Kid's Photograph

Kids’ Photography | 18 Tips On How To Get Beautiful Pictures

Who says you shouldn’t work with kids or animals? Kids’ photography is one of the trickiest but most rewarding genres of photography.

Once you’ve cracked it, you will have fabulous memories to treasure forever.

So you’ve bought that coveted DSLR, but where do you start? How do you take good photographs of children?

Never fear.

I have plenty of experience taking kids’ photography and I am here to share my top tips with you.

Kids’ photography is challenging but also very rewarding. Photo by Bess Hamiti

1. Choose the Best Kids’ Photography Lens

A zoom lens is a great place to start: it will allow you to be flexible and to zoom in or out depending on the action.

Children, especially young ones, move quickly so always choose a fast lens (a lens with a large max aperture like f/2.8) that can cope with that. My preferred lens is the 24-70mm f2.8

If you want classic kids portraits (where the child is not moving), the prime lenses 85mm f1.8 or the 50mm f1.4 are fabulous options. Primes will work best with older children though–young ones don’t sit still for very long. So you may want to use a zoom to reach them without running around.

A smiling girl wearing an orange cardigan in front of a turquoise wall - a great example of kids' photography
Prime lenses work better for more static portraits, in which the child is standing still. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

2. Camera Settings for Kids’ Photography

The number one mistake newbies make is to shoot in Auto mode.

Don’t be afraid to switch off the Auto mode on your camera; once you take control of shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance, you can be far more creative.

Especially with kids’ photography, at the minimum, you want to control the aperture and shutter speed. You will see why…

Image showing shutter speed settings on the back of a DSLR camera
Getting out of auto mode is your priority number one. Doing so would allow you to be more creative in your kids’ photography

Related Article: Best Camera for Kids

3. What Is the Best Shutter Speed for Kids’ Photography?

Shutter speed determines how long the shutter stays open once you press the shutter button to take a photo. So it determines two things:

  1. How much light reaches the sensor and
  2. Freeze action (fast shutter) or create motion blur (slow shutter) in an image.
three children playing in water. A kids' photograph captured with a faster shutter speed.
Faster shutter speed is a must if you want to freeze action in your kids’ photography. Photo credit Sasin Tipchai

Shutter speed is usually shown in seconds as 1/100s in the back of your LCD. The higher the number, the faster your shutter speed.

So which shutter speed should I use for kids’ photography?

It depends. Here are some guidelines to freeze action:

  • If the kids are running around, use a faster shutter (1/400s or more) to freeze action.
  • If there is more available light (bright days) you can afford a faster shutter speed like 1/1000 seconds without underexposing your shots.
  • If it is a dull day, you might need a slower shutter speed like 1/80th or less to properly expose your photos.
  • Don’t go below 1/60s, unless you have a tripod, as your camera will record vibrations (camera shake).

Shutter Priority Mode (Av) is a good place to start if you’re not confident in full Manual (M) mode. It will automatically set your aperture while you choose the shutter speed.

A girl blowing on a dandelion
An example of using a faster shutter speed to freeze action in kids’ photography. Image by Johannes Plenio

On the other hand, if you want to create motion blur, use a slower shutter speed.

Using a slower shutter speed is best when you want to give a sense of motion in your kids’ photography. Photo credit Wayne Lee-Sing

4. Use a Large Aperture to Isolate Your Subject

Aperture controls the depth of field, or blur, on your image. Blurred backgrounds (also known as bokeh) always look beautiful on kids’ photography.

It helps to isolate your subject and get rid of unwanted background distractions.

Two kids playing in a field. background is blurry due to large aperture.
If your background is distractive, use a large aperture to blur it out. Image from Image from Pixabay

The lower the aperture number (f1.2 to f6), the more blurred your background will be. The higher the aperture number (f6 to f32), the more in focus your background will be.

A black and white shot of a smiling girl sat in front of a door - another example of kids' photography
Learning to control your aperture can give a beautiful background blur to images. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Aim for an aperture of f4 or lower to get that lovely bokeh effect. This works better with one to three subjects in your image. Ensure you get them all to stand at the same distance away from you, so everyone is in line and at the same focal length.

kids photography with a large aperture. Two children playing
Using a lower aperture number (large lens opening) will give you beautiful bokeh and subject isolation. Image by Lenka Fortelna

Pro Tip: If you have more than three subjects, aim for f6 to f8 and above to ensure everyone is in focus, especially if you have a larger group where people are standing behind one other.

