OK, to be honest I must start this “children photography” tutorial with two disclaimers:
Disclaimer #1: There is no “complete guide to children photography” there are only bits and pieces of information. When shooting my (or other’s) kids, I try to look at the session (or occasional snapshot session) as a new, and put most of what I know behind me. Here I will try to list some of the principles that I think always stay true, not necessarily in an order that makes any sense. However – remember – those are merely general guidelines. If I had to come up with a more appropriate title for this tutorial, it would be called “How To Photograph Your kids and Leave the Jelly of the Walls”, as this is the level of things that I am going to discuss.
Disclaimer #2: The author of this tutorial is also a proud Father (yes capital “F”), and as such, had to make some breaks during the writing of this tutorial to change diapers; fetch milk; kiss a scratch and hug. Also last night my daughter ran the test called “See if my father can stay up all night, and still be functional”. SO…. I do not take responsibility for random thoughts; loose connection and general “make no sense” advices I here by give. Ready? Here we go:
Shooting children is one of the toughest shooting sessions possible. Whether you are a professional photographer, an amateur or just a father with a point and shoot, kids raise some of the more challenging aspect of photography. They move fast, they don’t take modeling instructions, they touch your gear and create mayhem all around them. Hey even if you are not trying to photograph you sometimes just want to shoot them ;) So, what can you do to take better pictures of children?
Try and play with the kid while you are taking the shots. You have two choices here: find something they will keep them focused for some time or (what I like) try and play with them. One thing you can do, is ask them to show you their favorite toy (ask their parent to bring one, if you are on your turf studio). Just when they raise their hands with the toy – take the picture. This is 1-0 in the mind-game you will play. I like this trick, you get something with personality in the shot and the child is beaming. Try and have a face contest – you’ll be surprised at what a simple contest can provide in terms of personality and character. The last trick is to play Simon Says. If you and the kid get along, you can trick them into almost anything by using the magic words “Simon Says”. Note – if you are in a position where you are saying “Simon says do not touch the lens with your fingers” something is wrong. To generalize this whole point I’d say – both you and the child should have some fun during the photo session.
Make them laugh
Kids look best when they are happy (not when they are crying – though this is great photography), here all the tricks are kosher. Making faces, telling jokes (try the jokes your kids are telling you and you think they are just stupid very funny). I like asking questions and “getting the wrong answers” so my daughter has to explain the answers. (Yup, she gets a kick out of explaining her old man that elephants don’t fly. note to self: stop before she actually thinks I am stupid). Oh, yea – Funny hats and funny camera accessories work as well. Another option is to do some easy magic tricks, kids love them and they break the ice instantly.
Go with their mood
Be patient. Be patient. Be patient. Kids have moods, sometimes they are happy, sometimes sad, sometimes playful and sometimes just wanna cry. Another thing I have learned is that kids have their own pace. If your kind don’t want to take pictures, don’t force them. Put the camera aside. Play a little. Let them relax. Once they have opened up, take an experimental shot. Show them themselves on the LCD, it is a great icebreaker. If after a while the kid stays in bad mood, let it go. Have a break, do something else, you can always come back to it.
Don’t waste precious time
Do you want to use any props? Do you need any special setup? background? Make sure that when you meet the kid, you have all this in place. Kids have a non-existent very short attention span. When you meet the kid, make sure you spend your time together on taking pictures and not on preparing the setup.
Get some assistance
Hey! Where are Mommy and Daddy? If the kid is acting wild and restless, a kind word from mommy can help. Mommy can also be in the picture. Once the kid is playing with mommy, he (or she) will relax. Your earnings are twofold: you get nice shots of the child with his parents, the kid stops crying. Mommy can also ask some things like “eat this apple” or “wanna play here?” and the child will actually listen.
Use fast lenses / strobes
The first thing you will notice is that kids move fast. How fast? – Just for example sake remember the time it takes a kid to run through the playing grounds to get to the road. It’s a good thing that kids tend to run in circles, otherwise we’d all be exhausted all the time. There area few ways to overcome the blur that fast kids create. The most common way is Valium using strobes. My daughter loves flashes, she likes the big lights, and she gets curious by the light stands, but not all kids do. Explain the kid that he is going to see some light, be attentive if the light makes them cry. Another alternative is to use flood lights, fast lenses and higher ISO setting. Lastly you can use some of the props play some stand-still games like “green light red light“.
I will post the second part of the complete guide to children photography soon, where I will talk about using props, exploring different shooting angles and more.
Do you have more tips for shooting kids? Post them as comments.