I love to photograph children, they have such an ease about them and they are willing to open up and share with you parts of themselves that adults rarely do. What makes a great portrait for me is finding a place where you and your subject come together and create a moment. Here are my top 5 tips for photographing children to create such moments.
1. Get down on their level and be candid. Talk to them, play with them, ask them their names and what they like to do. Four year olds love it when I say, “Oh my gosh! I have a 4 in my age too!” They don’t really believe you, but they think it’s funny. Let them be messy (lopsided pigtails are a favorite ♥ of mine).
2. Build trust. For kids who feel very shy, I let them hold the camera and take a few shots. And then we look at the images together. For kids who are self-conscious (generally teens) I make them a pinkie promise that I will delete any pictures they don’t like and we review the shots as we go. Both of these activities build a measure of trust which is what you are looking for.
3. Get in close and work the moment. I generally have kids (who are old enough) start by looking off to the side not smiling. Then I ask for their eyes to come to me. And then we may have a little laugh so the smile is not forced but genuine. I’m always looking for that moment where you make a connection and I can feel it and know when I have the shot I’m looking for. And the big smiley shot is rarely my favorite, I love to see other emotions, soft quiet smiles, a look of surprise.
4. Let the kids know when they are doing a great job. I try to make the shoot as natural as possible, but doing group shots can be boring for a kid. Let them know when they are doing what you want them to do, “Dallas has his eyes on me. Brenton has his eyes on me, awesome job guys!” Bring something for them to look at like a fun squeaky toy. I once did a group shot of 100 people with 25 kids, 15 who were six and under. I climbed a ladder and shot down for a group shot. I brought a treat bag and literally was waving it over my head while I balanced on the ladder. In the final shot we chose, only one child didn’t have their eyes on me. Looking back, I should have brought a treat bag for the adults as well.
5. Let the kids be themselves. I generally ask kids, “Now what pictures do you want to take?” These are often my favorite. Kids will go get costumes on, pull out their favorite toy or dance around for you.
A beautiful portrait not only takes a patient photographer with skills, but the cooperation and trust of the child as well. These are the skills that have benefited me the most photographing children over the years. Try them out and see how they can help you as well.