7 Tips for Photographing Kids

7 Tips for Photographing Kids

Notice something about the title of the article? It doesn’t say how to take “portraits” of kids! Kids, especially those five and under, pretty much dictate how the photography session is going to unfold, and it usually involves moving. Fast! Over the years my style has evolved from format portraiture with medium format film camera (which is NOT conducive to movement) to 35mm, and finally to digital. Digital allows much more freedom of motion and with a few tips you should be on your way to some great photos of kids.

By Gates Foundation


  • have patience
  • be ready
  • get down to their level
  • using natural light or flash
  • choose your focus mode carefully
  • be a goofball
  • let them run the session, don’t try and control it


When photographing kids sometimes you get a whole lot of nothing for a while, or they may be shy to start, or play coy. Even kids that know you may decide they don’t want you to take their picture and say so. My three year old niece did just that when I spent the day photographing her. “Don’t take my picture Auntie!” she said as soon as I pointed the camera at her. She’s a regular ham for the camera usually and I knew she’d warm up. Eventually she was giving me “the wave” that you see below which sort of means “don’t take my picture but I’m going to act like I’m the star anyway just in case you do”.

So if you get this kind of behaviour don’t rush or force it. Just keep hanging out with them, play and interact and eventually they’ll come around.

By Vinoth Chandar


This is almost a given, but be ready for anything with kids! Expect the unexpected and be ready to shoot it. One of the things I say to my students is that photography is about being in the right place, at the right time, with the right lens on – there’s a lot of truth to that! So learn to anticipate what might happen, and where you need to be to capture it. Have the right lens on and make sure your settings are all good. Be ready technically, and in all other aspects. Be ready to move fast if something happens.

By Kymberly Janisch

By amanda tipton

Part of being ready also means to stop looking at the images on the back of your camera! If you are looking there you are missing something happening live. You can review them later, so stop chimping!


We set her up with the streamers. So being ready here meant making sure I got it all in the frame and captured it when she threw it up in the air.



When you photograph little ones doing so from an adult perspective makes them look even smaller. Getting down to their level puts you more on equal ground. Get in the mud or sandbox with them, don’t stand over top looking down. Crawl around on the floor and play trucks.

Get down to their level literally, and figuratively. You nee also to get skilled at holding your camera and playing, coloring, or any number of other interactive things with the child.

By Lotus Carroll


“When should I use flash?” is a common question I get in my photography classes. My answer to that is two part:

  1. if there isn’t enough light, add flash
  2. if the light isn’t “good”

Part one, not enough light, is fairly obvious. It’s too dark if you have the aperture on the lens as wide open as it goes, and you are still getting a shutter speed that’s slower than your lens focal length (see Tips for getting Sharper images for more info on that). It helps to use a lens with a large aperture either an f/2.8 zoom lens (but they’re pricey) or even better an f/1.8 prime lens like the handy little 50mm f/1.8 or 85mm f/1.8.

But what about part two, what is “good light”? How do you know if you have bad light? 

That part is a bit subjective but tough lighting situations like backlighting, or strong overhead light would be some times where you might want to add flash to balance out the light or overpower the natural light entirely. I tend to use flash to supplement natural light whenever possible, and to try and correct the lighting where necessary. Notice the image above (image has been changed from original article) – there is NO flash used for that image. The light coming from the windows in the living room on the right provided a nice soft directional light on his face. Selecting a large aperture allowed me to use that light.

By Kris Kesiak

Flash was used for the image above (image has been changed from the original article) because the windows behind him were leaving his face in deep shadow. So I used a flash bounced off the ceiling, angled slightly behind me. Avoid direct flash whenever possible as it flattens out the subject and produces harsh shadows. Bouncing off walls and ceilings is ideal if you can do so. In this case I aim my flash backwards slightly as well so the result isn’t light coming straight down on him and making dark eyes. I use this technique a lot at events, even with 15-20′ high ceilings.


