Children’s photography isn’t for the faint of heart. I am often told I am brave for taking on the task of children. The truth is for me personally, working with children is happy and energetic chaos. Trust me, it isn’t always easy to photograph children, especially when they are your own. This is why I’ve decided to give you some of the tricks I have up my sleeve that help me when I’m trying to get that perfect photograph of children.
Tip #1: Use a Faster Shutter Speed to Capture Fast Moving Children
Face it, kids are always on the move and the sooner you accept that with regard to child photography the better off you are. Your settings need to reflect the subject.
In other words, if you were photographing a pretty landscape you wouldn’t need to worry so much about your shutter speed but with kids, you should try to never go lower than 1/100 seconds with your shutter speed or you risk a decent amount of blur.
To achieve a faster shutter speed, you can either open up your aperture (to let more light in) or increase your ISO (your sensor’s sensitivity to light).
If you are going for the moving image that’s another story but most of you are trying to nail the shot and have the child in focus.
Tip #2: Bokeh is important but so are the details
When photographing these fast and frenzied little ones you shouldn’t go too low on the f-stop. I rarely go lower than f/3.5 and unless there are more than 3 people in the shot I rarely go over 5.6.
The depth of field is often the difference between a snapshot and a portrait. If you want that dreamy professional look to your images, the mathematics behind the f-stop makes all the difference! You need it to be low to achieve the depth of field but not so low that you end up only focusing on their nose as opposed to the whole face.
The trick I have always gone with is for every pair of eyes in the image, go up one full stop. So If I am trying to get a portrait of a family of 5 with a blurred background my f-stop should be around 5.6.
To learn more about f-stop and how it affects your depth of field, please read this aperture guide.
Tip #3: Sit Still, Look Pretty. How to Get Children to Look at the Camera
If you ask a child to simply look at the camera, they often look everywhere BUT the camera and if you ask them to look at the LENS, they often act as though you have 2 heads or simply ignore you!
Asking the child or the children if they can see any letters when they look into the lens this usually yields a more curious reaction. I then explain that there are letters written on the lens but only a select few can find them. If it is a large group I ask “who can see the letter “C”? Most of the time there is at least ONE child who says “I SEE IT!” and the rest chime in. While they are spending time searching for the letter, they are looking RIGHT into my lens and I am snapping away.
The idea is, GET THEM TO LOOK AT YOU and pause.
They stare deeply into the camera for this, giving you the time you need to get the shot. If you look really closely it says “canon” around the rim of the lens.
Sometimes I ask if they see the first initial of their first name or if they see the reflection of their own face. At the end of the day, though I am mostly a candid photographer, I always go for the “staring straight into the camera” shot at some point during a session and often times, this is how I get it!
Tip #4: Use Fun Activities to Help Them Pose
Posing is an important part of the job when you photograph a group of children. Below are some additional tips on child photography group posing.
- Ask everyone to sit down and tickle each other. This allows you time to capture authentic laughing moments while still getting a posted feel
- Have everyone close their eyes and hide a piece of candy on one of the subjects. When they open their eyes to hear your directions on when they can “look for it”, snap away
- Once you get the kids sitting in a row, ask someone which animal they want you to be, then get your performance hat on and start mooing like the cow/horse/monkey etc!
- Lay them on the floor, stand over them and photograph them from above. I use a wrist strap to have my camera secure with one hand as opposed to a neck strap and I tickle them with my non-working hand!
- Dance in a circle, jump up and down, make fart noises or whatever else you need to do to get them to look your way and pose!
- When getting group shots with mom and dad, I find it easiest to sit mom and dad down and the kids sitting on their laps, held upside down by their feet if necessary for wiggly worms, or when in doubt have the kids run and jump on their parents from behind!
Tip #5: Bribe them with Candy or Small Toys!
When dabbling in children’s photography, never have empty pockets! Make sure to carry sweet treats for those tiny humans. For most children, sugar is a perfect incentive to do your best and get those listening ears on.
