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Lifestyle Photography – Photographing Children in their Element

One of the most fascinating and exciting subjects to photograph is arguably a child. Children can also be one of the most challenging little people to photograph! To really grasp them, in their element, and get more than just a smile can sometimes be a work of patience, cleverness and quick wits. The following tips from Véronique da Silva will help you get those images that stop time, that bring tears to parents’ eyes, and that really tell a story.

photographing-children-1.jpg

First things first – the prep! Remember to advise the parents accordingly. Always plan for enough time; i.e. you might need 2-3 hours for very young children (nursing / snacks / breaks), and anywhere from 1 to 2 hours for older children. It is not fair to assume that a child will participate and collaborate in the same way a grown-up would. You must adapt to them, and not vice-versa.

I always tell parents to make sure the kids have napped and are well fed before the session starts. Always pick a time for the session that is suited to the child’s schedule and you will avoid one of the most common pitfalls.

photographing-children-2.jpg

Proper clothing is essential! Remind parents that the children will collaborate much better if they are a) comfortable in their clothing, b) if they were given the opportunity to pick out their own outfit. This does scare some parents who might think picture time = take out the Christmas outfit. Gently assure them that the images will be much more telling and less contrived if the child feels comfortable and confident. I love a child who shows up proudly wearing a tutu!

photographing-children-3.jpg

I strongly suggest starting a session in a familiar place for the child/children; i.e. their home, a favorite beach or park, and then moving locations if desired. When you show up to the session, do not immediately start taking pictures. You will have to gain the child’s and the parents’ trust before anything truly magical happens. I usually sit and chat with the grown-ups for a few minutes and then gently start interacting with the child/children.

Remember to slow everything down. I usually ask the parents to step out of the room or of immediate sight (not in back of me…) as I start interacting with the children, camera in hand. Avoid at all cost the mom or dad standing in back of your telling their child to smile and look at the camera! This is another major pitfall! Talk to the children, but most importantly, listen to them (you will inevitably come away from each session a little bit wiser if you do!). Let the magic happen!

photographing-children-4.jpg

  1. Get down to their level and you will understand their world: crouch, lie down, sit, etc. They will also feel more at ease if you are looking at them from their height.
  2. Ask them questions and get them talking or thinking. Ask them to tell you their favorite story or show you their favorite toy/rock, etc.
  3. Let them guide you through the photo session and don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s the other way around. Suggest ideas and encourage things but be flexible.
  4. Patience, patience, patience.
  5. Have fun! I assure you, you will!

photographing-children-5.jpg

about_blog_1.jpgAbout the Author: Véronique da Silva is a Portrait & Lifestyle Photographer.

Visit her site at www.dasilvafoto.com.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

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

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  • Regan

    Anything on the web needs a big, greasy watermark if it’s even close to being a quality photo. I can’t believe all the snarky remarks about something that the participants on this site should understand. I appreciate the contribution, and when someone can tell me another way to do this craft well.

  • http://belladorseyphotography.blogspot.com Photogirl

    Great tips. I always like to set the camera down as often as possible so it isnt constantly in the childs face. Also just play along with them, dont be constantly asking them to smile or come up with ideas to have them constantly smiling. Just be calm and be one with them. If they are playing, they will more than likely be smiling naturally already.

    I took these photos in intervals, photographer 15 mins, stopped for 10mins, in about 3 different sets. Here is a sample of some Life Style photos I captured:

    http://belladorseyphotography.blogspot.com/2013/03/life-style-photography-atlanta-jasper.html

Some older comments

  • Photogirl

    March 28, 2013 09:50 am

    Great tips. I always like to set the camera down as often as possible so it isnt constantly in the childs face. Also just play along with them, dont be constantly asking them to smile or come up with ideas to have them constantly smiling. Just be calm and be one with them. If they are playing, they will more than likely be smiling naturally already.