Capturing moving subjects of any kind requires the right camera settings, practice and trial and error. Most cameras have different Focus Modes – read your manual to find out more. Select the one for continuous or tracking focus. What that means is the camera does not lock focus when you push the shutter button halfway down. Instead it “tracks” any moving objects as they come nearer and farther away from you. If you hold the shutter button down the camera continues to look for focus and if the object is moving towards you some cameras actually anticipate their speed and prefocus in front of them so when you press the shutter fully your image is sharp. There are too many camera brands and models and each are different and offer different choices, so I can’t tell you what to choose. Just know that when shooting moving objects you want the tracking option.

You may also want to shoot in burst or high speed shooting mode. That’s when you press the shutter all the way down and hold it, the camera takes multiple images until you let go or the camera can’t hold any more information. Most SLRs have this feature but vary in the frames per second rate they are capable of shooting. Even three frames per second will give you more options than just shooting a single frame at a time.

By USAG- Humphreys


I’ve often been told that I’m good with kids during sessions because I get silly with them. I make fart noises and silly faces. I play with puppets with them. I get down in the sand and play. Too often we adults worry about our dignity and how we “look” – throw all that out the window and get over yourself and let go a little, Give yourself permission to be a GOOFBALL for a little while. Who knows you might actually have some fun!

The image below happened because we were blowing raspberries at each other and having a face making competition of sorts. He won, but I got the shot! He was also soaking wet from running through the hose several times and the read dye in his hair was running down his forehead, which just adds to the image! (original image removed from article)

By Mark Probst

By TomD.


Really, you will never be in control anyway so why not relinquish it right from the start and call a spade a spade. The child is in charge and will run the session, so the sooner you accept that the more fun you’ll both have. Here’s a few DOs and DON’Ts.

  • DON’T try and make them do anything
  • DON’T get upset with them if they don’t follow your plan
  • DON’T, for heaven’s sake yell at them, especially if they are your kids or family. That will only serve to make them hate getting photos done and they will make it even harder next time. That only leaves the child feeling like they’ve been bad and you frustrated.
  • DO go with the flow. Take whatever happens and go with it.
  • DO be ready. See #2 above!
  • DO approach it from a perspective of having fun, not one of getting the best photos. The second is a product of the first.

By sandeepachetan.com

By Zuhair A. Al-Traifi

I was literally putting my bag in my car to leave, camera all packed away when the sidewalk art began and the light was so perfect. So out came the camera again! This image follows pretty much all the points above: be ready, get down on their level, use the natural light when it’s good, play with them. (original image removed from article)

I just can’t resist good light! I have a slight case of Photography Compulsion Syndrome, perhaps you suffer from it too?


If you photograph kids or have some of your own, go out and practice using these tips and tell me how you did. Do you have any additional tips you’d like to add, please share in the comments below.

Now get out there and go do some photography! Happy shooting.

Cheers, Darlene

(Note: the original images from this article have been removed and replaced at the request of the subjects)

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Peru (Aug 31st - Sept 13th, 2019), Thailand, and India (Oct 28th - Nov 11th, 2019). To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

Some Older Comments

  • Darlene Hildebrandt September 19, 2013 08:25 am

    @michelle - glad you found it helpful. I looked at your site and clicked around a bit but couldn't find the photos you mentioned.

  • michelle olaya September 17, 2013 10:19 pm

    Such a good article. Now that i am a mother of a 15 months little girl, i have more intetest to shoot photos if kids and babies, these tips are so helpfull. Thanks for that! And yes, patience is a important fact, and which i am learning now ;p cause i am impatience lady sometimes...;p
    You can see some pics that i've shot of kids (mainly my daughter) on my blog:

  • Rishin September 12, 2013 12:45 pm

    Darlene great article and cool pics =)
    Whilst I agree with point #3, sometimes I have been able to click interesting pics by standing near the kid and looking down. The technique I use is to let the kid do whatever she/he wishes - stand close to them - get the focus locked and call out their name.. if they are not engrossed they will look up at you and that will be the 'moment' to capture a very innocent pic.. an example of what i'm trying to say is on this link.. Aaral was busy licking ice-cream when i called her out and she glanced up to me..


