How to go Get the Best Shots of your Kids

How to go Beyond the Regular Composition Advice for Getting the Best Shots of your Kids

A Guest post by Rachel Devine – author of Click! How to Take Beautiful Photos of Your Kids.

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If you search for advice on how to take better pictures of children there are certain gems that are sure to appear on any list of tips. “Get on their level” and “Get Closer”, are the two that come to mind right away and they are both solid ways to improve your kid shots. Let’s look first at why these work and then how to expand those ideas to create infinitely more interesting images.

The top tip on any list you find is often going to be “Get on their level”. There is a reason that it should be as it is great advice and will make a big difference immediately. If you get down on the same level as a child to take their portrait, you give them power by allowing them to look into the camera straight on. Kneel down so that you become the same height as the child. Chat with your subject and engage them before just going right into taking their photograph. When the time is right, lift your camera and ask the kids if they can see themselves (or a fairy or a pony or any other magical subject) in your lens to get direct eye contact.

Photography is a visual language and the angle with which you shoot the photograph is an integral part of the structure of your story you are telling. Think of composition as part of the “grammar” of this language and that the choices that you make should serve a purpose. Photography is a common language that even kids can understand and when you make the effort to physically go down to their level you are showing them a certain respect.

Tech tip: Use a long lens so that you can put some distance between the camera and the child’s face. That is just another layer of respect.

Once you have begun to incorporate the “Get on their level” angle into your regular routine, here are four other ideas to break the cycle of the adult eye level shots:

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Over Their Shoulder: You are down on their level, you have taken a straight on portrait, now move around the child and have a look at what they are doing. Immerse yourself in their world and let your camera see what they see.

Tech tip: If you have a fast 50mm lens, use it now and include some of the child in the frame. If they are busy, you will need to use a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion. Using a fast 50mm lens means you will be able to open up the aperture to allow you to use that faster shutter speed indoors and avoid triggering your flash.

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Go Low: Kids are short and you may have gotten on your knees to get their eye level, but now, go further. Come on, you can do it, lie down. You may be amazed at what the world looks like from the ground. Babies tend to hate tummy time, but if you get down with them, they may even enjoy it more and you can end up with some wonderfully funny faces. Or, how about that mountain of toys on the playroom floor? You think it looks bad from where you are standing? It is massive from down here!

Tech tip: Keep your aperture as wide as your lens will let you go so you can blur some of the floor in the foreground of these shots. That will help you isolate your subject even more.

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Bird’s Eye: Breaking the adult’s eye level angle is not always just about sitting “criss-cross applesauce” or laying on the floor. It is about carefully observing the world that your child inhabits. It may be the same one as you, but it sure can appear different when you make an effort to look from unexpected points of view. Climb (carefully!) up above the kids and shoot directly down on mealtime, playtime, naptime, story time or bath time…anytime really. I have balanced (carefully! yet precariously) on the edges of various bathtubs, crib railings and dinner tables to get some of my favorite shots. It may be easier to grab a step stool though.

Tech tip: Use the widest focal length that you have and really get a sweeping scope of the children in their environment. Just watch out for your own feet getting into the frame.

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Reflections: Use reflections to not only capture yourself with kids, but to catch their expression when they don’t realize the camera is trained on them. You don’t need a house full of mirrors to do this either. When you start looking, you will find shiny surfaces all around you.

Tech Tip: Show yourself in the shot. Set the camera to closest subject auto focus mode and take the camera away from your face before you press the shutter button.

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Almost as often, when searching for ways to improve your photos of children, you will be told to “Get closer.” Children’s faces are so perfect and beautiful that it is great advice for you to fill the frame with them. Isolate the tiniest of details by photographing in close on things like newborn lashes, pursed toddler lips going in for a kiss or the drips of a juicy orange picked right from the tree. These shots make for beautiful additions to your collection of images.

Tech tip: Use a macro lens, close-up adapter (or the little flower icon for point and shooters) to get the closest focus possible.

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Far Away: Now that you have that powerful and fantastic full frame eye contact shot of your child, step back and let the kids in your photos breathe. You will need to really step back and feature the children in their big world. This angle will emphasize their smallness, but their confidence at being alone in the frame will be their strength.

Tech tip: Use color and negative space well. A messy shot will not be as powerful.

Image by Peta Mazey

Enjoy this post? Check out Rachel’s new eBook – CLICK! How to Take Beautiful Photos of Your Kids

Rachel Devine is an international commercial kid photographer and daily life photo blogger from the states. She currently lives in Melbourne, Australia. Rachel and Peta Mazey are the photography duo behind “Beyond Snapshots”. They teach and mentor (in person and online) photographers of all levels on how to take better photographs of life. Their book will be published next year on Amphoto/Random House.

