What to Know When Photographing Children

One of the most common reasons for buying a camera is to capture those precious moments of children’s lives from the time they are born. Capturing regular moments of the children as they develop is something that will be valued for generations to come, so tackle the job with care.

What to Know When Photographing Children

Children, especially very young children are favorite subjects for most of us. However, photographing children may be very challenging. The first rule in children photography is that you should have love for the children. Otherwise you cannot expect to have anything remotely similar to Anne Geddes! (Anne is one of the most respected and successful photographer, who specializes in children photography, especially below 12 weeks of age!)

Bruce Davidson, who has taken some very fascinating photographs, says, “Looking at children is a way of seeing ourselves. In their innocence they teach the profound – and if you can see their truth you can see your own.”

Tips on Photographing Children

Here are some tips on photographing children:

Photographer should be Relaxed and Comfortable

While taking pictures the photographer should be relaxed and comfortable; not tense. This provides not only the right atmosphere to picture but also ends in a pleasant picture-taking session. Many photographers tend to get tense and worked up; photography should be very natural and enjoyable act. If the child is not in a receptive mood, it is better to postpone the session for a better mood later on. Never admonish a child for not giving a pleasant or natural smile – this will only ensure getting a disappointing picture (ordering smiles!). On such occasions try to remember what Rousseau said, “Nature wants children to be children before they are adults.”

Camera should be Kept Handy

A camera should be kept handy or within easy reach so that the child can be photographed at will. Moreover, if the camera is treated casually, the child too will not get distracted and his or her natural pose will remain as it is. A baby’s life, in the process of growing, is crowded with pictures – events which should not be missed for they are moments which will never come back. Events of early life are cherished later on. No doubt, capturing a child in a picture brings its own reward at that moment, but it gives immense joy later on in life when the child has become an adult.

This stage, when the baby is exploring and discovering the world, constitutes a perfect subject matter with informal pictures of him or she engaged in spontaneous and natural activity. These pictures should be simple and the camera kept candid. Capturing expressions and actions should be kept for a later stage; initially ample pictures must be taken of the child in various moods.

At this stage it is less a matter of cameras and lenses; it is more a question of the photographer’s attitude. The aim should be to record the child’s moods – correct focus and perfect exposures become secondary.

Letting the Children Act Naturally

instantShift - Tips on Photographing Children

Children are perhaps the least self-conscious of all on-camera participants, especially if they have become accustomed to the camera being pointed at them from birth. If this is the case, you have the definite advantage. Even without it, you can capture some wonderful moments that you will look back on with fondness in the years and decades to come.

Where children are concerned, it is really important to let them be themselves. Give them a job to do or an activity to become engaged in that will provide them with a distraction. The more they are occupied with what they are doing the less they will feel imposed upon by the presence of the camera. Painting, drawing or another form of activity is always a good idea because it increases the opportunity for you to not only observe what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Never Ask a Child to Pose Before a Camera

Right from the birth of photography, which opened unimaginable doors of imitating reality; this subject has fascinated the early photographers as much as it does an average camera user. Asking a little boy or a girl to sit still is asking for the impossible as any parent or photographer would know. Even if you succeed, the chances are that you will be disappointed. So, the golden rule is never asking a child to pose before a camera. Earlier it was a normal practice for the photographer to make children pose before his camera in all possible postures and costumes. Different backgrounds were used to make children look attractive in pictures. Hardly any aspect of their life was left out.

Catch the Moment

When it comes to taking photographs of young children, there is a whole range of issues to take into account for a start kids get bored very quickly, so you cannot spend ages setting up the shots. The best thing is to be ready with the camera – kids do unexpected things at unexpected times, and you are likely to have very little time to respond.

While large, complicated cameras will give you the best results in terms of quality, they can be very inconvenient to carry around, especially if you have to carry the child as well! It is generally better to use a smaller, aim-and-click camera so you are not hampered with camera cases and expensive lenses while chasing your subject a round. Simply choose the right moment to release the shutter and there is your perfectly posed photograph!

Digital cameras are ideal to take to family events and celebrations, where they can be unobtrusively left in your pocket or handbag and whipped out when the moment arises That way, young children are unaware that they may be thrust into the spotlight with the danger of them turning self-conscious, and will continue just being themselves. These are the best moments to quickly take out your camera and take natural pictures, which are often far more effective than traditional group photos in which everyone stares at the camera and says “cheese”! Above all, though, do not let photography take over your life at these events. Make sure you join in with the events you are recording!

Take as Many Pictures as You Want

Take as many pictures as you want for you can never tell which one will be the most cherished one later on. Only through relative comparison can one select the better ones, out of which the best can be further short listed. It is worth clicking a few more shots than you feel necessary.

Plan in Advance

Since a child’s attention span is very short, it is advisable to plan in advance and be ready with your camera. A child cannot sit still for more than a few minutes. A child will return to a normal pose in no time at all. A little planning in advance can help in taking shots exactly when he or she is at his or her peak of attentiveness or activity. For example, a child at a very tender age raises his head for a mere second as the strain of holding the head upright is too much. As soon as the baby lifts his head to look around, the camera should be clicked. Often you will find a soft expression of amusement and bewilderment on a child’s face which can be caught only if the focus of the camera lens and the composition (background) has been planned beforehand. Further, a film speed of 200 ISO or more is advisable.

Photography Should Not be Restricted

Photography should not be restricted to capturing select occasions; it should be reproduction of a warm and spontaneous child. Then only can the child appear natural. Children should be photographed when they are on their own. A child need not be dressed up or tidied up in the hope of acquiring the best results. A child with a tousled mop of hair and a simple dress looks most endearing. A baby in a sleeping position captures a very important phase and should not be missed out as it adds variety to the normal shots.

