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How to take pictures of kids | 10 tips to get the best candid photos of children
My tricks for photographing children and making them comfortable during a photo session. How to make a photoshoot with kids fun for everybody.
Photographing children may be a very frustrating experience: for the photographer, for the parents and for the children themselves.
My mission as a photographer is not just to give families a beautiful gallery of images: I like to think I can help create a new memory of a beautiful day spent together.
Making sure that kids have fun during a photo session is the best way of taking photos of children. Connecting and having fun with them is the fastest and most effective way to gain their trust and consequently, get natural and spontaneous shots.
I’m not one of those people who have that instinctive connection with the little ones. In fact, I’ve always looked at them with a little bit of fear but over time I have refined, almost without realizing it, a few tricks that help me make a photoshoot with children a very pleasant and fun experience.
Here is the list of tips that help me capture those emotional and natural shots that I love so much.
1. Talk to them
Get to Their level
Children love attention and instinctively like people who give it to them. Spending some time chatting, asking them how their day was or if they want to show me their bedroom or favorite toy is an easy way to connect with them.
They don’t know me, I was invited without nobody asking them an opinion about it. Allowing them to have the time to decide whether they like me or not seems to be respectful before shoving a camera in front of their face.
2. Don’t take pictures of them (yet)
Ignoring a kid is the best way to gain their interest
I begin almost every children photo session by shooting details of the environment (whether they are home furnishing details or glimpses of the location) and/or the parents alone. For the following reasons:
- The environment and the details are part of the story and help tell it better. (they are always useful shots to enrich albums, galleries, Instagram stories, etc…)
- Often mom and dad don’t have many other opportunities to have photos of them as a couple and I’m sure they deserve a moment just for themselves.
- Unlike the little ones, some adults may not be completely comfortable in front of the camera and having the opportunity to take some time to adapt without having to worry about what the children are up to helps to relax the atmosphere and get better photos afterward.
- Ignoring a child is the best way to gain interest.
3. Keep them into consideration
Explain what you are doing and make them feel important
While I try to put mom and dad at ease or take pictures of the environment, I explain to the children what I am doing. I usually do it a little above their comprehension skills: “I want to take a nice portrait of mom and dad …. I have to set f1 / 125 to make sure I don’t get motion blur… if I get distracted and I take underexposed pictures it’s a mess because I can’t correct them in photoshop… do you know how to use photoshop? what do you think? Do you like this? Do you think it is correctly exposed? (showing previews in the viewfinder)….
All this act is meant to amaze the kids and keep them interested in me, but at the same time my plan is to make mom and dad smile while they are patiently waiting in the pose in which I placed them with the excuse “if you don’t mind I’ll start taking some pictures of you”:
At this point, nearly any kid is totally into photography and will easily accept my invitation/trap: “do you want to go there with mom so I can take a few pictures of you too?”
If they are not willing to do so, they have probably been too fascinated by the camera and want to try to take pictures rather than act as models….I know that putting a camera in any kid’s hands means not having it back so I try to take time by bargaining: “I’ll let you try later … but first, let’s play a game” (let’s play a game. Point. Statement not question.)
Don’t ask them to do things for you.
There is nothing better to cheer up the atmosphere than playing a game! Any chocolate or candy prize will work fine for those who reach the highest score.
Any fun game will do:
a) Running and hugging Mom
b) Being turned upside down by Dad
c) Who arrives first to a certain point
d) How high can you jump
f) Hiding and scarring mom and dad
g) Catch each other
h) Funny faces like monsters, princesses, serious, angry, etc.
Whoever wins the round takes one point, the first to reach 10 points wins. If there are more siblings they should (obviously) all tie. A few extra rounds to help them gain the missing points give the opportunity to take a few more shots.
The purpose of this tournament is to obtain the greatest variety of situations (and therefore of shots) possible: child alone, child with brother, brother alone, child with adult 1, child with adult 2, both children with both adults, etc …
5. Find calm moments
Steal what happens in-between
I like to mix extremely dynamic and playful moments with more intimate and calm ones.
Overloading the mood with too much running and playing can easily escalate into “too much confusion”. It is useful to alternate quieter moments to find peace before everything goes completely crazy.
I alternate every in-motion pose with static moments of cuddles and hugs.
Always trying not to forget to observe what happens in the in-between moments.
It is during the transition between one situation and another that the most spontaneous and real interactions can be stolen.
Who is shooting should not be anxious to shoot too much or ask to do to many new things: sometimes the best choice is to lower the camera (even announcing a false pause), back up a little bit and stop to observe what happens spontaneously.
6. Let them use your camera
Take turns shooting to get amazing portraits
When we think we have all the shots we need, if the child (s) is (are) still interested, it’s time to make them take some pictures. This is a good excuse to shoot some close-up portraits: “you take one of me, then I take one of you”.
With younger children I take the time to shoot with them: I stay close, I explain how to do it and I check that they don’t crash my camera to the ground!.
