You know the old Hollywood adage about never working with animals or children right? Well there’s definitely an element of truth to it—neither take direction well, nor could they generally be described as “predictable.” But when it comes to photography, working with children can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Their expressions, their vitality, their innocence, can all be revealed in amazing ways through the lens of the camera. And yes, sometimes you need to show the patience of a Zen master to get the shot, but when you do you’ll have a treasure that you’ll cherish for the rest of your life.
Today I’m going to give you some tips to help you get the best possible photographs of children, be they compliant, rambunctious, or a charming mixture of the two.
Pick Your Moment
As any parent will tell you, you have to catch kids at the right moment if you really want them to play ball. A hungry or tired child is a force to be reckoned with, so plan to shoot at a point in their schedule when they’re at their best. This simple tip is one of the most important I can give, so don’t take it lightly! Also, because of the lighting tips I’m going to give, try and aim for a daytime shoot rather than a nighttime shoot.
Choose Plain Clothes
If you really want to get an A+ on this assignment, you have to consider every little detail—including wardrobe. I always advise clients to wear clothes without logos or graphics, as they can be eye-catching in the final image and distract from the result. Also, patterns and stripes are best avoided for the same reason. Muted, solid colors are a safe bet. Personally I try to keep things as casual as possible so that my subjects can relax and enjoy themselves, so I always emphasize that they should wear clothes they feel comfortable in, and this advice is particularly apt for children.
Location, Location, Location
Every time I write a post with photography advice I have to make mention of the importance of lighting. Good lighting can make or break a photo, so take a few minutes to think about where you’re going to get the best possible light. My preference is always to use natural light, and avoid using the flash if at all possible. Sometimes your camera will automatically pop the flash up, but I would advise you figure out how to override the auto flash and shut it off. I would rather shoot at a high ISO, even though that may lead to digital noise in your image, which is not ideal. (Click here if you want to learn more about shooting in manual mode). Try to find a strong source of natural light like a big window and position yourself between it and your subject, so that you are facing away from the window and your subject is facing towards it. Windows are truly a photographers best friend, and if you practice shooting near them you’ll soon understand why. Just remember: north facing windows are preferable to south facing windows because the sun never shines through them, which leads me to my next tip ….
Avoid Direct Sunlight
Direct sunlight is harsh and unflattering, and for this reason we try to avoid it whenever possible. Much better to find a shaded space instead with lots of reflected light—the shady side of a house for example. One of the most difficult situations to shoot in is mid-afternoon sun. It creates deep shadows in the eyes that don’t make for the best portraits, so try to avoid mid-afternoon sun altogether.
Provide A Distraction
This can be a real deal-maker for smaller children, who basically live in a state of perpetual motion. If you give them something to occupy themselves with and then spend some time down at their level, seeing the world from their perspective, you’ll find some really interesting opportunities. One of the classic tricks of the studio portrait trade is the “little birdy” trick, whereby the photographer would holds a toy over the camera to get the child’s attention. It actually works really well, especially if the toy makes a noise. Alternatively, if you need both hands to shoot with, getting someone to sit beside you and interact with the child can also work really well.
Blur That Background
One of the most commonly used techniques of portrait and wedding photographers is shallow depth of field. If you’ve ever looked at a shot and wondered how they got that super blurred out, dreamy looking background, well that’s shallow depth of field. In order to achieve the effect you need to shoot with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera that has a lens that is capable of shooting at a wide maximum aperture, at least f/2.8, but preferably around f/1.8. Canon, Nikon and Sony all have affordable 50mm lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/1.8, and if you love to photograph people, you should definitely invest in one of these. Personally, if I had to choose just one lens to work with, I would probably choose my Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens. It’s light, it’s well-built, and it takes amazing portraits. Although you can’t get true shallow depth of field with a smartphone, I did notice recently that a friend of mine was using an app that automatically blurs the backgrounds of your images. The results are actually really good!
Speaking of backgrounds, I have to mention one final tip that was a big revelation for me when I was studying photography and trying to emulate some of the amazing work that was inspiring me at the time:
Simplify your Background
Cluttered backgrounds can really detract from a photograph, so if there’s anything at all you can do to simplify the background of your image, I would really encourage you to do so. And if there’s nothing you can do, try and crop out any distracting elements you can, or just crop in really tight on your subject’s face.
Are you struggling to get great photos of your kids? I’d love to hear your comments or questions!
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