    I took these photos in intervals, photographer 15 mins, stopped for 10mins, in about 3 different sets. Here is a sample of some Life Style photos I captured:

    http://belladorseyphotography.blogspot.com/2013/03/life-style-photography-atlanta-jasper.html

  • Regan

    January 17, 2013 02:50 am

    Anything on the web needs a big, greasy watermark if it's even close to being a quality photo. I can't believe all the snarky remarks about something that the participants on this site should understand. I appreciate the contribution, and when someone can tell me another way to do this craft well.

  • photomom

    August 17, 2012 02:33 am

    One quick comment about parents standing behind the camera...I actually use that to my advantage. As a parent I know my child's real smile as apposed to her "say cheese" smile...so you can call your parents the smile expert. At the beginning of the shoot I watch the parents closely enough to discover who is the more fun and relaxed one. Then I have that parent stand directly behind me and do silly things. One mom did jumping jacks for her kids and they were completely focused on her and laughing. The pictures turned out great because it captured a happy moment. I give my parents some items in my "bag of of tricks" for photographing kids (shakers, feather duster etc.) and have them get their kiddos attention and get the real look. It has never failed me to use the parents when I instruct them in their job. I tell the parents straight up they can't correct the child's smile and they can't even say smile they can only be fun behind the camera. Nothing is worse than watching a parent get frustrated with a child for smiling the wrong way and then expecting this great picture of a happy family. So use your parents...it lets you focus on the camera (which is good for beginners) and they will respond better to their parents than to some stranger acting silly.

  • Bill

    February 7, 2012 10:18 am

    Great article, I learned alot. The watermarks don't bother me at all & I understand why you do it...

  • Justin

    July 1, 2011 11:29 pm

    Great article! Perfect timing too, I have a shoot with a friend's daughter coming up in a couple days. I will say that you should cut back on the watermark a little. Its huge..

  • coventry wedding photographer

    May 30, 2011 02:20 am

    Persons interested in photography should read newsletters and magazines that have information about photography. They should join camera clubs. They should try to work in camera stores or photo studios. Also, they should decide what they like to photograph.

  • Richard

    December 21, 2010 02:23 pm

    Great article. Love to get tips from professionals actually out there working.

    This post is late, compared to the original article date, but I can only hope that the naive comment posters at the beginning have learned by now that watermarks are "professional" and acceptable - Especially here. This is a learning place not an art gallery.

  • Amy Elizabeth

    December 15, 2009 06:06 am

    For many years I've been interested in portrait photography and recently decided to pursue it as a career. Last month I began my first photography job - at a national chain portrait studio. The studio doesn't follow any of the tips mentioned in this article.

    I am photographing in a studio that shoots 25-60 sittings per day. It's maddening attempting to keep up with the fast pace - am I don't think I can continue to work at this studio and am questioning my ability to photograph under pressure. The management allows the photographer no time to get to comfortable and relate the children. In that environment it is terribly difficult to produce decent photos with anyone, especially babies and toddlers - the manager is on my back to complete the session in just a short time and meanwhile the next family sits in the reception area awaiting their photo session.

    This studio's corporate machine dictates that the photographer spend 10 minutes in the camera room and then immediately afterward,,to sell the session portraits for 30 minutes at the computer. Get them in and out in 40 minutes and shoot no more than 30 photographs per session. Many of the parents we serve, at least half, have unreasonable expectations. The photographer and the children are unable to produce the photographs many of the mothers demand. As a result the whole experience is disappointing to everyone involved.

    Questions??
    I am serious about going out on my own and photographing at my own pace. How do I get the business to generate an income from my own studio? How do successful portrait photographers make a good living from their business?

  • Dawn

    December 1, 2009 02:40 am

    I found these tips very useful & your work Veronique is IMPECCABLE! I have used them on several of my shoots & found that they are all true. If the kids think they have some "say" in how & where they are photographed, they are much more into it. I have had to tell a parent on several occasions to stop directing them & let them do their thing. They have preconceived ideas in their heads about what they "want" in the pictures; but eventually, I find that they realize MY end result is much better than anything they "thought" they wanted. Check out my albums on my facebook business page. I would love some feedback. Thanks everyone.
    http://www.facebook.com/dawnvgilmorephoto.
    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/dawnvgilmore/4146859221/' title='IMG_0360-Edit' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2745/4146859221_5404a7f9d1.jpg']

  • syy

    October 28, 2009 05:34 pm

    what's wrong with the watermark??? it's not for selling purpose. it's just for EXAMPLES.