  • Darlene September 10, 2013 09:28 am

    @terri - I do use a reflector but I didn't on that image. The great list is because of the time of day it's shot at - about an hour before actual sunset. So the sun is low behind the buildings in the background which makes the sky to the east bright and that's what's lighting her face. That's why it's often called the Golden Hour by photographers.

    @bhavin - the challenge with going to a zoom lens is that you lose that big aperture which can be an issue especially with a moving target. Let's say you go to a zoom lens - even if you can swing getting an f/2.8 one such as 24-70mm f/2.8 (is about a $2000 lens) you still lose quite a bit of light from 1.8 to 2.8. 2.8 isn't bad and you can work with it if you have a newer camera body that can raise the ISO without much noticeable noise. But let's say that's out of the budget - the less expensive options have even smaller maximum apertures such as f/3.5-5.6. What that means is as you go to the longer end of the zoom, the max aperture goes to f/5.6.

    Say something like this Nikon lens http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-16-85mm-3-5-5-6G-Wide-Angle-Telephoto/dp/B0013A1XDE/ref=sr_1_11?s=photo&ie=UTF8&qid=1378768903&sr=1-11&keywords=zoom+lens

    So if you zoom in to 85mm the biggest aperture you can use is f/5.6. Doesn't sound like a big difference from 1.8 to 5.6 but it's huge. In terms of "stops" of light it goes down like this (each stop is double the amount of light) 5.6>4>2.8>2 so from 5.6 to 2 that's already 3 stops more light. What does that mean in terms of shooting? Could mean the difference between blurring images or not. Let's look:

    Let's say your exposure with your 50mm f/1.8 is ISO 400, f2, 1/250th. That should be enough to freeze the motion of a running child and ISO low enough to not get much noise at all.

    Switch to the other lens now you're at: f/5.6, ISO 400 but 1/30th of a second! WAY too slow to even hand hold sharply, certainly not enough to freeze a moving target. BLURRY photos. So you would have to compensate by increasing ISO the same 3 stops so you're now shooting at ISO 3200 which could give you really noticeable noise, could be bad depending on the camera you have and how new it is.

    So you can get a zoom but just know that unless you can swing for the 2.8 versions you will be sacrificing image quality in the ISO range to keep the shutter speed fast enough.

    I'd say practice with the 50mm. It's not impossible. Or if it's just too long maybe look at a 35mm f/2 or f1/8.

  • bhavin patel September 10, 2013 12:50 am

    Darlene - Can you please suggest me a good lens for Portraits on the go? I love taking pictures of my 2 year old daughter... I have a 50mm f1.8 but sometimes just moving back and forth because it being a prime lens and especially in tight spaces; I miss some good poses that she throws at me :(


  • Terri Shine September 9, 2013 08:04 am

    Another great article with really useful photography advice I can't wait to try. I am curious to know how you achieve such clarity and light in your photos (for example, the little girl with the streamers). Do you use a reflector?

  • Darlene September 8, 2013 06:01 pm

    @Jennie sorry but unfortunately what you are asking for doesn't exist. The problem with most, if not all point and shoot cameras is the shutter lag time. Meaning there is a delay from the time you push the button until it actually takes the photo. So if you are shooting moving subjects it's really hard to capture those moments. It's just an inherent problem with the type of camera and how it functions. To get faster you need to move up to at least a mirrorless camera (they're better but still not great) or an SLR.

    @bhaven - patience is virtue my friend!

    @Stacey yes when I had a physical studio I had an old school desk (circa 1940) with a sliding drawer on the bottom. I kept crayons and things to color in it - kids loved it. They'd sit in it while the adults talked or I'd use it in sessions. I always have a hand puppet (ducky) in my camera bag also! Sometimes I even have to use Ducky on some grumpy dads. ;-)

  • kusuma September 7, 2013 12:52 pm

    Great tips, especially for a beginner like me.

