Tips for Photographing Your Own Children - from a Child Portrait Photographer

January 14, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Tips for Photographing Your Own Children

from a Child Portrait Photographer

I had some lovely feedback on this blog post recently from an overseas colleague.  As we are yet again in lockdown, I thought I'd tidy up the formatting and re-publish this one.  Thanks for reading!

"How on earth did you manage to get him smiling like that?" I've lost count of how many times I have heard a parent ask this or something very similar after a photo session.

Having had three children myself, I know how difficult it can be to take photographs of your own kiddies, especially as they are more likely to play up and be uncooperative with a parent than the funny photographer lady who they've been brought to see.

In these very strange days of the 2020 Coronavirus lockdown, and while professional photography studios have been forced to close, I thought I would share my tips for parents on how to take some lovely natural photos of their children.

1) LIGHT 

I don't want to get very technical but light is important.  Two things to bear in mind:

Position Think of where your child is in relation to the sun/light.  On a bright sunny day with your child facing the sun, there will inevitably be squinting. This isn't an issue of course if your little one is looking down and that is the photo you want, but if you want them looking at you then you need to diffuse the light or re-position your child.  If you are fortunate enough to have open shade (eg from a tree) use this to position your little one in otherwise to avoid squinting, take your photo when the sun is behind your child, bearing in mind you will then need to use some sort of fill light.

Fill light This is just a little flash or reflected light added in to prevent your subject looking too dark.  This applies to any situation where there is a lot of light behind your subject, (for example the sun behind your child outdoors, or your little one standing in front of a window)  If you are shooting in automatic mode, all of the extra light in a scene will fool your camera into thinking it doesn't need flash.  Unfortunately with your subject back-lit in such a way, your subject will come out way too dark and that is where some fill light is needed. 

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On this sunny day despite having my daughter stand in the shade of a tree the bright light behind her meant I still had to use a little flash to prevent her being too dark.

2) FORGET POSING and BE PATIENT

Probably my biggest piece of advice.  After all, the memories you want to capture are the real, natural ones aren't they? The way your child laughs and plays and interacts with their siblings, pets or toys?

When a photographer enters a professional portrait competition, there are lots of rules that must be adhered to regarding pose. I'm not knocking that, competition is an important part of a photographer's journey however, when it comes to my clients in the studio or indeed, when I photograph my own family, I much prefer natural, spontaneous smiles over perfectly placed limbs and forced expressions.

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The above photograph wouldn't win any professional awards.  My little client isn't looking at camera, her hands aren't posed correctly and she's leaning too far forward. However, I really love this!  My little model had burst into a spontaneous fit of the giggles and to me, her expression is worth more than any award.

As a parent, you may find that your child does one of two things when you try to photograph them.  Your child may love being photographed and will present you with a wonderful cheesy smile as soon as you point a camera at them.  However, what if you are looking for more natural photographs and therefore not particularly that cheesy smile, as wonderful as it may be. On the other hand, you may have a 'runner' - a child who disappears as soon as you tell them you want to take a photo.  In that instance you would be grateful for any photo you could get - cheesy smile or not! 

Rather than ask your child to 'look here' or 'hold this' or even 'say cheese' - just forget posing and be patient.  The aim is to make them forget your intention to take photos of them until they are too preoccupied to notice and the smiles and expressions come naturally. (See point 3!) 

3) GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO DO OR SOMEONE TO INTERACT WITH

So, how do you get them looking natural and relaxed?  Simple - give them something fun to do while you wait patiently with your camera to hand. If your partner is willing, get them involved, I've yet to meet a child who doesn't love playing aeroplanes, being swept up into the sky always puts a lovely natural smile on a child's face. Perhaps you have a pet? I've captured endless images of children with their family pet, the love a child has for the family dog, cat (or tortoise!) can result in magical expressions! (I'm pointing out the obvious now, but of course please make sure your pet is safe around your child beforehand).

If they are on their own then wait until they are truly engrossed in a game or reading a book.  In the garden, have them looking for insects, examining patches of grass for evidence of fairy activity, smelling flowers, looking for treasure, finding pretty stones - anything that will keep them occupied.  Take lots and lots of photos and remember, they don't have to be looking at you, the look of concentration on a little child's face is a thing of beauty and wonder.  If you need to undertake a spot of stealth photography you can always use any zoom capability on your camera or phone to allow you to get as far back as possible.

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This young lady may have been a little camera shy, but she was totally fascinated by my roses.
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Who doesn't love a good game of aeroplanes?
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Yes, you read right above!  These sisters just had to have their pet tortoise included in a photo.

4) BE INCREDIBLY SILLY!

As parents, we know better than anyone how to get a smile out of our child. (There is a reason I have a parent at my side when photographing little ones!) Sing a silly song, roll around the floor and generally act like a big child yourself.  Blowing raspberries is always good. The best part of being a child photographer is being able to mess around and act like a child myself!

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If I remember correctly, lots of raspberry blowing was required to get these three handsome brothers laughing!

5) GET DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL

Kneel or even lie down to take a photograph on your child's level - aim to have your lens in line with their eyes.  That way you won't miss any subtle smile or change of expression that may not be seen from another angle.

One of my all time favourite photos from a few years back.  I had to get really low to the ground to capture this little beauty's expression.
 

6) INCLUDE YOUR CHILD

Another tip - if your child isn't massively keen or is perhaps a little too old to be looking for fairies in the garden - ask them for their opinion on the photo you want to take.  What do they think they should do? Have they seen a photo they like and would perhaps like to recreate? I've often used this tactic in the studio when a child hasn't initially been too keen on having their photo taken, but if you include them in the process, listen to them and make them feel like you really value their opinion it can be a game changer.

7) RECOGNISE WHEN ITS TIME TO STOP AND JUST BE MUM OR DAD

Finally - accept that sometimes, it may take a little while.  There is no point continuing to try and take photographs once your little one gets over tired or if they're obviously just not feeling it for the time being.  Sometimes we all need to just put down our cameras and give out the cuddles, there's always another time.

I hope the above tips are helpful.  Have fun and stay safe! Thanks for reading!

Lorraine.


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