You must ask the parents beforehand if offering candy is an option for you of course! I’ve never had a parent say no… so I choose to bring PEZ dispensers as a parting gift for my little clients and smarties in my pockets at all times. These candies are easy to hide in the palm of your hand, are virtually unseen in the mouth and cause no colored dribble down a chin or onto their Sunday best.
Incentivize children to move where the light is, sit next to their smelly sister or to simply stop moving for a brief moment with one piece or an entire pack of smarties. (Do whatcha gotta do to get the shot you need!) For the kids that don’t love candy (yes they do exist) I usually come prepared with travel-sized slime or silly putty.
At the end of my sessions, I give each child their own goodie bag. Typically, my own kids help me make them and will write the name of the child I am photographing in glitter glue, crayon or marker and inside I put mini bubbles, candies, seasonal toys and basically anything I can find at the dollar store.
Tip #6: Lighting Is the Key to a Successful Photo Session
Not all hours of the day are created equal when it comes to children photography or any photography. Light is key!
My personal favorite time to photograph children is outdoors during the magic hour which is the hour before the sunsets. During this hour the sun gets lower and lower and starts to cause that beautiful sun flare and glow that makes everyone look gorgeous, nostalgic and gives images a truly magical feel.
When this time of day isn’t available but you are still outside, avoid spotty shade and bright sun. Spotty shade causes awkward and un-photoshoppable shadows on a subject and the bright direct sun causes dark shadows under the eye. The light needs to be as even as possible in order to get the most flattering and professional grade image.
Tip #7: Tips When Shooting Indoors
If you live in the Northeast like I do then you know shooting outside becomes less and less enticing. To be honest, even if the weather is nice, I STILL love to shoot in a home.
Here are some tangible tips for shooting inside a home:
- Shut off all the lights! Natural light is the best and most flattering way to photograph your subjects. Shutting off the lights also helps you find the rooms with the most delicious natural pools of light.
- Open all the shades in the home – let that light shine in!
- Try opening the front door. It is often surprising how much you can open up the foyer of a home by opening the front door. It also allows you to create additional distance by stepping outside and shooting in.
- Move toys, games or any other props to wherever the light is and encourage the child or children to play where it is best for you to shoot.
- I often remove picture frames off the wall if I think it is going to get me the better shot. Don’t be shy!! They hired you for your vision and your confidence is key!
Tip #8: Best Lens for Child Photography
Choosing a lens is subjective for a photographer. Personally, I love shooting with prime lenses. In a home, I often shoot with the 24mm lens which allows me to help the room look and feel larger, enhancing the scene.
I also love the 50mm focal length which is fantastic for those detail shots and the close-ups without getting to physically close.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to join a photography store and rent different lenses! The only way to see what you like is by trial and error. I often rent a lens I have never tried for a few days and test it on my own kids. Then I bring it to a shoot and try it out for a few moments. This is how I discovered my love for the 85MM in certain situations. When I have shy children or families, this lens comes in handy because I am so far away they don’t always know I am even clicking my shutter. Loosening people up is the key here so whatever it takes, go for it!
Tip # 9: LOOSEN YOUR GRIP – Let Them Be Little!
When it comes to Children’s Photography you have to be able to roll with the punches. You can and should come into a shoot with a loose outline of what you want whenever possible, but you have to also be willing to loosen your grip on the situation and let the kids be kids.
Lifestyle photography is the moments of our everyday lives reflected back at us. These kinds of images are typically the ones that evoke the most joy and emotion.
I for one would rather have a photo of a mud-covered little girl laughing her head off then a posed portrait of her looking perfect in a little dress. In order to capture that, you need to let go and allow them to have fun and be themselves. Every once in a while get them to look at the lens, but otherwise, capture the moments as best you can both big and small and let the light be your motivation.
Children’s photography is as unique as every child you capture. No session is ever the same and part of the fun is learning to roll with the punches!
I hope you found these photography tips and tricks helpful.
Over to you
Do you have an upcoming child photography session? We would love to see your creative results! Please upload them below in the comment section or head over to our photography platform PhotoBlog.com and start blogging about your child photography!
Get photography education and inspiration.