  • Stacey September 7, 2013 07:30 am

    Nicely written article. Photographing kids can be frustrating but also so rewarding. If you are having the children come to a studio or out of their comfort zone you could perhaps have a toy box with accessories they can play with/ dress up in to make original pics. But the best ones are the ones where the kids are doing what they do naturally - having fun.

  • Bhavin Patel September 7, 2013 06:22 am

    Thank you for this article! These shots inspire me to have some more patience with my daughter when I photograph her!

  • Jennie September 7, 2013 04:13 am

    I have 5 kids ages 11,10,6, and 3 yo twins. I am looking for a good point and shoot camera that us fast enough to keep up with them. I have been drooling over a higher end camera, but the bulk and cost is prohibitive right now. Any suggestions? Btw great article!

  • Darlene September 7, 2013 02:13 am

    @mormorazzi nicely done! Perfect example of patience.

    @mike yes I use back button focus almost exclusively.

    @herbwong good job. Malaysia? I recognize the flag, been there twice.

    @constantine yes camera angle makes a big difference. If you are photographing a CEO or important person it's often a lower angle that's used to do exactly what you describe, make him/her look taller and more important. Higher angle implies looking down on someone literally and figuratively.

    @VandH thanks so much

    @lee glad to have inspired you. Yes sometimes having a flash is handy. If you have a camera that works well at high ISO you can crank that up but it doesn't fix bad lighting, just lack of it.

    @Mandeno thank for that, good tips! I use my Canon 5K MkIII and it is water sealed but not water proof. I wasn't worried about her squirting me, she did get a little on the camera. I've been out when it has started raining and the edges are all sealed. That's the big difference between an entry level Rebel or comparable Nikon, they are less robust in their protection so unless you have a camera that's weather sealed don't let it get wet at all. My cat actually peed on my old Canon 5D Classic and it survived. She peed right on it. She was mad at me and after that I wasn't too happy with her either.

    @kristen - my biggest piece of advice is this PRACTICE before the event! Use these tips and shoot them every day. This will do two things:
    1 - make you more comfortable with your camera and what you need to do when things change in a hurry. The more you shoot the more you and your camera become one and you can react to changes faster and not miss things.
    2 - makes the kids used to you photographing them so you may have less of that waiting part to go through.
    You can hire a pro if you want but in my area photographers are $150/hr for jobs like that, you really want to pay $600 for a birthday party? I say practice lots so when you get to those events you're ready!

  • Lorraine September 7, 2013 02:13 am


    I wouldn't say you need a professional but someone else other then yourself. I went to my great nieces 1st birthday party n I took the pictures for my niece. Find a friend or family member or both to take the picture for you. You will be amazed some shoots others get and don't forget to ask for certain shots you want. Good luck

  • Kristen September 6, 2013 09:54 pm

    These are great tips! I'd be interested in reading your advice on how to plan for successful photographs at some of the milestone events for kids that, as a mom, I'm particularly struggling with -- birthday parties, family get-togethers, baptism, first haircut, etc. I want to get a few nice photographs, but usually end up with ~almost~ good shots. All of your tips apply -- be patient, be ready, get down on their level... What are some other strategies you would use when it's an event that won't be repeated? I'm wondering if "hire a professional photographer to come along" is my only option.

  • Mandeno Moments September 6, 2013 08:34 pm

    You have some lovely photos here Darlene: I like the expressions, the action, and the candid nature of them.

    A waterproof camera or housing is good if there may be water play.

    Waterproof compact cameras can't blur backgrounds and it's not easy to catch action with them*, but they will get you a shot in situations that would kill a standard camera. They're also useful for pool and beach parties, because you can follow tip #3 and get the camera at their level, e.g. http://mandenomoments.com/swimmers/e5be3f104 . That's a snap rather than a work of art, but you get a sense of "being there" and, most importantly, kids and their parents love that sort of shot. I used the flash because it was a very bright day and I didn't want the shadows to be pools of blackness (tip #4).