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Guest Contributor This post was written by a guest contributor to DPS. Please see their details in the post above.

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  • http://www.smileformetoys.com Carl Olson

    Great tip on getting direct eye contact. While sometimes the best photos are of the child not looking up and being engrossed in something interesting, frustration can mount if Mom can’t get her little one to look at the camera when she thinks they should. Establish good relationships with kids early on, encourage and compliment the results so you don’t produce someone that ducks the camera in their early years! Never too early to help build self-esteem.

  • http://www.intopixel.my Amran Yahaya

    Great stuff here, thanks for the tips. For some reason I’m always drawn into taking kids’ photos. It’s their sincere expressions all the times that make it beautiful.

  • http://paristhroughmylens.blogspot.com Virginia

    This is by far one of the best articles I”ve read about photographing children. I will pass this on to all of my photography students.
    V

  • http://www.whitepetal.co.uk Paul

    Nice set of images, I often take time to grab the kids shots at weddings; always popular!

  • http://www.riaanroux.co.za Riaan Roux

    Photographing babies and toddlers is always a challenge. Engaging the little ones is very important, as well as “getting down to their level.” I have been employing these techniques successfully for a long time, but as they say, there is always something new to learn. The over-the-shoulder shots are amazing and add just that “something new” I was looking for!

    Thanx!

  • http://mattheathphotography.com/ Matt Heath

    Great shots and a blast from the past from Rachel, she was my inspiration when I started child photography and this post has made me rediscover her work! Great!

  • bobbyv

    getting down to their level also allows you to frame their world according to how they view it

    one thing that applies to all people shots as well, is to capture “catch-lights” in their eyes, something that makes the picture come alive; this is especially impactful for children however, because their eyes are larger in proportion to their face than for adults

    when they are playing with a tablet or a video game, the electronic device casts a glow on their face, and you capture their facial expression, the glow on their face, and the catchlight in their eye from the electronic device …

  • Jay Shanker

    I learned more about composition in this little piece than I would have, reading 10 books.

  • Jennifer Varnado

    Great tips

  • Jeffrey Photos

    Love this article very informative

  • Elizabeth

    Very informative and interesting. It help me improve my photography.

  • patrick dinneen

    Nice article. Get on their level works great.
    One I use with my kids is take photos without them knowing. Put camera into continous burst mode, look through your viewfinder to get focus and know how to frame. Then take your head away from the camera and talk to them while shooting. They’ll be more relaxed and you’ll get them ‘natural’, rather than making faces or playing up.
    In this collage the top right photo is an example of shooting without my son knowing
    http://www.photoblog.ie/2013/11/01/autumn-leaves/

  • http://www.praverb.net/ Praverb

    I love the simplicity of this post and the awesome examples.

  • http://www.emilyannbrownphotography.com Emily Brown

    Awesome tips! Great examples, too.

  • Alcides

    Rachel, which equipments suit best to photography children’s like; lens, camera body?

  • Atique Rahman

    awesome !

  • nava

    It was pretty good, useful content that Mercy Sayttvn

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Some older comments

  • Jay Shanker

    October 2, 2013 02:36 pm

    I learned more about composition in this little piece than I would have, reading 10 books.

  • bobbyv

    October 1, 2013 09:16 am

    getting down to their level also allows you to frame their world according to how they view it

    one thing that applies to all people shots as well, is to capture "catch-lights" in their eyes, something that makes the picture come alive; this is especially impactful for children however, because their eyes are larger in proportion to their face than for adults

    when they are playing with a tablet or a video game, the electronic device casts a glow on their face, and you capture their facial expression, the glow on their face, and the catchlight in their eye from the electronic device ...

  • Matt Heath

    October 1, 2013 07:28 am

    Great shots and a blast from the past from Rachel, she was my inspiration when I started child photography and this post has made me rediscover her work! Great!

  • Riaan Roux

    February 22, 2012 06:44 am

    Photographing babies and toddlers is always a challenge. Engaging the little ones is very important, as well as "getting down to their level." I have been employing these techniques successfully for a long time, but as they say, there is always something new to learn. The over-the-shoulder shots are amazing and add just that "something new" I was looking for!

    Thanx!

  • Paul

    September 18, 2011 07:47 am

    Nice set of images, I often take time to grab the kids shots at weddings; always popular!

