Photographing children can be pretty challenging! Especially so if you are photographing your own children, since they would rather be doing ANYTHING else rather than sitting you with and having a camera thrust in their face. (And it can be the same if you are the hired photographer too!) I have had my fair share of pouty faces and cheesy grins over the years, along with some not-so-awesome shots of the back of their head as they are running away, and of course, the images that capture a beautiful, natural expression....but they are totally out of focus!
In future posts I'm going to be giving you some specific tips and strategies for working with different age groups, but to kick us off, here are my top 8 tips and tricks for photographing children.
# 1 - CREATE FUN MOMENTS!
I know many parents want to get happy, joyful images of their children, and the easiest way to do that is simply to ensure that the child is having fun! (Simple but totally true!) Rather than think of the end result that you want, think instead about how you can make it fun for the child. If you are photographing your own child then you have a head start here - you know exactly what they love most so you can use that knowledge to help create a photo shoot that they will love! If you are photographing someone else's family, ask the parents so you can some ideas of what would be a fun situation for that child. If you do everything you can to create a happy environment then you will get tons of happy expressions without having to resort to anything else on this list!
# 2 - USE HELPERS
Having someone help you out when taking photos of children can be invaluable - it's my secret weapon. It's sometimes hard to interact with children and concentrate on getting the technical side correct so a helper can manoeuvre a small child into a certain position for you, tickle them to make them laugh, or just act silly behind you so you can get eye contact and great smiles! If you are shooting a family session, then parents can be great to get onside as helpers. If you are capturing your own family, get another family members to help you out - my husband has hit himself over the head with a soft toy more often than he cares to count so I can get a smiling happy face from my son!
# 3 - CAPTURE FAMILY INTERACTIONS
Another great way to capture amazing expressions is to capture interactions with other family members. Tell siblings to give one another a hug, or stare into each other eye's (pretty much guaranteed to get them laughing) If you are capturing another family you can have the parents interacting with their child, or if it is your own family, just your partner. This gives you natural expressions along with genuine moments - my favourites :)
# 4 - KEEP THEM IN ONE PLACE
One of the hardest things about shooting smaller children is the fact that they don't sit still! Anything you can do to get them to sit in one place for a few moments can be a huge help. Some ideas for this are sitting them on a chair (you only get a few moments with this one!) putting them in a pull along tractor, in a swing or so on. Anywhere where they can be "trapped" for a few seconds is a great idea. This is true for toddlers and for slightly older children who might run off when they see the camera come out!
# 5 - INCORPORATE MOVEMENT
In direct contradiction to the advice given above, you could also try to incorporate movement into your sessions, especially if your child is of an age where they are starting to feel a little self conscious in front of the camera. Think of how it is for you - I'm willing to bet that if you are in front of the camera and need to pose, you will tense up and give a fake smile (I look totally awesome in these of course) However, if you are allowed to move freely and just be yourself, then you will feel more relaxed and start to look more natural. The same goes with kids, so if you can, allow them to move about freely. You can still capture amazing shots by anticipating their movement, rather than blindly following it. (This is where a helper is a great asset - they can help coral them to an area you want them to be!)
# 6 - GIVE THEM CHOICES
I have always found that my son, and indeed most children, are happier to go along with things if they have some element of control. So, I'll always try to give some options when taking photos - for example, where we go, what to wear, or what "props" to use. You will be surprised at how much even a simple choice of which t-shirt to wear (between two options!) can help them feel involved. Of course, there will be times when you won't love the resulting pictures due to their "input", but if you can get them warmed up to the camera and enjoying taking their picture first, it's much easier to then move in with some of your own (more sensible!) ideas!
# 7 - GET DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL
Don’t try to photograph a child from above them, instead try to be at their level as much as possible. It’s a very simple but powerful way to create a connection!
# 8 - AS A LAST RESORT - BRIBE
I very rarely use bribes to get pictures - the minute you tell a child that they will get something in return for an image is when it all starts to go wrong in my opinion! You'll either end up with a fake smile or expression, or they will cause a scene to get the offered bribe NOW. It's much better to have some natural interaction going on rather than simply bribing them, honest. That said, if it nearing the end of the time of taking photos, I may occasionally say "we'll just get a couple more shots and then we can go play / get a drink / get a treat" Never make the bribe about anything too far in advance - the reward has to be pretty much instantaneous for it to work! For all these reasons, keep bribes as a last resort, and only ever to squeeze in a couple more shots!
If you are capturing your own children, I've got a FREE ebook with over 100 prompts child and lifestyle photography prompts! Click on the link below to get your download!