Kids can be incredibly natural in front of the camera. They can be distracted by their love of fun and ignore me more than a lot of self-conscious adults. Their expressions and capacity to be animated, provide some of the best pictures.
But…and there’s a big but….some children can be a total nightmare to photograph.
If your kids are anything like mine, they love to fidget and move constantly. One of my sons hates posing and will only let me take his photograph if I don’t interfere or provide any art direction whatsoever. My other son, loves posing but becomes a complete crazy loon with either tongue out or massive Wallace and Gromit style grin. Both sons equally challenging in different ways! And then you try to photograph them together…..ten times more difficult than taking them individually.
Add to all of this, I have specifically titled this blog, how to take photographs of your children DURING LOCKDOWN. So some children are maybe – again, if they’re anything like mine – less negotiable or easily incentivised to have their photographs taken. They are more frustrated, increasingly more bored and less patient with parental commands for photo calls. There are maybe less opportunities too for fun backdrops and new experiences to snap. But if you’re not able to see family or friends at the moment, you may want to capture some lovely shots so you can share with loved ones.
I have reflected on my experience over the last ten years of photographing children and put together this practical list I hope will be helpful to instantly improve and add a creative flourish to your pics.
1/ Sounds obvious but for starters – don’t try and get a lovely shot at ‘witching hour’, whenever that is for your little ones (if your kids don’t have one – consider yourself lucky, I am very jealous!). So I don’t even try photographing my cherubs when they might be hungry (and during lockdown, the snacking is relentless so give them a satisfying snack just before you even attempt to shoot).
2/ If your darling Tom or Tamsin is a fidgety sausage, don’t try and make them stand still. They will look awkward and they won’t look like them. To reduce fidgeting – give them something to hold or play with that keeps them occupied. Not something ugly – have a think about an item that is small if possible (I like ‘classic’ toys)! If they are preoccupied, you’re challenge is then limited to getting eye contact / good eye direction and not flaying around and looking miserable.
A great position for fidgety kids is getting them to go on their tummy and look up at you (you get on your tummy as well). This is great if you’re trying to photograph siblings together as it is a good distraction and if you act quickly, you might get a total cracker!
It can be extra tricky at times when you’re photographing siblings where one is not walking and the other is older. With little crawlers they are constantly wanting to explore and don’t stay still for very long. So my ‘tummy trick’ can give you precious seconds, especially if you get the older sibling on your side. So in this example below, the older boy was told to hold his baby brother nice and close to him so there was a greater chance of getting him to gaze at his mum (directly behind my massive bush of hair) and to stay still for just a second (and it really was just a second):
3/ Consider photographing close-up so the focus is mostly them. It really brings out their beautiful eyes.
4/ Think like a pro, and check your backdrops. Make sure nothing is sticking out of people’s heads from behind. Make sure there isn’t an extension lead or sainsbury’s carrier bag. Usually, as your subject matter is your child / children, the background can just be a pleasant blurry backdrop. You don’t want it to distract from your subject.
5/ Consider the basic photographic rule of ‘three-thirds’. So don’t photograph your child in the centre of the frame as this is just dull. Imagine, your photograph is split into thirds. And plan to have your subject either in the first or third third. Not in the middle. Look at the picture below of my Seb. He is off centre. This can make a dramatic change to your photos.
6/ Try and have an assistant. When I photograph babies / tots, I get a parent to come up behind me and my camera but very very close to my head. It feels and sounds weird but then the subject’s eyes aren’t too far away looking at your assistant and you loose connection with the camera. Encourage your assistant to do whatever it takes to get a winning reaction. I love silly dads pulling very silly faces / making funny sounds that make babies chuckle. You get the idea.
7/ As a reportage photographer, I am a massive fan of taking natural pictures and I think children look incredible when they are just being kids and enjoying themselves and you successfully manage to capture it. When something exciting comes along (like a new paddling pool, building something for the first time), be there ready to take the photo and get their reactions. Don’t get them to pose or tell them what you are up to.
Consider framing your shot by getting them to sit / lean / stand in a tree (this is a great distraction – I often find children are happy to be photographed in trees. It gives them something to do with their hands and the balance keeps them amused). If I am doing a home portrait shoot in the garden, one of the locations I like to photograph is the child’s favourite location – whether its on a swing, in a treehouse.
8/ Lots of children don’t feel comfortable looking directly into the camera. I also think children looking to the side can look natural and interesting too. So I will often raise my hand to the left and wave and ask them to focus on that spot or for younger children, I get a parent to stand to my side and pull funny faces.
9/ Some children are more fidgety than others. Lots don’t like being stationary and besides, it is really fun to capture them when they are at their happiest which is invariably moving. Get them to hold hands if they have a sibling and get ready to capture them running / walking holding hands.
10/ I love siblings doing piggy backs as it keeps their faces close together and with the little one on top, it can keep them still for a second.
Whatever position is working best for you, I find it works really well when heads are close together. That sounds strange but give it a go. If you’re able to offer some art direction, encourage and make sure children are close to each other physically.
For further inspiration, check out my children’s portrait gallery here.