6 Steps to Take ‘Guerilla’ Photos of your Children

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A Guest Post by David Moore from Clearing the Vision.

Organizing a formal photo shoot of your kids with a good location, nice clothes and the right light can produce lovely images. But it’s often the more casual opportunities that allow you to capture your children as they really are, doing the things they really do.

 Guerilla Photos of your Children 1.jpg

It can be the difference between getting a good photograph of a child who happens to be yours, and a good photograph of your child – if that’s not too confusing.

This guerilla approach to children’s photography isn’t really candid (they’ll almost certainly know you’re taking pictures) and can be more challenging technically (indifferent light, more complicated backgrounds), but it’s also very rewarding. I shoot children’s portraits professionally, but most of my favourite pictures of my own daughter have come from keeping a camera handy and looking for shots while she was doing her everyday things.

Here are some tips to get the most out your guerilla operations:

1. Prepare your gear

Keep your camera in an easy to reach spot in the living room (or other target-rich environment). Make sure the batteries are charged, there’s room on the memory card and that your settings are appropriate for shooting portraits indoors.

For me, that means increasing the ISO and using a wide aperture (f/3.2 or lower) so I can get a fast shutter speed (1/100s or more if I can manage it), and some nice background blur. Some cameras have a Portrait Mode that does much of the same thing. I prefer not to use a flash, preferring a natural approach.

I tend to use prime lenses, so I’ll make sure my 50mm or 85mm lens is on the camera (I shoot full-frame, if you’re using a cropped sensor DSLR then the equivalents would be something like 28mm and 50mm). A longer lens, if it’s fast enough, would give you more options to shoot from further away. One last small thing is to switch off the auto-focus beep: your kids will still know you’re there, but you won’t be so intrusive

2. Get down to their level

 Guerilla Photos of your Children 4.jpg

It’s tempting to shoot from your normal standing position, but most of the time, that just yields images that look like your normal view of the kids. Getting down to their level involves you in their world more immediately, making the viewer of the photograph seem more like they’re actually a part of what’s going on, rather than just an observer of it.

3. Light the eyes

 Guerilla Photos of your Children 2.jpg

Getting attractive catchlights – the reflections of light in the subject’s eyes that seems to make them sparkle – can be the difference between a good photograph and a great one. You can tweak things in Photoshop later, but you want to get it right in the camera, right?

The rule of thumb is to position yourself so that your subject is in shade, looking towards the light. You don’t have to be directly between the subject and the light source, so long as you can see the light reflected in their eyes. Windows are the most obvious light source, but TVs can also work if the room is dark enough (and kids are often held in rapt attention by the latest Dora or Elmo episode, so they won’t be bothered by you).

4. Watch your backgrounds

Trying to capture shots of often fast-moving kids indoors means you’ll have to be careful about what’s happening behind your subjects. Visual clutter in the background will detract from the picture.

Shooting wide open will blur as much of the background as possible (but watch for such a narrow depth of field that your child’s nose is in focus, but their eyes aren’t). Looking for clean backgrounds – a solid block of a wall, or getting in tight so you only show the plain-coloured couch, for example – will also help.

Sometimes some creative cropping after the fact can make a big difference.

5. Shoot the scene, not just the face

 Guerilla Photos of your Children 3.jpg
Great kids’ portraits often feature only the face, but sometimes capturing a wider scene can be just as valuable – showing the toys they’re playing with, or the pet they’re snuggled up with.

Another option is to show just a small detail that illustrates something about the child’s activities – a paint-covered hand, or the soccer cleats abandoned by the door, for example.

6. Bring the camera along

 Guerilla Photos of your Children 5.jpg
As well as capturing images at home, grab the camera if you’re heading out somewhere, even if it’s nowhere special. Parks and playgrounds are always fun places to shoot in, and you never know what you might shots you might get on an after-dinner walk one night.

Hopefully these tips will help, but remember it’s not always about getting the perfect shot. Part of the joy of taking everyday pictures of your kids is that even the average shots can remind you of particular fleeting moments in their lives that you’d otherwise completely forget.

David Moore is an Anglo-Irish photographer, writer and web designer at home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can find him at Clearing the Vision

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  • Mei Teng

    Tip #2 is a good one. Thanks for sharing.

  • Geoff Smith

    Great article, David! You gave me some nice ideas on taking pictures of my grandchildren.