  • Véronique da Silva

    October 24, 2009 02:36 am

    Hey Jaime: There are a few ways to go about watermarking an image. I simply drag my logo onto the image as a layer, scale it to size and then flatten. Obviously I cannot do too many like these, but have never had the need to create an action or a faster process. Hope this helps!

  • Jaime

    October 23, 2009 04:53 am

    So, I'm just starting out...and I'm in the early stages of getting my "business" together. My question is...how do I watermark?

  • Amirrul Iman

    October 2, 2009 11:13 am

    Nice Shots... :)

  • Zubin Patrawala

    October 2, 2009 05:08 am

    Veronique, what did you do to get that beautiful antique look on the first image? Love that look.

  • elizabeth archibong

    September 21, 2009 12:24 am

    Great Article Veronique!! I've found for me, with baby & child photography patience is actually the most important one ....once the kids get used to having me around, they tend to get really curious about the 'really big camera' and then it's all fun and games :)

  • acierman

    September 20, 2009 11:20 pm

    the water mark is a good thing when you have had pictures stolen from you ...trust me ...its happened to me ...so if you dont like water marks ...well boo hoo ...you will understand when it happens to you ...look further into the future ...then think ...damn ...i should have doe the same ...wait till you see some of your work on a poster ...it hurts ....trust me on this

  • john

    September 18, 2009 08:32 am

    hated the watermarks? seriously guys. why did u even post. It aint a big deal. did u learn anything from the article? get off of it then. it IS professional. that is why we watermark.

    Good article Veronique! And cute pics.

  • Véronique da Silva

    September 13, 2009 10:23 am

    OOh - my lenses! I am a Nikon girl, and my favorite lenses are the 14-24mm f 2.8, 85mm f 1.4 or the tilt-shift 1.8, a 50mm f 1.4, and my lens baby!

  • den_lim

    September 12, 2009 09:43 pm

    veronique, can you tell me what lenses you used for the photos? especially the close-ups?

  • den_lim

    September 12, 2009 09:39 pm

    of course, there are watermarks. they are very good pictures. the photog was just protecting her ownership.

  • Véronique da Silva

    September 11, 2009 11:33 pm

    A recurring question seems to be "how do we photograph our own children?" - that's a tough one and one that requires extreme patience! I am a mother to an almost 5 year old whom I have photographed a gizillion times and who has seen me photograph others (and assisted me at times :) ) a gizillion times as well. Having said this, she is a typical child that sees a camera pointed at her and goofs around. A great big part of me thinks it really is not possible to photograph your own child well ( :( ) and another part of me likes the challenge of waiting for that moment when she won't goof around. I have found that if I wait long enough, her true self will shine through - but - the moments are brief, and so you must be ready to capture them! Also, I have found that by shooting from the hip (that is actually not looking through the view finder or the screen) gets some great candid moments. The moment their eyes catch you looking at the camera or through the camera, they know you are photographing them. You'll need to shoot way more using this method and practice a ton but the results are amazing! Do not be scared to use large apertures when not looking through to photograph - this is when shooting tons will come in handy.
    I have also noticed people discussing using long lenses to photograph children. This is a great idea! I am, funny enough, attracted to the wide lenses which forces me to enter their space and be patient.

    Once again, awesome disussion!

    Véronique

  • margaretha toerien

    September 11, 2009 08:41 pm

    p-e-o-p-l-e.... c-h-i-l-l...... this is about the photographs (composition, colour etc)..... what part of the watermark can we not see past? well done, veronique; just had a look at your gallery - lovely pics with some really excellent composition; you go, girl!

  • Dog

    September 11, 2009 08:09 pm

    Watermarks? What watermarks? Oh there they are. I bet you guys are the type that stares at the smashed bug on your windshield instead of looking down the road. Look past the poor dead bug and look at the beautiful world that is beyond.