This will prevent some of them being blurred out.

three kids posing for a photograph.
If your subjects are at different distances from your camera, it is best to use a large f-number to avoid blurring out some of your subjects.

5. Keep Your ISO Low to Reduce Noise

The ISO (or film speed in film cameras) is the sensitivity of the image sensor to light.

I try to keep it low at 100 to 400 wherever possible to avoid grain/noise in my images–the sensor is less sensitive to light at these levels.

A kid blowing bubbles in a sunny day. Captured with low ISO setting.
On a bright setting, you should be able to afford a lower ISO. Photo credit D. Dimitrova

However, if there is not much light, you may be forced to go up to 600 or above. Be careful not to go too high, as once an image contains too much noise, it can’t be fixed in post-production.

ISO 1000 was used to capture this image due to limited light availability at the scene. As you can see, there is considerable digital noise here. Photo credit Zara Walker

Each camera performs differently in high ISO settings. Play with your camera to find out what is the max ISO you can get away with.

6. Adjust Your White Balance to Match the Scenery

Many parents complain that their photos have a fiery orange or cold blue cast to them. The reason is simple…

The white balance is not set properly.

White balance chart explaining the kelvin levels of different light sources.

White balance instructs the camera what color temperature (measured in Kelvin) your light source is. By setting the correct white balance, you can avoid nasty color casts and ensures tones are natural.

Set your white balance to match the lighting conditions. It will help your camera accurately capture colors and tones. Photo by Victoria Borodinova

There are pre-set white balance settings on your camera under the WB button. If you do not have a WB button, check for WB settings in your LCD panel’s control menu.

7. Best Kids’ Photography Locations

Keep it as simple as possible. Outdoors is my favorite place to take kids’ photography as there is usually more available light than indoors.

A kid walking outdoors with a hat on
Kids love outdoors and being out also gives you plenty of light to work with. Photo credit Petra Fischer

Choose a favorite family spot such as a local park, woodland, or even your back garden. But make sure it is somewhere within the child’s natural environment, so they are relaxed.

If you choose to shoot indoors, find a well-lit room. Make sure there is plenty of available light from windows and adjust your aperture/shutter speed/ISO accordingly.

Windows are great if you are shooting indoors. Place your subject so that you are maximizing shadows and highlights. Photo credit pixabay

8. Find Textures for Backdrops

Use your natural surroundings to your advantage.

Think outside the box: is there a lovely brick/colorful wall that would make a fabulous backdrop? Or are there some beautiful trees/flowers?

A girl in dungarees stood in front of blue wood - another example of kids' photography
Look for colorful or textured backdrops for your images. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Look for interesting textures. Sometimes graffiti can work to great effect too (but make sure the text is not a rude word or picture). Be creative–the only limit is your imagination!

Look for color contrasts that match. Photo by Bailey Torres

9. Best Time to Shoot Kids’ Photography

Avoid shooting in the middle of the day, as this is when the sun is at its strongest. If the sun is too bright, it can cast harsh shadows on faces–you want to avoid this.

Early morning or late afternoon usually offers the best light. The ‘golden hour’ shortly after sunrise or before sunset, gives images a beautiful golden hue.

The best hour for any kind of portrait photography is the golden hour. Photo credit Victoria Borodinova

Cloudy days are also great because they give lovely, even lighting.

Because they act as diffusers.

On dull days you can add some sparkle and a bit of extra light to faces by using a white or gold reflector. Hold it under your subject (and below your cameras so it’s not in the shot) to add a catch light to the eyes.

A laughing girl in a red dress stood in front of a wooden fence - another example of kids' photography
Add a bit of warmth or sparkle to the eyes by using a gold reflector. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

If the day is too sunny, seek some shade where the light will be more even.

Pro Tip: Watch out if the sun is behind your subject, as it may bleach out the background in your image. If this happens, seek an alternate background or use exposure compensation to adjust exposure.

10. Take Advantage of Rainy Days

Don’t let a little rain dampen your spirits!

A bit of bad weather can be fabulous for children photography: raincoats, wellington boots, and umbrellas make wonderful props.

Kids are just adorable when they dress up for rain! Photo by Daiga Ellaby

Plus who doesn’t love to splash in puddles? And they offer great reflections of your subject if the water is still.

A girl in a red duffel coat holds onto railings under an umbrella on a rainy day
Don’t be put off by bad weather–be creative! Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Don’t forget to protect your camera equipment though, as water and cameras don’t mix–you can buy rain protector covers for most DSLRs.