  • And… TAKE A LOT OF PICTURES!

    All too often, I see parents – take ONE picture of the kid… on a swing.. in motion.. you get “that picture” that everyone loves – you’ll have to shoot several. Get close up – get far away – get everything you can..!

    Also “break rules” – Go with high ISO. Go with blown out highlights!

  • Excellent point, Daniel. Nobody needs to know how many less than great shots you went through to get the really good one. Keep shooting.

  • I think the final point is the most important. Above all… you can’t take good photos if you don’t have your camera with you! (as simple as that sounds)

    NEK Photography Blog

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

  • imagejohn

    Thanks for the tips. I, by chance, came across another one I found worked for me.
    I was to take some portraits of primary school children but before the photo shoot the teacher sat all the kids in a group on the floor and was explaining the days program. I was sitting in a chair facing the kids with my camera (with 50mm lens) on my lap. By aiming the camera in the general direction of each child and candidly clicking the shutter I got the best photos of the shoot. Nice clear shots of kids attentively listening to their teacher.

    I found that camera position to be a lot more stable than holding the camera to your eye and it also brought the camera down to the kids level. Of course some shots didnt work but I was still very happy with the result. I’m sure that technique would work with your own children to.

  • Great points! After a while, my kids would revolt when I asked them if they wanted to go take pictures. Now, I just take the camera with me and shoot away while they are having fun. Often, I will need to put the camera down and go have fun with them for a while. Then I can go back, pick up my camera and take a bunch of shots for 10 or 15 minutes. Don’t forget to have fun with the kiddos. Pictures are great memory reminders, but not the memory itself. Make memories with your kids.

    Here is one of my latest family favs of my daughter rolling down a hill.

    [eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/victorhoward/5050147052/’ title=’Rolling Down the Hill’ url=’http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4092/5050147052_3c89e03144.jpg’]

  • I’m lucky in that I get to work at an elementary school. Sometimes, on a Friday, I’ll take my camera out to recess and catch them in their natural habitat. My best shots come from kneeling on the ground, shooting from their own level.

  • Bruce Blasko

    So true, love the tips on this site, am starting out and want to get into it more. I like the idea of taking more candid shots of kids. Don’t have my own to practice on yet though! lol.

  • Shabbir Rozi

    Mr,David Moore
    Hope you are fine. I m also Digital photo shoot lover, and I love to shoot sceneries, But I can learn allot from your site. I am not a professional photografer, and I don’t have knowledge about photagraphy, but I have sense to shoot picture, and let me say you that ,your this site is my first school for learning Digital photography.Hope you will Help me,learning digital photography .

    About my self, I m 30 years old guy belongs to Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan, A Heaven for tourist.K2 is also situated in our area.
    thanks

  • Taking photos of kids it’s so difficult, since they have a lot of energy and run all the time. Yet, it is one of the most emotionally rewarding photo shootings.

  • Great advice! I should start taking more creative shots of children rather than the usual ones I took (tight frame on the face)

    I also tried this once: standing on a chair while a group of kids try to get my attention to shoot them. It was fun, because they were so excited over seeing a weird dude with a camera standing on a chair. The point of view was looking down on them (probably one of the usual ones I guess). Just wanna share how fun it is sometimes to take photos of children especially when they too are sharing the fun with you.

    You can see some of my amateurish shots I mentioned here:

    http://ihsankhairir.blogspot.com/search/label/children

  • Lorenzo Reffo

    @Anna: yes, it’s true, they have lot of energy and often is difficult to play with it.. but with a little patience, I learned to use this energy!

  • I liked the 5th point most. When we shoot kids, in fact any portraits for that matter, we naturally tend to fill the frame with the face of the subject. But creatively adding the surrounding can make the picture stand out. I just loved that picture with the dog included and focused.. lovely!

  • Another thing to keep in mind when your camera is accessible to you is that you want it to NOT be accessible to kids. It would be heartbreaking to see your nice camera and lens dropped and broken because your 3 year old decided to climb the cabinet.

  • I’m loving your shots David, great work

  • Thanks for the comments and kind words, everyone. @St Louis, you raise a good point about keeping the camera out of the reach of the little ones. And @IHSAN, that standing on a chair approach sounds like a good one – being the grown-up who’s behaving like a loon is often a good way of getting natural reactions from kids, especially if they’re tempted just to use their regular camera smile.

