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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.