Don’t Put Away the Camera After Taking Shots in the Beginning of an Occasion

At birthday parties and special occasions, it is wrong to stop taking pictures all of a sudden. Even after the cake-cutting is over, pictures can be taken of the baby eating the cake clumsily. A child holding his or her parent’s arms can make for an attractive picture. Hence, do not put away the camera after taking shots in the beginning of an occasion. At times, pictures taken during the latter stage become mementoes to treasure.

The Camera Should Become a Natural Part of a Child’s Life

If camera used occasionally, the child will get distracted by its presence. But with constant use the child gets accustomed to it and will not be bothered by it. As a result the child in all likelihood will give natural expressions – the most vital ingredient of a memorable picture.

Initially Newborns are Photographed With Full Enthusiasm

instantShift - Tips on Photographing Children

Baby pictures are taken soon after the arrival of the newborn in the world. Initially newborns are photographed with full enthusiasm and all their activities like bathing, sleeping, feeding and early birthdays are recorded but after some time, this feverish activity gets slowed down as it becomes stereotyped. Then the stage comes when children are photographed only on birthdays, weddings of elder children or when wearing new sets of clothes. This too becomes a set pattern and seldom succeeds in catching the child in a real life situation.

The Camera Equipment and Lighting Should be Kept to the Minimum

At home, avoid flashguns, if possible, for they are a source of distraction. Take the child out in natural, bright light and shoot. You can obtain excellent results if you make use of natural light as far as possible. Choose a spot near an open window or on the balcony or the terrace, as diffused light brings out the child’s delicate features admirably. Avoid direct sunlight or use it only when unusual effects are desired. Flashguns popping on and off can disturb the baby and break the mood the baby is getting into. A flash can be used indoors if the light is too poor or if its purpose is to arrest movement. Or else, a bounced flash can be used, if necessary. Pictures of fleeting smiles in studios can be taken with the flashgun but at home, the available natural light can produce pictures which can be sure winners. A bounced flash also gives pleasant pictures.

Children Should be Seen From Various Angles and Heights

Shots taken repeatedly from a high angle or from one fixed place can never produce the desired results. Bending down on one’s knees or lying on one’s belly to reach the level of the child can produce interesting shots and also more as close to the subject as possible. Distance cannot capture the facial expressions.

Some Other Handy Tips

instantShift - Tips on Photographing Children

Following are some other tips on photographing children.

  • Photographing children in traditional poses is generally a nightmarish prospect! Taking pictures of children at play, on the other hand, is much easier.
  • At times, light music or presence of toys can help. Kids are fond of toys and their obvious delight at seeing new ones can bring eye-catching expressions on their faces which can be advantageously captured with the camera.
  • It is better to use a medium aperture (f-4) and a shutter speed of 1/125 second and focus quickly. If encountering difficulty in this, then use ‘zero focusing’ by setting your camera lens pre-focused for a distance at which your subject will be. With a fixed focus or auto-focus camera, no focusing will be required as the camera will take care of it. In a fixed-focus camera, never get closer than one meter as the shot will produce a fuzzy picture.
  • For taking candid shots, a 70-210 mm tele zoom lens in an SLR camera allows you to shoot children at play, provided your reflexes are quick.
  • Try to be relaxed with your children when you are photographing and let them become accustomed to having a camera pointing at them from an early age.
  • Every effort should be made to ensure that small babies are comfortable, well-fed, warm and feeling secure. Mothers should always be present with babies during the shoot.
  • Children make quick eye movements or facial expressions. Use a fast shutter speed (1/250 sec) and a wide aperture.
  • Do not expect your every shot to be comparable with what you see in Greeting cards. (For world-class images, preparation time varies from several weeks to sometimes a few months!)
  • Costume designers are not just for glamour photography; and stylists are not just for good photography. Both these trades are equally important in children photography!
  • Young children are best photographed, when engrossed in some activity, and oblivious of the presence of the camera.
  • Use props, like a basket, bathtub, toys, a fancy chair, or even soap bubbles!
  • Make use of natural light for photographing children. High-key pictures, taken in diffused light make the more impressive photographs.
  • The real key to success in children photography is patience. If during a photo-session the children do not oblige you, turn that session into a play. Children will love you and (hopefully) oblige the next time!
  • Do not shoot children from adult’s point of view. Get down to their level, for natural looking pictures.
  • Music can sometime help in keeping the kids involved. Be sure to play rhymes (and not your favourite oldies!).
  • Whilst a child might not feel self-conscious in front of the camera, it’s still a good idea not to create distractions by changing settings, moving position, and so on. Find a comfortable shot and capture the moment.

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10 Comments

  1. Some really good tips there Narendra.

    I’d have to disagree with not asking kids to pose though. You can get some fantastic posed shots of kids because they’re usually so much more natural in front of the camera than adults, probably because they don’t actually care how they look which is a great thing!

    It does depend on the child though. I was a rubbish poser when I was a young whipper snapper!

  2. Hi Narendra! I have totally impressed by your way of explanation about taking the photograph to the children. Lot of interesting tips have been observed. I hope it would be very helpful to many parents in taking their children photographs very effectively.

  3. Thanks to your student, I see your smile. Tomorrow, Hello!

  4. Very useful tips to getting children photos, It will be useful for all of us in our vacation :))
    thanks for Posting before them!

  5. i like this post very much……..

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  8. very informative artical. thanks for the share !!!

  9. No complaints on this end, splimy a good piece.

  10. Great article, I think the point about the photographer being relaxed and comfortable is so important. If the photographer is stressed or tense a child will pick up on this and respond to it.

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