11. Best Outfits for Kids’ Photography

What to wear is often a daily battle with children. Here are my four tips for children photography success:

Photo by lisa runnels
  1. Options: Have at least 3 outfits on standby per child, even if it’s simply a change of sweater, coat or cardigan. This will mix it up a little and give you a nice variety of images to choose from once you’ve finished;
  2. Not too distractive: avoid overly patterned, garish garments. If clothing is too bright or busy, the viewer’s eye will automatically migrate to that, taking the attention away from the child;
  3. Colors: color co-ordinate whenever possible. If there is more than one child, clothe them in similar colors; and
  4. Beware neon colors: they can cast nasty color onto the children’s skin, giving ugly skin tones.
match colors with your backgrounds. Photo credit Jill Wellington

12. Be Prepared with Props

Don’t just focus on the child’s face. Bring plenty of props such as a favorite toy, Teddy bear, book, or tiny shoes, etc.

Two young boys play with a camera in front of a turquoise wall
Favorite toys make the best props. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Focus on the child with one of those items, or just the item itself, so that they can look back in years to come and remember their cherished childhood possessions.

Use props to make it personal. Photo credit Petra Fischer

Don’t be afraid to zoom in. Little details such as tiny hands or feet, or cute little shoes, all make for great shots and memories.

13. Shoot at the Child’s Eye Level

Make sure you crouch down low to the child’s eye level and shoot from that angle–it gives a lovely perspective.

A girl in a red duffel coat in front of a wall of graffiti
Get down low to the child’s eye level to help put them at ease. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

If you get down to their level, it also gives you a chance to connect with the child and helps to put them at ease during the shoot.

14. Shoot Both Landscape and Portrait Orientation

Take a good mixture of images–portrait and landscape. Don’t forget that head and shoulders shots work just as well as full body shots.

Pro Tip: Take any group shots first, as attention spans wane after a very short time, especially in young children.

15. Focus on the Eyes

Always focus on the child’s eyes. We as humans are hard-wired to look at the eyes in a photo. So make sure they are in focus.

I usually use the focus and recompose method to grab focus from their eyes.

You can also use the back button focus to easily grab focus from eyes—especially if your subjects aren’t moving much.

Your viewers are hard-wired to look at the eyes first. Make sure they are in focus. Photo by Janko Ferlic

16. Get Their Attention

Keep their attention by talking to them; ask them questions and play along with their games. 

Get them to talk about their favorite things and you will see their little personalities shine through. What is their favorite color, film, game, or cartoon character?

A girl wearing a summer hat laughing in front of a brick wall
If you interact with your subject, their personalities will shine through. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Hold up their favorite toy underneath your lens to direct their gaze, or have another adult stood behind you getting their attention towards the camera.

17. Break the Rules

Kids don’t have to face the camera: let them play and be themselves. Often the best candid shots come when children are unaware the camera is on them.

Photo by lisa runnels

The subject doesn’t have to be sat centrally in the camera frame. Use the rule of thirds to position your subject off to the sides (for landscape shots), or even towards the top or bottom of your frame (for portrait shots).

A young boy in a black blazer stood in front of a turquoise background
Children don’t always have to sit centrally in the frame for a good image–use the rule of thirds to compose your images. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Cheese is cheesy–don’t worry about making them smile; often the best shots are looks of surprise, concentration or even frustration! Of course, smiling and belly laughs are good too.

18. Patience Is Your Best Friend

Children work to their own timetables, so patience is your best friend–don’t rush them.

Don’t force them to pose–kids know when to dig their heels in and be stubborn. Although who said a little bribery with their favorite sweet doesn’t go amiss here and there?

Plus, who doesn’t love a child’s laughing face covered in candy?

Photo credit Jill Wellington

Let them play. A fast shutter speed is key to capturing action shots, such as them running or jumping. You’ll need a shutter speed of 1/400th upwards to freeze-frame those moments–don’t forget to adjust your ISO and aperture accordingly.

A black and white image of 2 girls playing and laughing
Use a fast shutter speed to freeze children at play. Photo by Clare J Sheridan Photography.

Enjoy Snapping the Kids

Above all, enjoy yourself and keep snapping. It will be precious time well spent with the kids, plus you will have created some treasured memories to look back on.

As long as you and the children enjoy it, that is what counts. And remember, practice makes perfect! 

Related Article: Family Photography Tips

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About the author

Clare S

Clare J Sheridan is a family and pet portrait photographer based in Bad Homburg, Germany. She captures portraits full of personality. Visit @cjsheridanphotography on Instagram/Facebook or www.clarejsheridan.com for more details.

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