What is the Basic Studio Gear Setup for Photographing Kids?

Photographing kids in a studio can be a lot of fun. For one, it is an experience most kids have never had. For another, the photographer can control more elements to get a unique image. Yet, kids in a studio have their challenges too and getting your studio set up first is a major stress reliever. Here are the basics you need to get your studio ready for kids.

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Large light modifiers: Whether you are going to use strobes or a continuous lighting source, diffusion is key to getting soft light. Unless you are a studio that creates very hard, edgy photos of children (and you are exceptionally good at it), it is unlikely too many clients are going to be attracted to hard light images of kids. It’s kind of against natural law. Soft light exudes the “innocence and wonder” feel most photographers want of child portraits. Use a 4 by 6-foot soft box or a large circular one (more circular than an octobox). You may think it is crazy to use such large diffusion when your subjects are small, but this will ensure soft, wrap around light with enough shadow to generate depth and enough light to allow for the great bokeh of a fast lens.

Strobes or Continuous Lights: You are going to have to decide which you want to go with unless you have enough capital to invest in both. Each has their advantages and frankly each are excellent. It is a matter of personal taste for the most part. If you are going to use strobes, be sure that you get two of exactly the same make and model. This will ensure your Kelvin numbers are identical (if you use both at the same time) and save you hours in post. If you are just going to use one, you still need two (one as a backup or to use as a fill light in a pinch). Strobes of 500 watts should do the trick. You do not want strobes that run too hot, but you need them strong enough to be evenly diffused.

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The main drawback to using strobes is that you cannot see exactly what the light is going to do until you press the shutter button. But the advantages are that it is stronger light and brief. Thus, kids are not squinting the whole time into a continuous light. On the other hand, continuous light allows for burst shooting which may be great for kids. There are strobes available that have a lightning-fast recycle time so you can burst shoot with them too. Just be sure to buy a fast enough strobe. If you opt to use strobes, you are going to need a wireless remote communication system in order for the camera to talk to the “master” strobe. Pocket Wizards seem to be the go to product for this. But there are other options. Just be sure they will work with your camera and strobe.

Fill Lights or Reflectors: Once you have your main light source, you now have to have a fill light. This will keep from getting shadows that are too dark on the opposite side of your subject (if your main is at a 45-degree angle to the subject). Or, if you are placing your main straight on the subject (directly in front) you will want a fill for the background to add depth. For this you can use that second strobe you bought, or you can use a reflector. Reflectors tend to be subtler, although not always. Using reflectors requires an assistant, usually. Or they take up more floor space in your studio as they have to be placed on a stand.

Backdrops: Any studio needs a selection of at least 5 backdrops. You can opt for the paper rolls that you install on the wall with a bracket. This is the fast and dirty way. Paper tends to be very plain and flat and does not add much to the texture or color combinations in the background. But it is a stylistic decision ultimately. Vinyl backdrops are more expensive up front, but can be wiped down and roll up easily. Depending on the ages of children you are photographing, this can be a lifesaver. Pee or poop and cloth backdrops do not a happy couple make! Vinyls also come in a ton of patterns and environments that can be really fun for kids. If you decide to go with cloth, get muslin. They tend have zero translucency, hang evenly and add a sense of depth. And, they are usually hand painted to have an eye-pleasing complimentary color scheme.

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Props: While it is totally possible to take an excellent portrait of a child without any props, they are good to have just in case. Have a collection of kid-sized chairs, antique tricycles, suitcases, picture frames, ladders, hats, buckets, baskets, sports equipment etc. Of course your clients can always bring items that are very meaningful to the subject, but they may not always be a good match for your style of portraits. Best to have options that reflect your artistic vision.

Studio Rules: Have posted a list of 3 major rules for your studio that you want kids to follow. For example: In this studio 1. We walk 2. We keep our hands to ourselves 3. We listen. Going over these three standards will prevent all kinds of hazards.

About the author

Katherine Katsenis

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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