  • Gary

    September 11, 2009 05:50 pm

    MY daughter usually takes up the bulk of the photos I take, find using a zoom lens lets me get close enough to her without causing suspicision:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gungo/3650928231/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gungo/3629406931/

    This one was at a kids bday party we were at, not so traditional

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/gungo/3878415947/

  • John

    September 11, 2009 06:16 am

    I totally agree with getting down and talking to the child. I have just done 12 early child hood centers photos and found asking the child what their favorite food was or what flavour icecream got a more natural smile than just asking them to smile. My photos can be seen by following the link if anyone is interested. Feel free to leave any comments.

    http://mccosh.smugmug.com/Children

    John

  • mrsrobinson

    September 11, 2009 06:15 am

    by Tom: "But any tips how to photograph your own kids when they hate having their pix taken?"

    Bribery!

    Our twins are four and they have started hated posing for shots and purposefully look away when they notice the camera. If I need them to model, I'll pay them a quarter or barter in some way so they'll cooperate and help me with the shoot. You can always ask their ideas for their own portraits and see what they come up with...kids are very creative and like to be involved in decisions. Another idea is to take them someplace or get them involved in something, wait until they're engrossed in doing their own thing and then start snapping. Some of the best portraits are not necessarily the kid staring at the camera. They are also like wildlife: sneak up on them in their natural environment and shoot in continuous mode :)
    I've also had some success shooting with the LCD instead so that they don't realize I'm about to take the picture. You can also crack jokes or ask silly questions, like "is there a booger in my nose?" to get them to look at you. Then you have to be ready :)

  • EdB

    September 11, 2009 04:56 am

    the mom or dad standing in back of your telling their child to smile and look at the camera!

    So recognizable!!! Made me think of never wanting to photograph kids again ;-) Your tips make sense, thanks for the reminder.

  • Michael Kruger

    September 11, 2009 03:17 am

    Thanks for the tips! I'm shooting a two year old in a few days! Have shot loads of kids before and most of it makes common sense, however its always nice to hear a fresh perspective on things....just so you don't take it for granted things will always go your way when photographing kids!!

    Michael

  • Susie

    September 11, 2009 02:17 am

    The sad thing is that at my last shoot, I had much better cooperation from the kids then I did from the parents. Squinting, not looking at the camera, surly attitudes... you would think the parents would have been a littel more agreeable!

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey

    September 10, 2009 03:48 pm

    Great tips and wonderful portraits!

  • Mari

    September 10, 2009 07:17 am

    Thank you for the tips, Veronique! not a professional, but hope to one day capture such beautiful images. Tom: My 3yr old has outgrown her disdain for pics and doesn't turn or run away anymore. My advice is to bring out the big lens, stay way back and shoot in their natural surroundings, just doing whatever it is that they do. I have tons of side shots, but love the angelic expression. Now all I get is the unflattering "cheeeeese" smile.

  • Joel

    September 7, 2009 09:34 pm

    I visited my brother-in-law and his family last weekend. I took lots of photos of his kids but only managed to edit two of them so far. You can check them out and read my blog post here: http://www.jjsolomon.com/2009/09/visiting-former-east-germany.html

  • Véronique da Silva

    September 7, 2009 01:30 pm

    theguv1: cover up the back and tell them your camera doesn't do that! :)

  • Véronique da Silva

    September 7, 2009 02:25 am

    Thank you for all your great comments! I love how this post has started a very interesting conversation about the use of watermarks! The last person to comment is absolutely right when he/she said that the parents/clients do not get prints with watermarks on them. The watermarks serve a very clear purpose online and it is strange to see that people in the profession do not get it. Images travel fast, and it is vital as a) an artist, b) a professional, to protect your work from theft. The images are watermarked (I have seen much more intrusive watermarks in my career) and the files are imbedded with copyright information. Obviously this does not stop a person who is determined to steal it, to steal it, but it IS a deterrent and a reminder that the image is not for distribution without consent. Much more than say, a beautiful image without any markings....
    Perhaps my next post will be on the whole copyright issue! It is obvious that this topic needs to be explored a little bit.

    Thanks for all your comments! Great discussion!

