Photographing Children - Capture WHO they are

Photographing Children – Capture WHO they are


Since I began writing here at DPS, I’ve been shooting out little lists of tips for photographing children. But each little point on those lists has so much potential for further exploration in and of itself and it would be a shame not to delve deeper. One such tip I’ve thrown out there is to: “Leave them alone”. I said recently in a radio interview (I love that stuff just comes to me as I’m saying it before I even realise that I think it!) that I want to “take photos of who my kids are, not just what they’re doing.” One such way we can accomplish this is to back off and leave them alone.

A good zoom lens is a must-have for any parent who loves taking photo of their children. Or at least for the time being, you can use your kit lens and crop in as close as the quality allows after the fact. This will allow you to back off and let them forget that you’re taking their photo. Don’t order them around and restrain yourself from scolding them if they’re naughty. I love taking photos of my kids being naughty.

Another method I use when photographing them is to take hundreds and hundreds in each session. I just pack my memory card and put my camera on the fastest shooting drive possible. In the evening when they’ve gone to bed, I can go through them and out of a hundred, I might keep only one which is ‘the one’. ‘The one’ is always the most perfect moment which shows who I know my children to be – the authentic them. How do I know which one is ‘the one’? It’s the one shot that makes me stop for an extra second. The one that makes me want to go up to their bed and kiss them. The one that makes me heart skip a beat or hate the thought of them growing up. Don’t be afraid to trash the ones that aren’t ‘the one’.

So no matter what they’re doing, try to capture who they are, not just what they’re doing.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Jeff Kalman April 2, 2011 04:01 am

    Photographing children can be a challenge. I've found that, like with cooking, if you have the right ingredients, things usually turn out pretty good. Begin with the right gear. Proceed to the most flattering light possible. Continue with a happy, well-fed, and well-rested child. Be animated and engaging without being intimidating. Earn trust. Relax but be on your toes for that one moment. Sprinkle the photo shoot with careful observation and patience. Viola! A photo good enough to print and hang on the living room wall. [eimg link='' title='Girl in Wagon' url='']

  • Marques Johnson April 23, 2010 05:57 pm

  • Marques Johnson April 23, 2010 05:54 pm

    [eimg link='' title='' url='']

  • Marques Johnson April 21, 2010 08:10 pm

    This is an image of a kid from the Young Marine Program in recruit training trying to climb a rope.

    [eimg link='' title='' url='']

  • Maree April 20, 2010 02:45 pm

    I love taking photo of the kids when they are totally absorbed by what they are doing, or playing with. Candid is best. Great article. I'm glad everyone else looks to the candid moments as well.[eimg link='' title='Scribe' url='']

  • gmomada April 19, 2010 02:34 pm

    Sometimes you just happen upon a child just "being" -- like this little girl I was able to get a few quick shots of as she danced up the stairs at a public garden. I had my 55-200 lens, and was able to get the pictures without alarming her or her parents. My teenage grandchildren are another story entirely. It's hard work to get them to relax.[eimg link='' title='arb_0069a1' url='']

  • Matthew April 19, 2010 07:04 am

    I love just seeing everyone's favorite pics of their kids!

    Here is one of my favorites of my daughter.

    [eimg url='' title='IMG_0877.jpg']

  • Jim Denham April 18, 2010 10:30 pm

    I totally agree! When my boy and I were at the park yesterday, it about drove me crazy listening to parents, or others, telling the kids, who want to be playing, to "sit next to your sister" or "look at me." I'd much rather my kid be himself and let me try to capture who he is. Great tip!

    [eimg link='' title='Throwing Sand' url='']

  • John April 17, 2010 02:36 pm

    Excellent article. The expressions and emotions you can capture just by stepping back and letting kids do their thing is incredible. I shot these last summer at the splash pad.[eimg url='' title='index.php?album=random&image=_8226155-1.jpg']

  • Esdeebee April 16, 2010 06:57 pm
    I love this one too.

