7 Tips on How to Photograph Children
Let me preface this post by noting that my wife and I have two kids, and for all intents and purposes in the images that make it to Facebook and my blog posts they appear to be angels. Reality though... slightly different. Not that they're bad at ALL, but that from time to time we all need a little coaxing in front of a camera. So, to that end, there are a series of seven tips that apply to succeeding in capturing photos of those little people that touch our lives. This is just a beginner's guide; seven broad strokes to get you started on your way.
Tip 1: Decide on the story you want to tell
Get down to their level
For me that starts with the decision of perspective, which boils down to two options: Your story, or theirs. By, "Your story," I mean any photo that comes from a high angle, just like you would see it. This angle draws the viewer into viewing your child's world from your perspective as seen in this shot.
My advice is to avoid using this angle for more than one or two shots per event, it gets old quick. Generally most of the images I've taken from the "your story," angles boil down to a couple of simple statements like, "Look at this little person who has changed my life," or, "see how my world has changed." This can be very limiting, and frankly boring. The alternative? Their story. By, "Their story," I mean any shot that's taken from a very low angle that show's the world as your child sees it, like in the following picture.
In this perspective you can get away with pretty much anything. Assuming a child's view makes it easy for the viewer to forgo traditional expectations, liberating you from traditional rules of photography. Suddenly the viewer is wrapped in seeing their mundane world in a whole new way. What was once the area under an end table can become a whole new world of fun, so get low with your camera and try taking this perspective on as often as you can!
Tip 2: Shoot with wide apertures
A.k.a. "F/2.8 and Be there"
The subject is your kid(s), so try to take away elements that distract from them! One way you can do this is to crack down and clean up the room, but let's be honest that can be defeating sometimes when you know that in 10 minutes it will just be a mess again. SO, instead shoot with the widest aperture your lens is capable of! Check out the image below, notice how I used a wide aperture to get rid of the distracting fence in the background.
The focus is now no longer drawn around the image, it rests just with my son's smiling face. :)
TIP 3: Be patient
The feeling is mutual
Try not to forget that if you think you're frustrated, imagine what it's like for them sometimes. Sure, you really want to get "the shot," but sometimes you need to let it go too. Though they may not have the ability to clearly communicate their feelings, it's important to not forget that they have them.
Tip 4: Take them out of their element
Adulthood can be ridiculous
Sometimes the cutest images are made by showing how we adults take ourselves too seriously. Try throwing in a prop or two from your own closet or life, and see how it looks. Particularly in situations like this I'd suggest not directing them too much, but rather watch how they interact with the objects and how they mimic you in using it. There's a lot you can learn about yourself when you see how you're seen by kids.
Tip 5: Don't Just pose
Never forget to let life happen
Life is far too beautiful on its own, don't ruin the nature of a moment with an unnatural smile at the wrong time. A shot of a child getting on the school bus for his first day of school might not send the same message if he or she is awkwardly forcing a smile.
Tip 6: Be Willing
Swallow your pride and quack like a duck
Keep in mind that they're kids. Their attention span is short, their bladders are small, and just about anything that moves is more interesting than watching you hide your face behind a camera. If a smile is what you want, then do what it takes to get it. With girls I find pretending to be a klutz, or talking to a favourite stuffed animal works well. With our boys... threatening to sneak into their rooms while they're sleeping and pass gas always gets a laugh.
Tip 7: Don't lose touch
This is the hardest, but most important one sometimes
Lose yourself in photography, just don't lose your life in it. Try to capture the moments, but don't miss them entirely because you're consumed with the photos. Be sure that when all's said and done, and those kids grow up and move on, they remember more of their hugs in the moments that mattered than the sounds of your shutter clicking. Get someone else to take the shots from time to time, and be sure you're in a few of the shots yourself.
These are some of the most important lessons I've learned in shooting kids, and I hope they serve you well. If you're looking for more technical photography direction to support any of these tips I'd suggest reading this guide to DSLR's, this guide or this guide to composition, or this guide to taking great photos. Now grab your camera and capture some miniature moments!