Let Them Run Around: Photographing Children

Let Them Run Around: Photographing Children

The girl in this photo was like the Energizer bunny- she wouldn't sit still! This photo was taken as part of a family portrait session. The posed shots were challenging because three young children didn't want to sit still. Once we allowed her to play in the surf a little, we got much better shots of her.

I am often asked by people, “What can I do to get my children to sit for a photo?” Children can be among the most compelling of subjects to photograph, and as a professional, one of the most profitable.  But children have this odd tendency to want to move around, and not sit still.  This can at times be frustrating when looking for that perfect portrait.  To combat this, as a photographer, a change in mindset is in order. Rather than trying to force the child to sit still, try allowing the children to move around.  Let them get involved in exploring their surroundings. No, you won’t get the traditional portrait of the subject sitting in front of the camera, but you may just get something better, more natural, and more fitting with the child’s personality.

Children can sometimes be the hardest subjects to photograph because they become self conscious in front of the camera.  The worst thing I’ve ever heard a parent say to a child when being photographed is something along the lines of “Let’s see a REAL smile!”  Parents think they are helping but saying such things makes the child wonder what’s wrong with the smile they just gave, and the next one will invariably be worse.  By putting children in their own element, allowing them to explore, to play, you elicit a more natural response that shows their true personalities.

This shot was taken in the child's own home. She was shy around the camera and wouldn't sit still for me. By allowing her to roam around, talk to me, get to know me, she let her guard down, and I was able to get some candid shots of her.

One of the ways to encourage children to be themselves is to put them in a setting that they’ll want to explore. A studio setting, while great for the photographer, can be a nightmare for children.  The lighting, the stands, the backgrounds are at times intimidating and at others distracting.  If a child is going to be distracted, have them be distracted by something that will make a great picture. Often, when I am approached by people to photograph their children, I’ll suggest a setting like a beach, a park, or even their own bedroom. These types of settings put them at ease. Once they are at ease, a variety of shots, including the traditional portrait, can be captured.

Another tack to take would be to schedule the session to specifically be a play session.  In the winter, with snow on the ground, a hillside with sleds can be an ideal setting for capturing children.  Bring a couple of sleds and let them have fun! Build a snowman! Have a snowball fight! In the summer, at the beach, playing in the water and in the sand provides a wonderful glimpse into children’s personalities. A pool will work just as well. Any park setting with a jungle gym is a great starting point for a children’s session. Let them climb, let them swing, let them get dirty.

Get the kids out and let them play!  Just be sure you are ready with the camera when they do.

In the winter, a snow-covered hillside can be the perfect setting for a children's session.


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Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at RickBerk.com and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

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