  • adam

    really like the swing shot. and i agree, take your camera with you everywhere (and not just to birthday parties). it will force you to constantly “frame” pictures as you’re out and you’ll see so much more. one of my favorites was of my 6 year old who was playing in the back yard after a rainstorm in her barefeet. i had my camera out there and as she was climbing on one of the swing set bars, i snapped a picture of her muddy feet on the bar, with a really shallow dof. turned into a great b&w.

  • adam

    haha, i just realized i could link to the pic…

    [eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/chooseweakness/4536716886/’ title=’shoe rebellion’ url=’http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4024/4536716886_ca7789e3cd.jpg’]

  • I love this lesson. I do indeed have my camera with me all day. Thanks for all your wonderful advice!

  • Nicole

    I love this post! “Geurilla” photos of my kiddos are my favorites. I love it when I am able to capture their personality, and them interacting! I am usually struggling most with balance between “watching the backgrounds” and “shooting the scene”. One of my favorite things about moving up from my P&S to dSLR has been the shallow depth of field to blur some of the clutter! I have also enjoyed finding new angles to make pics we enjoy. I need to explore capturing some detail shots. Thank you!

    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/22958942@N04/4164548988/][eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/22958942@N04/4164548988/’ title=’reading at the nap nest’ url=’http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2620/4164548988_2dfe720203.jpg’][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/22958942@N04/4164548988/]reading at the nap nest[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/22958942@N04/]nikesta[/url], on Flickr

  • Deepa

    Love the dog picture , very nice ! Thanks for the great tips.

    I have a 3 month old and its so hard to make him stay still, but yes its v challenging to take pic of them.
    I love love the 50 mm prime !

  • Liju Augustine

    David,

    Great tips. I would add one more. Shoot in burst mode, especially when you are photographing little ones. You may end up with lots of pictures but, hey we are not talking about film here. 

    Regards
    Liju Augustine
    Learning by sharing – http://lfotos.wordpress.com

  • Dian

    Taking “Guerilla” pic of kids is always challenging me..
    Would you please give me comment on this? Thank you..
    [eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/diansitoresmi/5147665655/’ title=’Hi! I’m 17 day old..’ url=’http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4061/5147665655_977a9e7580.jpg’]

  • Nice post, my children are used to the camera always being around, so they don’t pay attention any more

    letting me get them in great photo ops…

    one of my favs of one of my daughters friend:)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/5105069488/

    the playground is a great background:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/4865685003/in/set-72157604823214817/

    just sit there and let the magic happen:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/2679716616/in/set-72157604823214817/

    Amir

  • Derik Mateo

    Thanks for the tip… It could applied when shooting your pets also….

  • Rob Hickey

    Great tips and easy to remember; it also reassured me that I’ve been doing the right stuff by having my camera handy and having the settings properly adjusted beforehand so there’s little to do when going in for the shot. I love taking photo’s of my kids and use my 50mm prime on my Nikon D300 quite a bit.. Now just saving my pennies for the 85 mm prime / F 1.4 which I hear great things about. Thanks again.

  • karthik

    Always Kids eyes are so powerful…love to take kids photograph.Thanks for the tips….here are some of my take on kids[eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/10050074@N05/5175729142/’ title=’Jeeva’ url=’http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4133/5175729142_a34491aee0.jpg’][eimg link=’http://www.flickr.com/photos/10050074@N05/5175150059/’ title=’Monika’ url=’http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4132/5175150059_de7cd2a36d.jpg’]

  • I really appreciate all the great content you have here, regards for this post. Thank You !! 😉

Some Older Comments

  • Jones July 27, 2011 11:33 am

    I really appreciate all the great content you have here, regards for this post. Thank You !! ;)

  • karthik November 23, 2010 03:44 am

    Always Kids eyes are so powerful...love to take kids photograph.Thanks for the tips....here are some of my take on kids[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/10050074@N05/5175729142/' title='Jeeva' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4133/5175729142_a34491aee0.jpg'][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/10050074@N05/5175150059/' title='Monika' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4132/5175150059_de7cd2a36d.jpg']

  • Rob Hickey November 6, 2010 01:51 pm

    Great tips and easy to remember; it also reassured me that I've been doing the right stuff by having my camera handy and having the settings properly adjusted beforehand so there's little to do when going in for the shot. I love taking photo's of my kids and use my 50mm prime on my Nikon D300 quite a bit.. Now just saving my pennies for the 85 mm prime / F 1.4 which I hear great things about. Thanks again.

