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8 Tips for Photographing Children

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Children’s expressions are genuine; they love to live life with passion and abound in energy. When they are happy, their laughter and joy is infectious. They can be the best subjects of all – busy, happy, playful and real. If you’ve ever tried to take photos of kids who were not so crazy about having a camera in their face, you also know that while they are all these wonderful qualities, they can also be difficult and may require a little more planning for a smooth session.

Posed girl indoor studio

These organizational tips for photographing children will help you prepare yourself for some extended camera time with a child – whether you are a professional photographer prepping for a session with an advanced DSLR, or a parent with a simple point-and-shoot wanting to get some nice shots of your young children.

1. Timing and location

Time of day is really important. A photo session generally works best after a nap and snack when the child is the happiest. Also something to keep in mind is harsh light. Outdoors at midday when the sun is bright and strong is not ideal for photography.

A close second for importance is location. Outside is optimal and allows for lots of space to move around, but if you would prefer indoors (or it’s -40), make sure you have adequate space.

Kids chairs water summer

This family found some lovely outdoor locations, and we chose to do the session in the evening. We found the sweet spot between hungry, tired, sleepy kids and soft, flattering natural light.

2. Be prepared

Both you and the little ones want this to go as fast as possible. If you waste too much time floundering around when you could be shooting, children get bored, antsy and quickly lose interest. Make a flexible plan and be prepared before you bring in the child. Have your camera (charged battery, lots of room on a memory card, check your settings) and props ready (hide any toys where they can be easily accessed and only bring them out if or when they are needed). If you are using various backgrounds, know ahead of time the order you would like them in, and make sure they are ready to go.

3. Make a list

Make yourself a list of potential non-posed shots such as: sitting, standing, laying down, playing, running, etc. – your child will not pose the same as the kids in Pinterest photos – and you don’t want them to. Look for ideas and themes, but don’t expect those exact poses. You want the picture to express who they are. Include activities that you have ready, as well as some back-ups such as snacks or a phone. Get any electronics you use to entertain them ready beforehand – their favorite Netflix episode ready-to-go, or an upbeat song already opened in iTunes just waiting for you to click play – however, these should only be options when you are desperate and have tried everything else. Be flexible with your list and ready to throw it out if needed.

List

4. Get reinforcements

If possible, get some help. Ask your helper to stand directly behind you at first, not to the side – you want to try and get some pictures where the child’s eyes connect with the camera. For little ones your helper can plop them on a chair and quickly move away, while you wait ready with your finger on the shutter – you might only have two seconds to get the shot. Choose someone who can get them smiling and laughing. They will also help you keep your sanity when photographing your own kids.

5. Start with poses

Take the most posed, formal, look-at-the-camera pictures first. For example, a sibling shot where you want them all looking at the camera and smiling. You still might not get it, but this is where you have a chance.

Sisters posed

This posed shot was taken at the beginning of their session.

6. Limit movement

Limit their movement at the start: A chair, stool, couch, basket, swing, etc. Just be flexible and don’t force it – a picture somewhere else is better than a red, blotchy, crying face. I will sometimes keep a chair or prop hidden until it’s time to use it. Stick a fun chair down where you want them to be, and see if they naturally head over there to explore. You might get lucky and have them crawl up there on their own. But they might not want to sit on the chair at all – move on, or let them stand holding onto it, or sit on the floor next to it. Come back later if you feel they are not ready. If not, just ditch it. You might have lots of ideas and only actually use a few of them.

Boy chair

Near the beginning of a session is a great time to limit movement using props, chairs, etc. After a while they will want to run around instead of sitting. This little guy wasn’t going for conventional, but that’s okay too – just go with it.

7. Let them play

Let them play after you have tried the formal, posed shots. Don’t try too much posing or force them to sit still; you are in for a battle, and they will likely win. Consider centering the rest of the session around an activity they enjoy, or a new one that you think might be a hit – in the yard with the sprinkler, at the park on the slides, walking along the beach to collect shells and go adventuring, tea party outside, flying a kite, jumping on the trampoline, bucket full of soapy water on the grass, etc. Music can also be helpful – a fun little dance party, maybe? Unless you have a kid that really likes to run far away, outside is an excellent option – kids love to have room to move around, and a big space affords more options.

Feeding cows boy

We were nearing the end of this session and sitting still wasn’t an option anymore. This little guy loved feeding the cows, so over to the cows we went. It was also a way of telling the story of who he is, and what he loves. Sometimes the most cherished pictures don’t have a smile or eyes facing the camera.

8. Relax

Take a deep breath and relax! Kids can sense your stress, and it transfers onto them (and usually makes them do the opposite of what you want).

