One of the questions I get asked most is how to photograph children naturally, without the end result being a series of cheesy staged smiles. I thought I’d pull together a quick post to share some of the ways I work with kids to capture genuine moments of childhood magic.
- Build a rapport up front. Even if you’re taking pictures of your own kids, it’s important to start off with playfulness and conversation before you launch into photographing them.
- Observe as much as you document. Take your time, breathe, watch and take it all in. Don’t spend the entire time pointing a camera in their face, interact with them often and document as unobtrusively as possible.
- If you’re indoors find some pretty natural light – maybe go to a window and ask them to look out, to touch the panes of glass, to trace their name on the window pane, to spot a bird out in the tree opposite. Keep engaging them and taking a genuine interest in stimulating them.
- Set up some toys or an activity and do it with them whilst taking regular breaks to pick up your camera and shoot. I often do this if we’re painting, looking at a book or doing something in the garden. The result is an everyday document of images that show what life with little ones is really like – my family records are not filled with shots of my kids looking to camera – mostly they involve movement, or they capture a story of that moment.
- Take a step back, look at the environment, the surroundings, check the lines and angles and think about framing your shot. Once you’re happy with the frame and composition and have your settings right you can take the shot. Keep checking the back of your camera and adjusting to get the desired look. If the child moves (which they will, a lot), move your body with them, gently follow their lead and keep shifting yourself to get that framing and composition just right for each shot.
- Take lots of time for pause and reflection. This helps them feel less like you’re taking their picture and more like they’re hanging out with you, which inevitably results in a more natural document.
- Avoid telling them to look at you or to smile. The best way to get a child to look to your camera is to talk to them. They will naturally look up at you frequently during your exchange if you keep the chat engaging and interactive. Ask them questions and tell them things. If you want genuine moments of joy to come through, make them laugh by being silly, kids love to see adults make fun of themselves so let go of all your inhibitions.
- Embrace the lack of control. When you shoot kids you have a limited amount of steer on composition to a certain extent. A lot of my favourite photos of my children don’t actually feature much of their faces – I have countless images of the backs of their heads but they still manage to move me or tell a story. Go with it, capture the little exchanges as well as those hero shots, often the in-between moments are the ones you’ll come back to again and again.
- I do a lot of my work out in nature because I find this environment one of the most calming and inspiring for children. Encourage them to explore, to touch the environment around them, whether it’s running their hands through ferns to feel them tickle their palms, climbing a fallen tree, or picking daisies. These shots are great for story telling and allow you to document genuine moments of childhood curiosity.
- For more subdued sleepy shots on a bed, sofa or picnic rug, you can gather some snuggly blankets and favourite toys. See if they’ll pretend to be sleeping for you or play peekaboo under the blanket. Get them to move about on their tummy, on their back, with their legs in the air, with their legs curled up. Sing a gentle song or tell them a story from your head while you observe and shoot away.
- The key with photographing children is to avoid them becoming overly aware that you’re taking their picture. You want them to feel you’re there purely to spend time with them. You have to work at that by continually engaging with them through conversation, song, dance and silliness. Take it slowly. Don’t feel you have to shoot a thousand shots to get 10 that you love. If you take your time when it comes to framing, adjusting your settings and investing in that trust, you’ll get beautiful results.
- Above all, have fun. Kids oooze fun so if you make it light hearted, non-pressured and engaging for them and build in plenty of time for pause and reflection, the magic will spill out of your camera.
What are your favourite tips for capturing your children and what are your biggest challenges or frustrations. Ask me any question and I’ll do my best to answer it.
The pictures featured in this post were taken during our trip to Cornwall last Spring.