Photographing children especially your own can be a daunting prospect even for a professional family photographer! Having photographed hundreds of families, I have encountered many different situations from the quiet and shy 18 month old through to a family of 4 very confident boys! We hope that these tips photographing children are useful. If you have any questions please let us know.
Here are some photography tips and tricks that may help you to photograph your own children. 90% of photographing children is about getting the right reactions and creating a fun and interesting environment. This is not a very technical article but a simple guide to hopefully help you to get better photographs of your children.
Take away the stress for everyone!
Try and remove as much stress you can. Especially for you! If you get stressed, your children will get stressed and the photos will show this. You will have loads of opportunities to photograph your own children so make it fun and relaxed and you will get the best expressions. Avoid threats of punishment or the whole event will be stressful. The offer of rewards is great but only at the end of the shoot. The more often you take photographs the more used your children will to it and start to act more naturally.
Time the shoot when they are happiest!
Its best not to try and get photographs just before nap time or late in the day. Mornings are typically best for all children (Its also a great time for light). At best you will only get 30-60 minutes before they are tired or bored (or both) so its best to start when they are refreshed, fed and watered.
Switch things up all the time!
Children get bored super quickly so change the environment or instruction every few minutes. If they are kept occupied and happy, you will get the best images.
Never get them to SMILE or say CHEESE!!!!!
Someone, somewhere told our son to say ‘CHEESE’ when the camera was pointed at him. For ages we had these daft and unnatural smiles. It’s much better to elicit a great response and get a natural reaction. Here are a few great ways to get a photo that represents them and their personalities:
- If they are old enough, ask them to tell you about something they love or something they can do. “Tell me about Batman” “Who do you like best in Frozen” “What sound does a mouse make” (start small with this one, if you start with a lions roar, there is no where to really go). You know what your children like. Our own son is obsessed with Marvel characters so anything about Iron Man, Wolverine, etc. is great.
- For younger children, singing their favorite nursery rhyme, whistling or clapping will often get a smile.
- Be silly yourself! I found that singing songs that they know but getting the words wrong gets amazing smiles and laughter. “Spiderman, Spiderman, lives in a great big caravan…..” continue to say you will get it right this time and again get it wrong. It works really well.
- A second parent, grown up or sibling being funny right behind the camera (they need to be as close as possible to the lens) is great for reactions and you can concentrate on taking the image. This is great for all ages.
- If you have siblings that are a little older, getting one to tell the other a ‘secret’ gets a great response.
- If they are old enough to walk around, send them to a particular place to get something. “Go to the tree and find me a lovely stone” Then just capture them doing what they do naturally.
- Start calm and built it up. Sitting on the ground telling us what mice say is a great starting point and finish with going crazy around the park and jumping. If we start with running and jumping, it’s hard to calm back down.
- If you are in a clean environment like your home, putting Cheerio’s or similar on their laps will keep them in place. Give one at a time and get the image when they are done and looking for another.
Where to take the pictures
I love texture in my images and often try not to include the sky. For me it gives me a very full image with the texture of the background as part of the image. I use forests, walls, grass, etc. to create a full image. Look for interesting backgrounds or somewhere where your child is comfortable. Their bedroom is somewhere where they will get lost in a world of imagination.
The best light
Sunny days are great for going out to the park or playing in the garden. Unfortunately, the sun can be the enemy of great photos. If your subject is facing the sun, they will squint and especially children will use their arm to protect themselves.
If you are in the wide open with no shade, put your child between you and the sun with their back to the sun. This will give a very pleasing backlight. However, do be careful that the camera doesn’t over think the scene and create a silhouette. If you are using a smartphone, tap on the screen where your child is, the camera will then adjust and expose for them. If you have a flash, turn that on as well especially if you have a good compact or DSLR.
Ideally, you are looking for shade that will give even lighting. A cloudy day gives great even lighting albeit a bit uninteresting. On a sunny day, find some shade. My general rule is that when I stop squinting, I have found the right pace. It’s not about the quantity but the quality of light.
If you are at home, open your front or back door (double doors work great and have your child sit a few feet inside. The doorframe acts as a big even light that give a great even light. The bigger the light source, the nicer the light. The sun by the way is a very small light source. It’s like a torch being pointed in our eyes.
What to wear
Simple, classic clothes work best for an organised photo shoot. Think Gap advert or similar. Muted tones, whites and natural colours work great. Orange T-Shirts with SpongeBob will date so quickly. If you do get the image that stays on the wall for years to come, you will wish the clothes didn’t date the image. Think timeless.
Take Loads and Loads and Loads of pictures!!!
Professional photographers will take lots of images to get the right one. I know some that have a hit rate of over 1 in 20 which may sound like a lot of waste but its great if you end up with that amazing shot. With digital technology, you can go through them all later and choose a few great shots.
Change your angle!
Especially when photographing children, get down to their level. I have ruined many pairs of trousers lying in the mud photographing kids. It’s a much better angle and shows what their world looks like. They will also relax more if you are not standing over them.
Photograph when they don’t know you are taking pictures
Again with digital photography, we can risk taking a photo when we don’t know if it’s framed correctly. It can really be worth the risk. Just hold your phone or camera anywhere but in front of your face and take a few sneaky images. Keep changing your angle after checking. It’s a great way to get natural images.
***SUPER TIP**** if you have an iPhone (other smart phones may also do this). Plug your headphones in and put the phone in camera mode. The + or – button on the headphones will take a picture when clicked!!! This is also great for selfies!
I hope these tips photographing children were useful. Essentially, go and have fun and take lots and lots of images. Photographs get more and more special as time goes by. PLEASE download your images. If you loose a camera with months of images on there, it can be devastating. This goes for your phone as well. Download and backup. Even simple snaps will be priceless in a few years.