How to Anticipate the Decisive Photographic Moment with Kids


Kids are at once a popular photographic subject and challenge. So what to do? Should they be dragged into a studio where at least the light is controllable? Should they not know they are being photographed? What can photographers do to get an interesting, engaging shot with a ‘wow’ factor clients will love? In my experience, place does not matter so much as strategy. Here are three of my go to ideas to help hone in on this ethereal image.

Kid portrait

Review Child Development Benchmarks: Children, in many ways, are very predictable. This is especially true through age 10 or so. They are growing and maturing in well documented stages. Having a good, albeit, cursory overview of the stages of development for the subject of a photograph can help tremendously.

  • For example, a 12-month-old will inevitably grab a hat placed on their head with two arms while looking at the closest adult. There will be about 2 seconds for a shot mom will love.
  • An eight-year-old is notoriously impatient and their emotions change on a dime. A photographer will be able to get a great smile and a pouty look in the same 5 second shot sequence. Remember that not every shot has to have a child smiling.

Capture all kinds of expressions; ones that mom will love to remember her children by.


Conversation: For shoots involving kids who talk, engaging them by talking about what they like, and what they prefer is a great way to get natural expressions and smiles. Tried and true topics include: Would you rather be a _________ or __________ for Halloween? Or Do you like _______________ or ________________ for lunch at school? No matter what they say, respond by saying something like “Ah, good choice. I think I will tell my own kids about that.”

Or say “Oh, so you are a peanut butter person eh? I always was a bologna man myself”.

In other words, validate what they say, and make them feel like they are helping you in some way. Within seconds, most kids will begin chattering away, asking your opinion about this or that.

Toddlers love to say “Watch me __________________”. When they offer this, show excitement and cheer them on. The whole time, the shutter button is working overtime, capturing natural shots of a child in their most primal state, being-a-kid.

The “Look What I Found” Trick: Kids love to “discover” things, especially things they have never had a chance to see or be close to. One trick I use is to place an object that I know I want to use as a prop a bit off to the side; or situated some way so that it looks “forgotten”. For example, on a location shoot, I may bring an old antique ladder that I want kids to climb on for their portrait. Of course, if I just ask “Please get on the ladder”. I get a stiff kid with the horrible “fake smile”. But if I leave it toppled over, out of the way, as if it is not integral, then it becomes “a find”. In seconds the ladder is propped upright and kids are on it in a natural looking way. Click Click to a photo with a high “wow” factor.

Kids 703

The trick here is to be ready…act like you do not notice your subject has found the object, but as they do, get your settings ready. You’ll have about 3-5 minutes to get some great shots.

Kids are difficult. That is the nature of the beast, as they say. But it does not mean great images can’t happen. Be stealthy, be friendly, be patient.

About Author

is a portrait photographer of 3 major life events: Newborns, Infants, and high school seniors. Check out my work at Panos Productions.

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