The older ones, after giving a few tips (“put the strap around your wrist”, “hold it like this”, “don’t let it fall”, “press here”, “are you sure you won’t let it fall?”) I leave them alone to explore their new artistic side and I take the opportunity to take more pictures of siblings or mom and dad alone.
I would be lying if I said I found in my card unexpected wonderful shots; usually, they are an infinite amount of floor or ceilings shots, but making them play around freely seems to be an honest way to give the kids something in return.
I like to think that I’m giving children the opportunity of discovering and experimenting with something new. Mom and Dad will have the intimate and natural photos they desire so much and I hope the children will keep the memory of a fun and interesting experience.
7. Don’t say “cheese”
don’t ask for smiles or to look at you.
Children that try faking a smile look very unnatural and stiff.
I never ask them to smile for me. If I can’t make them smile with a joke I try the face game: I found out that asking to show their most serious or angry face is the easiest way to get a spontaneous laugh.
Some kids are more introverted and serious and if we want to take a portrait that represents them it is useless to try too hard to steal smiles that will be unnatural anyway.
After gaining confidence, you can ask a little more … A child quickly gets used to the camera and if you have their trust they will probably allow you to place the 50mm lens right in their face!
Sometimes I like playing with the most collaborative ones and I ask if they see me through the lens. As they try to see something that is not really there, I get closer: that’s how I got my favorite portraits!
8. Change your perspective
Look for the better spot with better light
Light, light, light …. everyone knows how light is the basis of photography. I myself have heard it for years but it took me some time to fully understand it. We can have the perfect scene in front of us but if the light is not good the photo will have nothing magical.
Before even taking the camera out of our new backpack, we should take the time to look around and find the best spot for our shooting.
For outdoor photo sessions, I always try to be there a little bit earlier to have the time to take some test shots. For indoor shooting, I kindly ask if I can have a tour of the house to find the room with the best light.
When we found the ideal spot, we have a scene in front of us that we like and we managed to create the perfect mood: we should remember to shoot from different points of view: (from the front, from ¾, from the side, from the other side, through another object, etc.).
This is useful because:
• Different points of view tell different stories
• Light (and therefore the image) changes completely depending on our position.
Getting very close to the subjects helps to emotionally enter the scene.
Moving away and stealing a shot from the distance helps the overall storytelling.
9. Family Portrait
be creative even in more traditional shots
The Family portrait for grandma is the nightmare of every lifestyle photographer!
It is not easy to convince the children to stay in the right position, on the same focal plane as the other family members, without moving, and looking straight in camera.
We must be quick to seize the right moment when everyone is close. This is the only moment I ask “can we take a serious picture?”.
Spontaneous photos are always my favorites so, I still try to distract everybody. I ask to take turns to look at the various members of the family: “everyone look at mom” ……. “now look at dad” … … “Look at the donkey” … “Oh, there is no donkey?” (Ha ha ha, funny girl I am !!) … .. “then look at Filippo” ….. “now look at me” …. GOT IT!! Done!
Most of my clients will choose the photo in which everyone looks at each other as the family portrait to be printed, but I’m happy to also deliver even the official one where everyone looks in camera.
10. Embrace Caos
you will have amazing pictures even if you feel like it was a mess
Reassure adults that everything is going fine and we are taking wonderful photos. I have noticed that many parents worry a lot about the fact that children “are not behaving well” and they are afraid I’m not getting those intimate and emotional photos they saw on my website.
In the selection and editing phase delete all the pictures that seem too messy, random or homemade. Focus on those that most represent the emotion you want to convey and show only those.
The best way to photograph kids and get the perfect natural children’s pictures is based on the fact that we should focus more on the experience we want to provide than on the photos we want to take.
For close-ups: 35mm or 50mm
To “steal” details from a little further away: 85mm or 100mm
For wider views that frame the whole scene or the environment: 35mm or 24mm
The subject are the children (and other family members), in order not to get distracted by the surroindings and for a more poetic atmosphere: use bright lenses to blur the background: f1.4, f1.8, f2.0 or, in general, keep the widest aperture allowed by the lens you have.
Beware of photos with multiple subjects: keep everyone on the same focal plane, we love nice smooth bokah but we don’t want family members out of focus.
Use low shutter speed to avoid blurry photos: f1 /125 or f1/250.
Shoot a little more than usual. Multiple shooting can help freeze specific moments, but don’t overdo it, otherwise the selection will be a nightmare.
Always on the eyes.
Lower yourself to the subject’s eye level to avoid distortion.
Positioning yourself above a child and framing it from top to bottom can be an “artistic” choice to emphasize the child’s innocence and tenderness. It is a choice that must be made with awareness and not to be abused.
Take care in choosing clothes. Avoid uncomfortable clothes and bulky jackets.
Pay attention to the colors and the harmony they have with the outfits of the other family members.
If the environment is nice, show it into your shots. If the place is not amazing or it is a messy house try to isolate the subjects excluding the background. Just moving a little bit to the side many times is enough to remove a disturbing object from the scene.