  • Esdeebee April 16, 2010 05:33 pm

    In my opinion, the best way to photograph children is to shoot when they don't know.
    This is my youngest daughter at a school fancy fair

  • Esdeebee April 16, 2010 04:29 pm

    My daughter at a school fancy fair.

    [eimg link='' title='2005 - Enfants (211)' url='']

  • Craig Douglas April 16, 2010 07:59 am

    I taught my wife the way to get a good shot was to take lots and lots of shots and when digital became common that became much easier to do. The problem was that I was never able to teach her that yu take a hundred shots but throw 99 of them away. She filled books and books with all the shots. It was enough to make you hide the batteries!

  • Mark April 16, 2010 07:50 am

    Leaving them alone is the best way of capturing moments to the child, one day when he gets older he'll enjoy it.. Great article!

  • Carol April 16, 2010 04:29 am

    Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement!! Great article!!

  • Linda Baca April 16, 2010 03:48 am

    That was a beautiful article, made me rethink taking pix of my kids and makes it less stressful, thank you :)

  • Karen Skelly April 16, 2010 03:26 am

    Make sure you don't get arrested - you look like a stalker hiding in the bushes. Just kidding. Love the photo.

  • Linda Ghawi April 15, 2010 06:49 pm

    Really authentic.I'm not a professional photo shooter,but that is exactly the same way I do with my kids:get as many photos as I can,then sit down and choose the ones my heart beats for.
    Thank You.

  • Jo April 15, 2010 02:02 pm

    Kids are animals its just like wildlife photography, leave them in their element and snap away when something interesting happens.

  • Eshwar.P.S April 15, 2010 10:55 am

    Absolutely agree with you Elizabeth. Leave 'em alone… and you are gifted with amazing expressions n shots. One of my faves (he's my nephew)…
    [eimg link='' title='IMG_3269' url='']

  • robdog April 15, 2010 08:35 am

    cheers for the tip my kids are my favorite thing to shoot

  • Kej Smith April 15, 2010 05:39 am

    Great advise, I don't have children, sadly, but my sister's kids are perfectly adorable and great subjects. I'm currently working on a collection of photographs of them to show off and I'll be applying your advise to my work in the future.

  • paige whitley April 15, 2010 04:28 am

    I was up on the deck and Jack didn't see me snapping away. I love the fun he's having all by himself, as his brothers and I just watch. [eimg link='' title='jack w/ hose' url='']

  • Aimee Greeblemonkey April 15, 2010 03:36 am

    Kids are pretty much my favorite thing in the world to photograph.

  • Paul April 15, 2010 01:58 am

    I think it depends on the age of the child - for kids aged 6 and under, I love using my 50/1.4 lens. It produces beautiful shots with shallow DOF and is very sharp. It also means you can shoot without flash which makes it less obtrusive. I shoot on a 400D, so the 1.6 crop is great in allowing you to fill the frame without getting uncomfortably close. Kids that age are still expressive, even with a camera in their face. Once they get older though, it's tougher to shoot good expressions - a zoom lens is often the way to go, to catch them in a more natural setting.

  • Lamar Thames April 14, 2010 11:40 pm

    Elizabeth: You are a person after my own heart. I have taken two photo classes recently that focused on studio portraits and I was sorely disappointed. As a former journalist, my ambition has always been to capture the moment and in particular capture the moment with my grandchildren, all six of them. I, too, get a thrill out of that special photo that comes from hundreds of rejects. I have a zoom and I try very hard to just let them do their thing without them knowing I am taking their photo. Of course, that sometimes becomes difficult because they know that Papa always has his camera and they shout "Let me see!" when I'm done. But I keep trying. Glad to know there are people out there like you who share my passion.

  • Brian Taylor April 14, 2010 10:49 pm

    Before I purchased my "good" camera I spoke to a photographer friend of mine. She told me that when she takes pictures of her kids she typically just opens the back door to let them play and grabs her camera with the 70 - 200 lens on it and a cup of coffee. She will sit on the porch while they play and shoot away. She gets a ton of good pictures.