Do you have any other tips for photography children? Please share in the comments below.

 

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Dawn Bell is a family, child, and wedding photographer in Manitoba, Canada. Her absolute favorite subjects are children - there is nothing quite like the expressions and giggles that naturally tumble out of them! She is also a pastor’s wife and mom to two beautiful girls. To see more of her work, you can check out her website and Facebook page. For some behind-the-scenes and glimpses of her personal life, you can also find her on Instagram.

  • MaryGreen

    Great tips! Thanks a lot! That’s usually very difficult to make children photo as they won’t do everything that you want and expext them to, but with your approach it seems possible)

  • Thanks, MaryGreen! They don’t always follow instructions, but I kind of love that they want to do their own thing – they just need a little direction to make sure it’s something that will still make a nice image!

  • I have never tried shooting kids in a planned, organized manner, such as you explain here, however I still find your advices and tips very useful for casual, street-kid photography, which is what I enjoy doing. In the part of the world where I live (South East Asia) streets are overpopulated with children and photographing them is harmless and a lot of fun, many times it’s the kids themselves chasing you to have their picture taken! You can see some examples in my blog here:
    http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2015/06/people-from-myawaddy-door-to-myanmar.html

  • Those are great images – I love the emotion and sweetness of “faraway friends”!
    I live in a small town in Canada, so I definitely do a different kind of child photography 🙂 Most of the time parents are asking to have a session for their children, especially to commemorate special birthdays and milestones. I am excited that you still found some of these tips helpful though!

  • Thanks Dawn! Since I have no children of my own (or of close relatives/friends where I live) streets are my playground!

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  • Elina

    Thanks for these great easy tips and ideas. Getting myself in to child/family photography and those little 2-5 year old’s really do run the day! In my last shoot we where lucky to see monkeys in the trees that helped the boy to forget my presence!

  • Michael

    That was great article for me as I have 4 grandkids. I’ve have been shooting them hundreds of times in different locations including my DIY home studio. Quick question – did you use a fill up flash in your tip #5 “Start with poses”? The background was slightly overexposed but your subjects came out right. I am planning to take my grandkids to our local park and usually I like to put them so the sun is either behind them or at some angle to get this rim-light in their hair. However, the back-lit scene requires a fill up flash or a reflector. I use my Canon 580EX on the flash bracket about 12″ above my camera.
    Thanks!

  • Hi Michael! I’m so glad that it was helpful for you – grandkids would be wonderful practice!! I did not use fill flash or a reflector. I often don’t when photographing kids. They are so busy and move so fast! I shoot in RAW and do my editing in Lightroom. I will often decrease the highlights and increase the shadows when I have shot backlit (I love that rim light too!). I just make sure that when I am shooting I still get some catchlights in their eyes. I also shot this in the evening when the sun’s light is not as harsh which helped to even it out a little more.

  • Fabulous! I wish we had monkeys around here to use as distractions! 😉

  • Rob Bixby

    One other tip I learned a long time ago, shoot at their level. This can be really difficult because it can limit the speed you have to react, but it makes the images more natural. If you can’t get low as easily as you used to, shooting with a longer lens, from a little further away will minimize the effects of them looking up at you.

  • Michael

    Hi Dawn!! Thank you very much for your reply. I am not a professional photographer but I have a lot of passion to take creative photos and trying to learn from professionals as much as I can. I just bought my dream camera – Canon EOS 6D with kit lens – Canon EF 24-105 mm f/4L IS USM. Also, I shoot only in RAW and do all my post-processing in Adobe LR 5.7. You know, you have reminded me that technique in LR that I have been using lately for all my images with bright highlights. That is decreasing the highlights quite a bit and increasing the shadows sliders it really makes photos balanced and crispy defined. Thanks!

  • That is very true – it makes for much more engaging images!

  • That is my camera body too – I love it!! Are you enjoying the lens? That would be a great walk-around one!

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    I didn’t know that all “L” series lenses are deluxe and professional quality that’s why they are costly. I love this lens and the images are great. This is going to be attached to my 6D probably 90% of the time. My other full frame lens is cheap Prime ($125.00) EF 50 mm f/1.8 II lens. Thanks!

  • Yes, L lenses are fabulous! I have the 70-200 and love it! The quality is so much better, and I love those fixed apertures!!

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    These are amazing photos! I love the color in them! You have truly captured the moment and emotions!

  • Thanks Yvonne!

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  • TruLife Acrylic

    Shooting active kids can be challenging, so these are great tips and advice! Love the organization of making a list and being open to play time. Sometimes the most natural shots of kids are the best!!! 🙂

  • jacky Risham

    wow good idea!!!!!!!!!!
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