  • Derik Mateo November 6, 2010 10:30 am

    Thanks for the tip... It could applied when shooting your pets also....

  • amir paz November 6, 2010 04:58 am

    Nice post, my children are used to the camera always being around, so they don't pay attention any more

    letting me get them in great photo ops...

    one of my favs of one of my daughters friend:)

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/5105069488/

    the playground is a great background:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/4865685003/in/set-72157604823214817/

    just sit there and let the magic happen:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/amirpaz/2679716616/in/set-72157604823214817/

    Amir

  • Dian November 5, 2010 07:05 pm

    Taking "Guerilla" pic of kids is always challenging me..
    Would you please give me comment on this? Thank you..
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/diansitoresmi/5147665655/' title='Hi! I'm 17 day old..' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4061/5147665655_977a9e7580.jpg']

  • Liju Augustine November 5, 2010 07:56 am

    David,

    Great tips. I would add one more. Shoot in burst mode, especially when you are photographing little ones. You may end up with lots of pictures but, hey we are not talking about film here. 

    Regards
    Liju Augustine
    Learning by sharing – http://lfotos.wordpress.com

  • Deepa November 5, 2010 07:15 am

    Love the dog picture , very nice ! Thanks for the great tips.

    I have a 3 month old and its so hard to make him stay still, but yes its v challenging to take pic of them.
    I love love the 50 mm prime !

  • Nicole November 5, 2010 03:58 am

    I love this post! "Geurilla" photos of my kiddos are my favorites. I love it when I am able to capture their personality, and them interacting! I am usually struggling most with balance between "watching the backgrounds" and "shooting the scene". One of my favorite things about moving up from my P&S to dSLR has been the shallow depth of field to blur some of the clutter! I have also enjoyed finding new angles to make pics we enjoy. I need to explore capturing some detail shots. Thank you!

    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/22958942@N04/4164548988/][eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/22958942@N04/4164548988/' title='reading at the nap nest' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2620/4164548988_2dfe720203.jpg'][/url]
    [url=http://www.flickr.com/photos/22958942@N04/4164548988/]reading at the nap nest[/url] by [url=http://www.flickr.com/people/22958942@N04/]nikesta[/url], on Flickr

  • Cheyna November 5, 2010 03:37 am

    I love this lesson. I do indeed have my camera with me all day. Thanks for all your wonderful advice!

  • adam November 5, 2010 03:07 am

    haha, i just realized i could link to the pic...

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/chooseweakness/4536716886/' title='shoe rebellion' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4024/4536716886_ca7789e3cd.jpg']

  • adam November 5, 2010 03:06 am

    really like the swing shot. and i agree, take your camera with you everywhere (and not just to birthday parties). it will force you to constantly "frame" pictures as you're out and you'll see so much more. one of my favorites was of my 6 year old who was playing in the back yard after a rainstorm in her barefeet. i had my camera out there and as she was climbing on one of the swing set bars, i snapped a picture of her muddy feet on the bar, with a really shallow dof. turned into a great b&w.

  • David Moore November 4, 2010 06:03 am

    Thanks for the comments and kind words, everyone. @St Louis, you raise a good point about keeping the camera out of the reach of the little ones. And @IHSAN, that standing on a chair approach sounds like a good one - being the grown-up who's behaving like a loon is often a good way of getting natural reactions from kids, especially if they're tempted just to use their regular camera smile.

  • James November 3, 2010 07:34 pm

    I'm loving your shots David, great work

  • St Louis Wedding Photographer November 3, 2010 05:34 am

    Another thing to keep in mind when your camera is accessible to you is that you want it to NOT be accessible to kids. It would be heartbreaking to see your nice camera and lens dropped and broken because your 3 year old decided to climb the cabinet.

  • GaneshPrasad November 3, 2010 01:02 am

    I liked the 5th point most. When we shoot kids, in fact any portraits for that matter, we naturally tend to fill the frame with the face of the subject. But creatively adding the surrounding can make the picture stand out. I just loved that picture with the dog included and focused.. lovely!