    This is the mentality I have. I set a low F stop to get that great bokeh effect and start snapping. The kids are never the wiser and I end up with great shots (in my opinion) like this

  • Brian Taylor April 14, 2010 10:48 pm

    Before I purchased my "good" camera I spoke to a photographer friend of mine. She told me that when she takes pictures of her kids she typically just opens the back door to let them play and grabs her camera with the 70 - 200 lens on it and a cup of coffee. She will sit on the porch while they play and shoot away. She gets a ton of good pictures.

    This is the mentality I have. I set a low F stop to get that great bokeh effect and start snapping. The kids are never the wiser and I end up with great shots (in my opinion) like this

    [eimg link='' title='Sprinkler' url='']

  • Ron Heerkens Jr April 14, 2010 10:18 pm

    Daz, I think this is where we have to shun our photographers had and be observant of the situation. What may work for one group of youth, may not work for others. I personally haven't worked much with teens, but I know when I was a teen I would often run from the camera, as a child if I don't know it was there I could just be myself. That's what I find when I do most shoots, when people stop "acting" for the camera, you can capture the real them. Each circumstance however has its own set of rules, and rules are always made to be broken.

  • Mary April 14, 2010 09:20 pm

    I love this and will keep it in mind as I photograph my 9-month-old son as he develops from a baby to a toddler and beyond. :)

  • Roliver Vergara April 14, 2010 08:26 pm

    [eimg link='' title='goofin' around' url='']
    here's another try...

  • Roliver Vergara April 14, 2010 08:24 pm

    Here's a photograph of my six year old goofing around. I silently sneaked my off-cam speedlite infront and below chair and waited until the opportune moment, and fired away.
    Sometimes we just have to be creative and pack a lot of patience...

  • Roliver Vergara April 14, 2010 08:15 pm

    Here's a picture of my six year old goofing around. I silently placed my speedlite below and in front of the chair and set it to slave, waited for the opportune moment, and fired away. There'll come a time really when kids won't pose for you. It's those times when you have to be creative, and pack a sack full of patience.[eimg url='' title='photo.php?pid=31246027&id=1251715744']

  • Stock Photos April 14, 2010 08:01 pm

    I have the worst time photographing teens, rarely do they cooperate and I find they are perfecting their "brooding" look.

  • Kyle Bailey April 14, 2010 02:20 pm

    I've taken lots of snaps of kids doing martial arts and other related sports and found that your 100:1 ratio is about right. Sometimes it is even higher. I was wondering if anyone has any tips for taking action shots of groups of kids without them noticing and staring.

    I'd like to add these kinds of shots to my Flickr portfolio at as well as on my blog at where I am blogging about my journey from Rookie to Pro photographer.

    Feel free to comment or provide any advice you can.


  • Marla April 14, 2010 11:03 am

    I just did this last night and,while they were not too enthusiastic at first-they were excited when they saw the pics-capturing kids how they r is the only way to go!

  • shboyd April 14, 2010 09:37 am

    Beautifully Said~! I feel as though that was written by me.... and the way I photography my children. :) The hard part is trashing the photos!

  • irene jones April 14, 2010 09:06 am

    Good advice, kids do so many wonderful things, and capturing them as they discover the world around them is really priceless. This is one of my favorite photos that displays just such a moment.
    [eimg url='' title='23452_417565695883_12514470883_5278879_767486_n.jpg']

  • Ron Heerkens Jr April 14, 2010 07:33 am

    Great read. I can't express how import this is to me as a photographer when I go and meet my clients, for them to understand how I like to try and capture their kids "in the moment". I find it very hard to get kids to do what you want, but giving them something fun to do, gives you the opportunity to capture real moments that last longer than some of those staged moments.

  • Daz Vernon April 14, 2010 06:47 am

    I've found that with older kids i.e. teenagers, sometimes the opposite is true. Getting right in their face sometimes seems to be the only way to bring them out of their shells.

    This is my son, Jack. I managed to get him to stop texting long enough to capture this.