Kids are at once a favorite photographic subject and ultimate challenge. All photographers need a child photography toolkit to reach into. Here are a few tips to help ensure the photographs you take are ones you actually like.
How Clothes Are Neglected in Child Photography
One of the most neglected element of child photography is clothing. A quick search of the internet will yield many examples of kids dressed in very trendy and “loud” apparel. While this may be OK for a snapshot, to create a photograph with a high “wow” factor, clothes have to be a priority. Select clothing that helps the child stand out as the subject, yet avoids “timestamps” which automatically mask the image with an unwanted air of fashion history. Stick with clothes with a more “classic” or timeless look.
One test to use is to ask if the child could be cut and pasted onto any kind of scene or background without their clothes giving away too much information about the year the image was taken.
Activity is the Secret Sauce
Kids photograph best when they are doing something that is enjoyable for them. Stick to activities which are simple, like running, climbing a tree, flying a kite, petting the dog, reading a book or swinging on a swing. In these situations, natural expressions of discovery and fun arise and images can be taken without the child even noticing. Further, there is less likelihood of getting a forced “smile” or awkward, stiff pose which ruins an image.
Showing interest in what they are doing and talking to them about what is going on also gets kids talking and “showing” you what they are experiencing at the moment. Follow the cues given to you by the child and try to see things as they do. Your shots will be more kid-centered and ultimately more interesting.
Get on Eye Level for More Powerful Composition
Photographs of kids that are engaging and interesting show them in the world from their own perspective. Kids are short. This means you will have to crouch down, or lie flat on your stomach and stabilize the camera with your elbows to achieve this. Photographs which show a child as an adult views them is something all of us experience every day. Such images will not be “new” nor will they capture kids with any integrity of who they are at this moment.
How Expressions Add Emotion to Any Child Photograph
Often, the first thing we ask a child to do is “smile” at the camera. But if you think about kids, most of their time is NOT spent smiling. They are inquisitive, curious, fascinated, entertained, disappointed, astonished, grumpy and the list goes on. While true laughter is the quintessential expression to capture for kids, don’t forget that other expressions, naturally caught, can make a just as astounding photograph. Even if you are photographing a child in a studio setting, try to illicit natural expressions that are either neutral or better.
Get Input for More Natural Photos
Often, we assume children have no opinions about themselves. And while this may be true of a 2-year-old, it is not long after this that kids begin to develop a sense of self.
No matter how basic, or how oversimplified their responses may be, try asking them what they think they like about themselves, or what part of their face they like best. Of course, you and I know that they have no idea probably, but it gets them thinking and helps them to become a partner in their own portrait. Even if what they say is useless from a photographic perspective, it is likely to entice new and different expressions which have yet to be caught on camera for them.