  • Virginia

    September 17, 2011 09:30 am

    This is by far one of the best articles I"ve read about photographing children. I will pass this on to all of my photography students.
    V

  • Amran Yahaya

    September 16, 2011 02:20 pm

    Great stuff here, thanks for the tips. For some reason I'm always drawn into taking kids' photos. It's their sincere expressions all the times that make it beautiful.

  • Carl Olson

    September 16, 2011 05:45 am

    Great tip on getting direct eye contact. While sometimes the best photos are of the child not looking up and being engrossed in something interesting, frustration can mount if Mom can't get her little one to look at the camera when she thinks they should. Establish good relationships with kids early on, encourage and compliment the results so you don't produce someone that ducks the camera in their early years! Never too early to help build self-esteem.

  • Scottc

    September 15, 2011 10:17 am

    Try conveying the sense of wonderment.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendog64/4720205893/

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    September 15, 2011 03:20 am

    I also like to use a 50mm lens when photographing a baby indoors as there is not always space for even my 105mm macro lens. No doubt getting down low on the floor helps you photograph the baby in her/his world. At a recent birthday party for a 1-year old it took me about 30 shots to finally get the shot I wanted (baby and balloon together) of the baby chasing a balloon:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2011/6/20/1st-birthday-party-for-brooks-st-petersburg-birthday-party-p.html

    That was a shot for "me" during that shoot. Most of the other shots were requested by the parents.

  • Christi Nielsen

    September 15, 2011 02:56 am

    Great article!

    There's nothing inappropriate about the first image at all. Yep, the concern that some people are going to make a big deal over it is a valid one, but not because the image or the posting of it is inappropriate.

    These tips are really useful. Thanks a lot!

  • kandiTolentino

    September 15, 2011 02:11 am

    this is a nice article. it really helped me photographing kids. thanks =)

  • Fuzzypiggy

    September 14, 2011 10:10 pm

    Please remove the dummy/pacifier from babies! Dummies/pacifiers are the devil's invention ( IMHO, lol! ) but if you must use one at least remove it for the shots, makes the face 100% natural as opposed to having a hideous "viewers stopping point" when viewing the image.

    Just remember that these shots are what will be passed down from generation to generation in years to come! All those great abstracts and landscapes you did are nothing to most people, compared to those precious snaps of the family as they grew up. You, and your kids, will want a picture they can look back on in 30, 40 or more years and if that one is of Jane or Tom with spaghetti-bol all over their fizzog, it's may not go down too well!

  • Dewan Demmer

    September 14, 2011 06:49 pm

    I read this a while back and perhaps this is where I picked up the tip of getting to eye level and ground level.
    Eye level or "their level" really does make for great photos and eye level is not only along the vertical plane, and its now something I try very hard to keep in mind.
    Ground level has always been something I enjoyed doing, its changes the perspective to one we are not used to and this can help increase interest in the shot.
    Only of late have a really started looking into the bird eye perspective of things, but these shots are still few and far between.

    Here are a bunch of baby photos I have taken, and I would say that my favourites are the ground level and ones where I am in line for eye contact. Let me know I always appreciate helpful thoughts, its how we learn.:)
    http://dsdphotography.co.za/category/baby/

  • Juan

    September 14, 2011 01:36 pm

    Amazing article and photos, just with natural light. Great!!

  • Yaneck Wasiek

    September 14, 2011 08:48 am

    Great tips! I do children photography from time to time and indeed getting to their level is so important.

  • Reuven

    June 24, 2011 08:28 pm

    Great work, I love it.
    Is anyone think sigma 10-20 f/4-5.6 could be good for photograph kids as well as landscapes?

  • mike

    June 20, 2011 04:49 pm

    lovely shots and good tips.

  • Dave

    June 13, 2011 12:33 pm

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/klisc/5741074369/in/photostream
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/klisc/5443537283/in/photostream

    My kids love being pohtographed, and i am going to put a lot of things from the article and page to use. Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Fishuk

    June 13, 2011 09:48 am

    Great article! I can't wait to practice everything that I just learned. Thanks a lot!

  • Tanya

    June 10, 2011 12:55 pm

    I love the puckered lips...I'll have to get that one caught by my little ones!

  • Luke

    June 8, 2011 04:24 pm

    Getting down to the level of children is probably the quickest way to improve and change the look of your photography. Since I have been getting down on my knees or stomach for kids shots I have noticed that extended family ends up liking the low angle shots over the average shot from normal height. Thanks for the great articles, keep it up!

  • LELO

    May 31, 2011 04:08 pm

    ABSOLUTELY loved this article!! such simple but effective suggestions. nicely done. Thank you!

