Photographing children is a crazy, fun, exhausting experience. And it can be a rewarding one if you know how to work with them. They wiggle, they run, they explore. They don’t want to sit still, look at a camera, and say cheese. To get great portraits of kids, you need to have a different approach. If you go into a photo shoot thinking you’ll get kids to do exactly what you want in perfect lighting with little to no effort on your part, you’ll come out of the session sorely disappointed.
When photographing children, I’ve always found that taking a more photojournalistic approach yields more success. You’ll also need to be okay with pictures where not everyone is looking at you or smiling. One of the clients I photograph every year has a son who cried during every family portrait for the first three years of his life. It became the family joke and people who received their Christmas cards always looked forward to seeing what he did that year. By age four, though, the same kid was the one with the biggest dimpled grin for me in every shot.
My goal when photographing children is to capture their unique (and sometimes crazy) personality. When a parent says to me, “That image is soooo Johnny!” I know I’ve done my job.
Kids don’t always want to cooperate during a portraits session, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bust. Here are some ways to still capture great portraits when the kids are uncooperative.
1. Let Them Play
Kids don’t want to sit for an hour in the same position sandwiched between their siblings and parents and fake smile at the camera. Heck, I wouldn’t want to do that either. Find a location that allows them to run around and jump and climb and laugh and be free. You’ll get kids in their natural element, and more of a chance for laughter and genuine smiles.
[REWIND: MY TRICK FOR GETTING KIDS TO SMILE NATURALLY IN PHOTOS 99% OF THE TIME]
2. Find Flat, Even Lighting
Since you’re letting them run around, do yourself a favor and find a location with flat, even lighting. If you don’t have to worry about where the light falls, you can then focus on getting images of the kids acting naturally. Of course, this is the real world, and you can’t always have flat, even lighting (nor do you want to either). In those cases, make sure you have your flash on your camera and ready to go even if you aren’t going to use it. You might find you need to combat the power of the sun and you won’t have time to pop on the flash, rummage around your camera bag looking for a reflector, or set up an off camera flash. Photographing kids is about being ready for anything at a moment’s notice.
3. Play With Them
When photographing children, make sure you wear something comfortable that you can move around in. One of the best ways to get an uncooperative kid on your side is to act silly with them. Chase them, make them laugh, act like their favorite superhero/purple dinosaur/whatever it takes. Once they see that you aren’t a stuffy old person trying to make them sit still and force them to smile, you can win them over much easier. Make it a game, get on their level and have fun. Kids love it when adults are goofy and not barking commands all the time.
4. Get Them Involved
Kids love to feel like they are helping, so during the shoot, I’ll let them look at the back of the camera and see if they like the shot. I’ll also pose mom and dad for some parents only shots, and I’ll have them direct the poses, show them the images for their approval, and even allow them to hold my camera and snap a pic or two. If you can figure out ways to get kids involved, they are far more cooperative.
Another way I get them involved is asking them who they would like to get pictures of, like a buddy picture. Some will request pictures with just mom or just a certain sibling, and I accommodate whatever configurations they want. The more input you ask for, the more bought in they are to the process.
5. Know When To Stop
Some kids will give you 5 minutes; some may give you 40. Your job is to know when they are done. Once a kid is done, it’ll be exponentially more difficult to capture any usable images. So don’t force it and make everyone miserable. Give them a break and if after the break they still are completely uncooperative, then call it a day.
Photographing kids takes patience, a sense of humor, and flexibility. Do you have any tips for photographing uncooperative children? Comment below.
CREDITS: Photographs by Hanssie are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.
Great advice, Hanssie!
Hanssie, who owns the copyright when kids snap the photo? A higher level court recently ruled that one photographer retained the copyright when a monkey grapped the camera and took a photo; PETA initiated that lawsuit.
A federal judge just ruled against that a few weeks ago saying that a monkey can’t own the copyright…
When kids realise that they can see themselves on the screen at the back of the camera, it really catches their interest. With my son I can keep him co-operative for a while provided he gets to see himself on the camera after each couple of photos.
LOL. Some days, I wish that were an option. But since I didn’t win the Powerball…
I do a photos with Santa over x-mas for a local charity. That’s the really fun shoot. Turn key operation with 50 families and pretty much every child 18 months to 4 years old is terrified of real beard Santa Claus.
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Great article, usefull advices and nice shots!
I have a question though. What if I was paid for, lets say, one hour session, but the kid is “done” after 5 or 10 minutes?
Should I make a refund or make another appointment for another 30 mins in different location?