  • Lorenzo Reffo November 2, 2010 10:31 pm

    @Anna: yes, it's true, they have lot of energy and often is difficult to play with it.. but with a little patience, I learned to use this energy!

  • IHSAN November 2, 2010 09:22 pm

    Great advice! I should start taking more creative shots of children rather than the usual ones I took (tight frame on the face)

    I also tried this once: standing on a chair while a group of kids try to get my attention to shoot them. It was fun, because they were so excited over seeing a weird dude with a camera standing on a chair. The point of view was looking down on them (probably one of the usual ones I guess). Just wanna share how fun it is sometimes to take photos of children especially when they too are sharing the fun with you.

    You can see some of my amateurish shots I mentioned here:

    http://ihsankhairir.blogspot.com/search/label/children

  • Anna Patrick November 2, 2010 09:02 pm

    Taking photos of kids it's so difficult, since they have a lot of energy and run all the time. Yet, it is one of the most emotionally rewarding photo shootings.

  • Shabbir Rozi November 2, 2010 08:27 pm

    Mr,David Moore
    Hope you are fine. I m also Digital photo shoot lover, and I love to shoot sceneries, But I can learn allot from your site. I am not a professional photografer, and I don't have knowledge about photagraphy, but I have sense to shoot picture, and let me say you that ,your this site is my first school for learning Digital photography.Hope you will Help me,learning digital photography .

    About my self, I m 30 years old guy belongs to Gilgit Baltistan Pakistan, A Heaven for tourist.K2 is also situated in our area.
    thanks

  • Bruce Blasko November 2, 2010 06:55 pm

    So true, love the tips on this site, am starting out and want to get into it more. I like the idea of taking more candid shots of kids. Don't have my own to practice on yet though! lol.

  • Rick November 2, 2010 02:40 pm

    I'm lucky in that I get to work at an elementary school. Sometimes, on a Friday, I'll take my camera out to recess and catch them in their natural habitat. My best shots come from kneeling on the ground, shooting from their own level.

  • Victor Howard November 2, 2010 01:06 pm

    Great points! After a while, my kids would revolt when I asked them if they wanted to go take pictures. Now, I just take the camera with me and shoot away while they are having fun. Often, I will need to put the camera down and go have fun with them for a while. Then I can go back, pick up my camera and take a bunch of shots for 10 or 15 minutes. Don't forget to have fun with the kiddos. Pictures are great memory reminders, but not the memory itself. Make memories with your kids.

    Here is one of my latest family favs of my daughter rolling down a hill.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/victorhoward/5050147052/' title='Rolling Down the Hill' url='http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4092/5050147052_3c89e03144.jpg']

  • imagejohn November 2, 2010 08:36 am

    Thanks for the tips. I, by chance, came across another one I found worked for me.
    I was to take some portraits of primary school children but before the photo shoot the teacher sat all the kids in a group on the floor and was explaining the days program. I was sitting in a chair facing the kids with my camera (with 50mm lens) on my lap. By aiming the camera in the general direction of each child and candidly clicking the shutter I got the best photos of the shoot. Nice clear shots of kids attentively listening to their teacher.

    I found that camera position to be a lot more stable than holding the camera to your eye and it also brought the camera down to the kids level. Of course some shots didnt work but I was still very happy with the result. I'm sure that technique would work with your own children to.

  • Jen at Cabin Fever November 2, 2010 02:57 am

    I think the final point is the most important. Above all... you can't take good photos if you don't have your camera with you! (as simple as that sounds)

    NEK Photography Blog

    Cabin Fever in Vermont

  • David Moore November 2, 2010 02:20 am

    Excellent point, Daniel. Nobody needs to know how many less than great shots you went through to get the really good one. Keep shooting.

  • Daniel Reed November 2, 2010 01:52 am

    And... TAKE A LOT OF PICTURES!

    All too often, I see parents - take ONE picture of the kid... on a swing.. in motion.. you get "that picture" that everyone loves - you'll have to shoot several. Get close up - get far away - get everything you can..!

    Also "break rules" - Go with high ISO. Go with blown out highlights!

  • Geoff Smith November 2, 2010 12:52 am

    Great article, David! You gave me some nice ideas on taking pictures of my grandchildren.

  • Mei Teng November 2, 2010 12:25 am

    Tip #2 is a good one. Thanks for sharing.

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