  • Singapore Wedding Photography

    May 30, 2011 07:13 pm

    I love babies. And I love babies when they cry. I find that parents tends to not have photos of babies in their most natural state, which is crying 1/2 the time (i think most mums will agree with me).
    These will be precious memories when they grow up

  • curt

    May 29, 2011 03:30 am

    My kids now become phobic when I put the camera in play. I have to be pretty sneaky to get a shot if they are at all paying attention.

  • Pam

    May 28, 2011 08:44 pm

    Great blog post! I have shared the information of this post with our local Photography Club www.mountforestphotographyclub.blogspot.com I know they will appreciate this :) Credit given to DPS and a link back to the article :)

  • Paul

    May 28, 2011 06:02 am

    Nice article and thanks for the tips. I like using low angle when photographing pets.

  • Marc Fluitt

    May 28, 2011 01:20 am

    This was a great read. I will put these recommendations into practice this weekend shooting images of my grandson. Thanks for pulling it all together.

  • Barb Wigstadt

    May 28, 2011 12:35 am

    I loved the idea of using my macro lens - I had never thought of that before. The picture of the baby's eyelashes is breathtaking.

  • MEghan

    May 28, 2011 12:25 am

    Last comment: I most definitely didn't notice that aspect of the first photo till I read the comments either.

  • MEghan

    May 28, 2011 12:21 am

    Eee.

    Meant to type "molesters" not "molester's."

  • MEghan

    May 28, 2011 12:19 am

    Lovely photos and good advice. No bashing because--as opposed to other recent kid and wedding advice pieces--this one adds to the discussion, includes some lovely photos and is written by someone who has a higher skill level than your average MWAC on a baby forum.

    I'm not sure how I feel about someone noticing, straight off the bat, a toddler girl's crotch (that is completely covered in thick tights and where you can't even see underpants). But--at the same time--I see what you're saying. I took a lovely photo of my niece and I could see her panties and I felt strange even showing it to her parents. I guess we've all become paranoid. It's hard to escape when we are surrounded by all the gratiutous TV about child molester's and when the sexual abuse of girls is such a common plotline on every TV cop drama.

    Sad, though! Because it really is such a lovely photo and I love to see little girls in tights.

  • Ceri Vale

    May 27, 2011 10:53 pm

    Excellent article...and an interesting discussion Rob / Lisa. It IS a sad world that has degenerated something as innocent and, frankly, lovely as shot # 1 into a potentially inappropriate shot.

  • Steve (oz_ollie)

    May 27, 2011 06:48 pm

    Great article with good examples. I just feel so sad that the first shot raises a discussion about the "appropriateness" of child photos in a public environment.

  • Lisa Compton

    May 27, 2011 04:16 pm

    Sorry Rob, you're right. I thought about the public forum we are all on after I pushed submit! My apologies for the assumption you were in the USA, I did take a quick look at your website but I have to admit it was mega-quick! I get why publishers may reject the photo, I just think its so sad we have to pander to the lowest denominator. No reflection on you at all. I guess you felt the same why in the beginning. Have a great weekend.

  • G-Love

    May 27, 2011 04:03 pm

    Wow. I'm surprised! Where's the bashing? The horrible drawn out arguements? Hah this is great! For once in such a long time, a forum on DPS is free of the horribleness! :D and fantastic photographs.

  • Gipukan

    May 27, 2011 03:18 pm

    I ditched my fast EF 50mm F1.8 (even made a profit selling it) and got a fast EF 20mm F2.8 for that. I'm on a EOS 7d so the crop factor get''s in the way and I can always get closer to my kids or crop the taken shot!

  • karl

    May 27, 2011 01:35 pm

    i'm from philippines and a newbie in photography. this article made my day. in general, the blog is such great. i cannot deny that this blog is a big part in my learning adventure in photography. i feel lucky stumbling on your site. thank you guys for sharing.

  • Rob Clayton

    May 27, 2011 07:23 am

    Lisa, people who assume things make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'. I live in the UK. And maybe I should quantify my point a little....I take pics for a local newspaper, and took a shot not dissimilar to the first pic a couple of years ago. While I was quite happy/proud of the pic at first, I was told it couldn't be used due to being inappropriate for a public publication. So now I am always wary of such poses or angles, and by matter of course always avoid them if I can.
    I can completely understand your reaction to my first post, as it was the same reaction that I had when I was told my pic wouldn't be used by the newspaper, but I realised on reflection that it was probably sensible advice to follow.
    You're also right that you shouldn't show such potentially sensitive pics to 'weirdos', but isn't that what has been done by posting them on a public article/forum??

