you should ask their parent or guardian before you photograph them.
Photography, like any other kind of creative work demands to be enjoyed in order to get the best out of it. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you may be able to follow all the technical rules, but the outcome will look very mechanical and soulless.
To make things fun for both you and your little client/model, a good way to start is to have a conversation with the child and get to know them better. Children are basically tiny humans. They have their own personalities and preferences. A good conversation could be an excellent ice-breaker.
Pro tip: Be a little silly; make a funny joke or perhaps a funny face. Keep the child entertained throughout the shoot. Make sure they go home with a smile on their face after the session.
Include A Friend
If you want the child to pose in a particular way, bring along a sibling or friend of theirs. You’ll be amazed to see the difference that makes. They’ll be so busy playing along and having their own fun, they’ll barely even notice that you’re even there.
Pro tip: You could bribe the kid with a little candy or something to get them to cooperate with you. In that case, you become the friend. The idea is to make the kid feel like they are in a friendly environment.
Let Them Be Wild
Kids get bored and non-cooperative if you keep pushing them to do things your way. Instead, if you let them be wild and carefree, you’ll find them in their true natural personas which are otherwise hard to come by.
Let them play around and do whatever they want. Jumping on the bed, dancing on the couch, shouting really loud… anything they find mischievous will attract them instantly!
Pro tip: You could also join them in the fun if they’re comfortable with it. That way, they’ll treat you as one of them and be even more comfortable around you.
Let Them Be Their Own Photographers
A great strategy to get kids to cooperate is letting them lead. Not just in photography, but in pretty much everything. Just make it seem like they are doing an important job and see how responsible they suddenly get.
Also, if you let a young one get a camera and show them how it works, they’ll start cooperating out of curiosity anyway. They can even give you new ideas for shots. Depends on how old they are.
Pro tip: Take turns in shooting each other. Let the child shoot you, and ask to shoot them in return. This would make it seem like a fun game to them.
A great way to work with really uncooperative kids is a visit from the tickle monster. Ask their parents to tickle them and see the brilliance of natural smiles and laughter change the entire mood of the shoot. You can even ask the kids to tickle each other if there is more than one.
Pro tip: Don’t tickle the child yourself. Always remember to keep a parent or a guardian on close watch when you touch a child.
Can’t get a squirming toddler to pose? Just get their dad o toss them into the air!
Try to take the photo after the kid comes down from the toss. Evidently, they’ll either look at you, or the dad. Either way, you’ll end up with three excellent photos; a fun toss, interaction between the father and the child, and a naturally posed shot with smiles on both of their faces.
Pro tip: If the dad is not present, a mom, or an older guardian can also do the toss.
This is even more effective when you’re photographing infants. If you want to picture the child in their true natural habitat, ask their older sibling to show you the baby’s nose, count their fingers, or sing to the baby.
This way, the child will feel a sense of purpose and will be more willing to help you out. Of course, if the older child is feeling irritated, move on and try later.
Pro tip: Focus on their faces to capture the rawest emotions in their expressions.
Engage Them in An Activity
Give the child something to do, and they’ll instantly forget that you’re even there. For example, if the kid gets tired and cranky after a long day outside and simply doesn’t want to shoot, pull out a kite or a ball and let them play with it. You’ll see the annoyance vanish into feeling of joy.
Pro tip: You can take some entertainment preparations prior to the shoot, like give them a little cooking setup and bake with them. Let them have their fun.
Let Them Perform for You
You could ask tiny client to do a little bit of showing and telling session. Ask them to show you a trick or talent they have. Most kids love it when you show interest in something, they like doing. They’ll happily show off.
Pro tip: Watch them perform attentively, enjoy. Don’t just photograph. Make it look like you really appreciate what they’re doing.
Sing To Them
Music is always a powerful tool. It adds more dimensions to whatever you do. Sing to the child, or even better, get them to sing with you. The nervousness will be replaced by friendly bonding.
Pro tip: Ask the kid’s parent what their favorite songs are. You can even ask them to sing them to the child in order to break the ice.
Kids love breaking rules. If you want them to do a certain thing or strike a particular pose, just ask them not to do it. Don’t smile or do anything that’d give it away.
Pro tip: Don’t be too bossy with the kids, though. If they notice that you’re being too smart with them, they are most unlikely to cooperate. Be gentle to them.
When working with children, it’s important to learn how to take the situation to your favor by negotiating or coming to a common ground. You want to photograph them, when all they want is to play with their favorite toy or just to run around the house. Why not do both?
Ask them to play whatever game they were playing or want to play, while you photograph them. They’ll get busy with their game and forget that you’re even there, and you’ll get some really good natural expressions to click. It’s a win-win for you both.
Pro tip: You can also teach them some of your favorite games or things you liked doing when you were their age. Or take part in their game with them so they don’t know your real intention is to catch them in the act.
It’s A Wrap!
Always end the sessions with the impression that’d make the child feel like you really enjoyed their company and you’d like to spend more time with them whenever they want to. Become their friend.
This will make a good impression on them and other kids’ parents may also consider you when they want their child to be photographed.