    * Prefocusing helps a lot. Half press the shutter button so that the camera focuses, hold the button at half press, then fully press it when the action is good. If the kid moves slightly while the button is half pressed a compact camera will probably still give a sharp result: if the kids moves significantly you'll have to start again. This isn't a magic bullet, but with practise you can get good action shots with this method.

  • Lee Ellis September 6, 2013 05:37 pm

    I seem to spend most of my time inadvertently shooting pics of my wife and kids, usually together, and have just started getting into shooting more natural shots rather than posed shots. Some great tips here, just need to get the moths out my wallet and invest in a new 50mm 1.8 and a flashgun now I think.

  • VandH Photography September 6, 2013 04:47 pm

    Couldn't agree more! 'Portrait' shots generally feel so unnatural. These photographs tell a story and capture more than just an image.

    Nice article

  • Constantine September 6, 2013 03:27 pm

    Very useful tips! I'd like to stress that #3 is, perhaps, the most important, the most overlooked by amateur photographers, and the easiest way to dramatically improve the quality of your photos. I see people taking photos of children all the time, and nearly all of them make the same mistake - shooting from above. That tip actually applies to shooting people in general. It is especially important when photographing children. Not lowering your camera below the eye level of the subject, in my observation, it is one of the most common mistakes amateur photographers make. The best way to learn is by studying the works of real pros. The next time you are watching a movie or a well-produced TV show, try paying attention to the camera angles and how the camera is positioned relative to the actors. You might be surprised to realize that in dialog scenes and close-ups the camera - almost always - is positioned at or even below the chest level of the actor. That creates a very powerful effect and makes all the difference in the world. Only an amateur/inexperienced cameraman/photographer - perhaps, on some local small-town news channel - would film holding the camera on their shoulder while interviewing a short person.

  • herbwong September 6, 2013 03:17 pm


    Not a good example of a great shot though, but the points that you shared here were in mind in that occassion ! Thanks for sharing your tips !

  • MIKE September 6, 2013 10:24 am


    Do you use back button focus on your Canon?


  • Darlene September 6, 2013 07:57 am

    @arturomm great idea thanks for adding that!

    @tod glad you found it helpful, good luck!

  • Tod September 6, 2013 07:30 am

    thanks for that, the example shots are amazing. I often shoot my two nieces and end up leaving frustrated when i don't get the shot i want. Thanks for this advice ive been asked to shoot a friends son 6th birthday party so this will help

  • ArturoMM September 6, 2013 03:40 am

    Excelent advice and examples, If I may I'd like to add one of my own:

    Let the kids know what happens later with their pictures: how their parents enjoy them, how others like seeing them on the pictures.

    I did that with my granddaughter (6) and now she calls me! when she thinks there is a good photo opportunity.

  • Mormorazzi September 6, 2013 02:58 am

    My beautiful 6-year-old niece is quite, let's say, rambunctious. We were camping last fall and the morning dome of light was perfect, but I just knew if I asked her to sit for a pose, she'd run away So, I asked her to cover her face with her long, wavy locks of hair, so I could get some "furry monster" shots. I clicked several throwaways. "The shot" came when she flipped up her hair. She was smiling and the focus was spot on! Once I showed her that image on my LCD screen, I had her. She wanted her picture taken ... with the cat (yes, a cat), the dog, the kayak, the picnic table, the pumpkin...!

  • Darlene September 6, 2013 02:55 am

    Hi Cheryl - thanks. Yeah I don't have any of my own but I know how to work with them at least for photos! LOL. Have fun with it!

  • Cheryl Garrity September 6, 2013 02:52 am

    Great Shots! You have inspired me. I usually shoot landscapes, but I would love to get some photos of children in my family just being themselves. Great hints about having my camera ready and being patient.