Mastering Photography of Children | Digital Photography Tutorial
I really didn’t know what to call this article, as its really falls into the portraiture category, but I didn’t want to tie it in with the more general topic of straight portrait photography as this will be a separate post later on.
So, for now, let just go with the fact that this is an article about photographing children, whether they are your own or a commissioned shoot of someones else little ones. I will talk about taking more candid shots, as it is these that really interest me. Formal posed photographs always leave me a little cold, I prefer to capture the moment, and these tend to reflect personality better than anything else.
The first point to note is that someone once said don’t work with children or animals and that person may well have been talking as a photographer. Children, from young babies through to the early teens, all have one thing in common – they don’t usually want to be photographed. And if they do want to be photographed, they’ll normally insist on overacting for the camera, which can be a hinderance if you are intending to get candid shots rather than the forced pose kind of photographs.
As a photographer, you need to be aware that your subject might not be the most willing participant, and that pointing a large DSLR at a child within minutes of meeting them for the first time will not win you friends.
Ideally you should take a little time to get to know your subjects before bringing the camera into play. If these are you own children you are photographing, I’m going to assume you at least know their names!
Its also worth having a list (mental or otherwise) of photographs you want to take during the session. There is nothing worse than being faced with the question of ‘what next?’ while shooting, especially when its on someone elses money.
Play First, Photography Second
Assuming these are somebody elses children, its worth getting to know your subjects by taking some time to play with them if they are young, or talk to them if they are a little older. This will put them at ease and be less concious of you being around. Take the time to study their behaviour – younger children especially may have a favourite toy or activity that you can use as the starting blocks of the shoot.
Once they are comfortable with you being there, you can start taking some photographs, inquisitive youngsters will probably want to look at your camera – don’t be overly precious about it, once they’ve had a look they will likely lose interest and carry on playing.
While its nice to try and take photographs without any structure to the process, if you are being paid to do a shoot, you need to have some formal plan as to the kind of shots that are required, and to make sure you get these crossed off the list.
Getting children to co-operate isn’t always easy, but once you’ve got to know them a little, they may be more interested in what you are trying to achieve, especially if you make it more of a game than a chore. Some (younger) children may like to play ‘Simon Says’ which you can then use to your advantage by getting them to pose for you without them realising it.
Babies and toddlers like brightly coloured things, so make use of toys that can attract their attention and get them looking in the right direction. Older children may not be so easily manipulated, so you will need patience and be ready to fire off a shot at a moments notice.
Also be aware of your own body language and positioning, don’t crowd over the subject, instead get down level with them and shoot from their perspective. Babies and infants are a lot more receptive to this approach and it will likely result in greater opportunity than if you are standing up and looking down on them.
Take Frequent Photography Breaks
Children will get bored quite quickly of being photographed, and in the worst case it will end with babies crying and infants throwing a tantrum. Try breaking up a photo session with frquent breaks, this will relieve that pressure and also give you chance to review what photographs you have taken and see what shots you’ve yet to cross off the list.
Know Your Camera Setting Blindfold
Before you embark on a career as a childrens photographer, make sure you know your kit inside-out. From the camera itself to flashguns, reflectors, diffusers and tripods, you don’t want to spend time on a shoot trying to figure out how something operates, or why your camera is not working correctly.
Time is precious, and shooting someone elses children is stressful for all involved, don’t compound this by being confused over your kit, not only will this lose you time, but may also dent the confidence of the people employing you.
Don’t Ignore The Parents
Parents can be a hinderance to getting the right shot, wanting to look over your shoulder and see what you are doing, but they can also be a great help. Make use of their knowledge about their child to get the most out of them. Find out about their likes and dislikes, their hobbies and interests. This helps paint a picture and can be useful when you are wondering what the topic of conversation should be, or what activities might by enjoyable.
Shoot With your Camera Handheld
There are times for tripod mounting your camera, and photographing children isn’t one of them. You need to be flexible enough to quickly move around to get the best shots, which a tripod will stop you doing. Shooting handheld will allow you to quickly change your height and position, and can be critical in getting the best shot. You need to be aware of the effects on lighting your position has, and you need to keep that shutter speed fast enough to get a sharp image, but other than that, you will have the freedom required from not being tied to the tripod.
Remember that you don’t always have to shoot a photography session in someones home, if they have a garden and the weather is good, get the children outside, not only does this provide variety in your shots, but also helps with the lighting which can be complicated by cramped and dark rooms.
Not got a garden? Try the local park or beach, just remember that your paramount priority is to ensure the safety of those you are photographing.
I’ve only scratched the surface of photographing children, but perhaps the one key ingredient that you need to remember is patience, that the right shot will come so long as you are willing to wait for it.