  • Amy Loo

    May 27, 2011 06:13 am

    Beautiful photos! Thanks for the advice.

  • Marisela

    May 27, 2011 06:00 am

    Love these tips, and the pictures are lovely, thanks!

  • Bob

    May 27, 2011 05:29 am

    Fun, free spirited and imaginative shots!

  • Lisa Compton

    May 27, 2011 05:11 am

    At the risk of stereotyping and sounding rude, Rob, that is such an American outlook. The first photo is beautiful. For you to look and see fault of some crackpot being able to see up the little girls dress shows us what a truly sad world we live in. I have to admit when I looked at the photo I saw a little girl engrossed in play and what you mentioned didn't cross my mind. I'd hate for photos of my kids to be manipulated so that they didn't show their true stance, in case some weirdo looked at them. Best tip: Don't show weirdos your photos! Love the baby shot, its beautiful.

  • Rob Clayton

    May 27, 2011 04:44 am

    Its a nice article, and although some of the advice may seem obvious, it never hurts to have the obvious pointed out again (for those who find the obvious not-so-obvious).

    However, personally I would be a bit more careful about the camera's view in relation to the girl's legs in the first pic....to me it seems a little inappropriate, especially for posting online (Im not saying the pic isnt well-taken technically, and I have been guilty of this problem in the past, which is why I'm always aware of avoiding it)

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer

    May 27, 2011 04:18 am

    @Jim -- actually I am of the opposite philosophy for photographing children. If I am interacting with them that takes them out of their world. I prefer to interact as little as possible, if at all. After a few moments I will hopefully disappear from the child's mind and they will go fully into their world, as seen in the bottom photo here:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/1/20/favorite-five-photographs-from-2009.html

    The child had wandered off from his family. I was using an 80-200mm lens. He was unaware I was photographing him.

    ********************
    Until dPS changes its policy I will put this in every comment I make: the fadeout popup begging us to subscribe to the e-mail newsletter absolutely disrupts every single post I try to read on this site. When scrolling through a post of photos, that experience is suddenly interrupted and ruins being able to fluidly look at a post's photos. If this practice is intolerable to you as well, please comment too.

  • Laura

    May 27, 2011 04:10 am

    Great tips!! I like that you include pics to show what you are talking about.

  • Claire

    May 27, 2011 04:08 am

    Rachel...I love your work. Great article...I have been trying to think of new ways to photograph kids and this sure helped get the wheels spinning. I'm going to try all of these out on my son as well as during a shoot. Thanks for the tips!

  • elana

    May 27, 2011 04:02 am

    Fantastic article and new advice.

  • Daniel Alheiros

    May 27, 2011 03:41 am

    Great work. I will try and follow these advices and reproduce the examples as an exercise.

  • Jim

    May 27, 2011 02:26 am

    I agree with you on the importance of engaging the children before and while taking their picture. By doing so, you (the adult) can get a step closer to the child's world, thus increasing the chances of a more real shot.

  • John

    May 27, 2011 02:01 am

    I take pictures of the West Bend High School band and getting the musicians reflected in the bells of their horns is always requested by the parents when they see their kids pictured.
    www.wbhsbands.net

  • Maximo Almonte

    May 27, 2011 01:53 am

    Awesome Tips. You tend to forget the small things when photographing children. Different angles. using macro.

  • Celesta

    May 27, 2011 01:42 am

    Loved the article and love the blog! :)

  • mjadala

    May 27, 2011 01:36 am

    Great tips; thanks

  • Tammy

    May 27, 2011 01:20 am

    Beautiful work. Thanks for the article.

  • SJCT

    May 27, 2011 12:50 am

    Great tips and great shots! Thanks for this.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck

    May 27, 2011 12:44 am

    Hi

    This is a great article with many new insights I will have to try. My go to lens right now is a 70-200mm f2.8. It allows you to have a respectful distance and when shot wide open produces the most sublime backgrounds!

    One of the tricks when shooting on location is to bring lots of toys, silk scarves, tooling etc for the kids to play with. Once they get started, it is easy to follow them around. One thing to note is not to try too hard - kids have a very short attention span and tire easily...frequent breaks are mandatory.

    Here is more of a Daddy with Child stock shot...but a bit different:

    http://kerstenbeckphotoart.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/image-of-the-day-family-101610/

  • Carolyn Chentnik

    May 27, 2011 12:32 am

    Good stuff. I love low angle. Thanks for the tips. Some great pictures!

    my FB page

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