    Véronique

  • theguv1

    September 7, 2009 12:42 am

    Fantastic tip! A quick question tough. I find when shooting kids (haha) about 18 months and up that when the flash goes they want to see themselves i the auto-preview. This becomes a struggle to get them relaxed when all they want to do is see themselves. How do you overcome this?

  • PRH

    September 6, 2009 08:40 pm

    I love these photo's Veronique. Very inspiring shots with what I think would be one of the most difficult subjects to shoot.

    My 2cents on Watermarking:
    Most of the professional photographers I've seen watermark their work to 1) advertise their business and 2) as a small measure toward copyrighting their work. Obviously the clients (in this case the parents) don't get prints with watermarks.

  • Susy

    September 6, 2009 03:46 am

    Great tips! I always found it natural to get to child's level in any circumstance. As for the watermarks...very professional ;-)

  • Rosh - New media photographer

    September 6, 2009 01:50 am

    I've found playgrounds the best place to take photographs of the kids. Happy and playing.

    Asking the kids questions is a great suggestion, I'm going to have to try that a little more.

    Rosh

  • alina

    September 6, 2009 12:17 am

    I LOVE this post!! So very helpful and aptly timed as I am currently starting my own photography business and often work with children. Thanks for the valuable insight!!

  • Tom

    September 5, 2009 08:44 pm

    Can't see a problem with the logos / watermarks, either.

    Great tips if you're coming in to photograph someone else's kids. You could also try handing over your camera and get them to take some (or take a cheaper compact if that idea frightens you ,-)

    But any tips how to photograph your own kids when they hate having their pix taken?

  • Jessica S.

    September 5, 2009 06:58 pm

    The watermarks don't bother me at all. I understand the purpose. I don't want anyone stealing my photos either, when I worked so hard to create them.

    Photographing kids can be so much fun, I was working at a school in Thailand until recently, here are some of the shots of the kids:

    http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2009/08/day-170-august-28-reflection.html

    http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2009/08/day-155-august-13-black-and-white.html

    http://quotidian-photography.blogspot.com/2009/08/day-153-august-11-great-smile.html

  • hfng

    September 5, 2009 06:05 pm

    Photographing kids is tough, they can lose interest quickly and things can get out of hand. You have come up with a great idea to keep them interesting just a bit longer so that we can take our shots.

  • Mark

    September 5, 2009 03:46 pm

    Hey - another Victoria photographer! Nice pictures, Veronique.

    Funny how when it's a painting, the artist is expected to sign it. When it's a logo (I wouldn't even call those 'watermarks') it's a pain? Oh, come on.

  • Cricce

    September 5, 2009 03:34 pm

    I agree with Andrea and Christopher, the watermarks are there for a reason, just see past them, it's not that hard.

    Really great tips, I got some friends that has gotten children so I haft to store these tips a few years before they
    come to any use ;)

  • robb

    September 5, 2009 02:29 pm

    i think the most important point is get down to their pov.
    and also freeze the moment, so never back off from high ISO.

  • Christopher

    September 5, 2009 07:25 am

    Lovely images and some very useful tips!

    Don't understand why some people here are complaining about the watermarks. This is standard practice in the stock photography business.

  • Andrea

    September 5, 2009 06:08 am

    Relax people. They're watermarks. Learn to ignore them.

    I thought this was great, you're totally right about letting the kids run the shoot. :)

  • David

    September 5, 2009 03:24 am

    I'd also suggest trying to keep the camera as subtle as possible. My own kids get bored quickly if the camera is out too long. Sadly none of my photos have turned out anywhere as good as those in the post.

    I am also hesitant to post my kid's photos on the internet I have to say :(

  • Leandro

    September 5, 2009 03:24 am

    Hated the watermarks. Very unprofessional.

  • Rick

    September 5, 2009 01:59 am

    I will have Grandpa duty this weekend. A good opportunity to try some of these ideas out on my little buddy.

  • happiestboy

    September 5, 2009 01:31 am

    super heartwarming nice pix. good tips!

  • Bob

    September 5, 2009 01:28 am

    Great photos but the watermarks subtract from them substantially. They're quite intrusive and obnoxious.

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