In honor of Mother’s Day, I felt this would be a great time to write a piece about photographing kids from a male (who does not have children) photographer’s perspective. All areas of photography can be difficult to master…there is not one area I can think of that is easy. Weddings are long and full of surprises, landscape photography has its own unique challenges, and you need exceptional post production skills to edit a head shot correctly. For me, photographing children is an area of my business that I now truly enjoy, but when I first started working with kids, it was hard, and I had no idea how to work with them effectively.
I love kids, but I will be honest, they are not the easiest subjects to work with. You never know what their mood is going to be, they get bored quickly, and when it comes time to have their portrait made they can instantly become camera shy. I will be honest, most of the extremely successful photographers who work with children are women. Women just have a way with the little ones that guys don’t have. Now, if they are your children that is different, but typically men with other peoples kids just are not as good with them as the women. Come on guys, you know it’s the truth!
Not to worry, guys, here are the 5 tips I’ve learned for photographing kids as a male photographer:
1. Relax and Be Patient
The first thing that I noticed when working with a child for the first time (happened to be a newborn) was that all of a sudden, I was nervous as hell! I don’t tend to get nervous when I’m shooting. For me, I actually feel more at ease when I’m shooting, than when I’m sitting on the couch watching TV! But, I felt awkward that first session, this was not my child and I wasn’t too sure about babies, especially newborn ones. I started to forget everything I knew about lighting, composition, and exposure. It was not until Mom feed the little man and he drifted off into a wonderful peaceful sleep did I relax and start making images. When he woke up again, I was back to my normal focused, relaxed photographer state. It was from that point forward that I knew I needed to relax, be patient, and let the kids and myself adjust to the situation.
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2. Don’t Fret About the Technical Stuff
As I have worked with more and more children, I found the strobist in me needed to relax. I found that children do not have the time to wait for me to make lighting adjustments. Photographing children is all about expressions, and truth is when they have a bunch of strobes facing them, they tend to not be themselves. This is why I rely more on natural light when photographing kids. This can be light from a window, or good light outside at a park. If you wrap yourself up in the technical things, such as lighting, you’re going to miss great expressions and most likely make the child uncomfortable. When I do want to use artificial light I have a small speedlight on a stand with a Shoot Through Umbrella or Rogue Flashbender. It’s small, light weight, and helps to fill in the shadows when needed.
3. Schedule the Session at Their Home
I have found that when I have sessions in a family’s home, children are much more relaxed. They know their surroundings and don’t tend to notice me as much. My style of photography is more photojournalistic. I like to let things happen in front of me and capture them as they are happening. Some of my favorite portraits of children have been from when we just hang out at the family’s home and I capture the child in their normal surroundings.
4. Let Your Guard Down
I will admit, I’m more a serious person, especially when working with clients. Don’t get me wrong, I have a silly side, but I tend to be perceived as a serious individual. I found when working with kids, I need to be silly and just have a good time. I will tell them jokes, make a silly face, run and jump around with them. I will do anything to get those great expressions out of them. If you take one thing away from this article, it’s this – have a good time and be a kid again. The kids will feed off that energy.
5. Let Them Hug Mom and Dad
Yes, you want to make a great portrait of the child by themselves, but at first, they tend to hug onto Mom and Dad because you are a stranger. That’s cool, use this time to make some family portraits with Mom and Dad. As the child becomes more comfortable with you being around, they will let you tell them how to pose and often times will want their picture taken. I have found once we get to this point in the session, they don’t want me to stop taking pictures of them!
Bonus Tip: Bring a Female Assistant
Yup, I said it, bring along a female assistant. As I said above, women are great with children. My girlfriend tends to assist me on all my sessions, no matter what the session is. But, when she is there during a children’s portrait session, she rocks it. She is great at talking to the kids and getting them to pose and smile for me. I tend to always work with an assistant, but when I’m working with children, I make sure my assistant is a woman. Guys, trust me on this one. It really pays dividends!
Photographing children and families is a ton of fun for me and I love it! I get to relax and be a kid again. There are many other tips and tricks out there, but after two years of working with children and families, I have found my tips above always provide a fun session and images my clients love.
To all the moms out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
What are your tips for photographing children? Share them in the comments section below.