Kids photography is an investment in a treasure box of precious moments, to be unlocked and enjoyed in years to come. Whether part of a family photoshoot or school photography or something completely informal, it’s worth getting it right when you have the camera in your hand.
Mind you, that’s not to say photographing kids can’t also be a frustrating, unpredictable and mentally exhausting experience, if you’re not prepared for the little people. But do your prep and it can be fun, energising and bring a great sense of satisfaction when you get it right.
How To Capture Great Pictures Of Children | Darrin Henry
Key thing about child photography is, if you prepare right, you greatly increase your chances of success.
The secret I’ve found is not to underestimate the dynamics involved just because you’re dealing with kids photos – regardless of age. Kids are like dogs, they can detect doubt in two seconds and won’t waste any time exerting their alpha-power over you!
Don’t panic though, we can fix this. We are the adults!
Putting this post together I realised family photography and photographing children is something I’ve actually done a lot more of than I had previously thought. I also realised I’ve developed a variety of techniques in this area that work.
There are two main ways to photograph kids – formally, ie, as part of organised professional family photos, or candidly, ie., everyday life situations. I’ll cover kids photography ideas for both, starting with those candid, non-professional, everyday situations such as pictures of children playing.
Here are 21 top tips for shooting cool kids photos.
Kids Photography – Candid, Indoor & Outdoor Pictures
First the non-professional, everyday images, kids’ pictures for the family photo album that parents might take. Pictures you may take during a visit to the beach or a picnic in the countryside, or children’s photography at birthday parties.
1. Shoot At Their Eye Level
This has always been my number one tip when it comes to photography for kids – shoot at their eye level. The perspective you’ll get by crouching low or even lying on the ground will deliver much more powerful pictures than simply looking down on them.
The same tip works with pets by the way.
2. Turn Picture Time Into A Game
Unless it’s a formal portrait photo, try to avoid poses with forced smiles into the camera. A genuine smile is infectious. A good test is whether the picture also makes the viewer break into a spontaneous smile. An even better test is making it a photo kids themselves will like.
Rather than a boring pose to camera, give the youngsters something to do, an activity, a distraction, so they forget about the camera.
Kids love jumping, running and showing off. Try to turn a kid’s photoshoot into a game or a physical challenge, and the resultant smiles will be far more natural.
Footballs, tennis balls and balloons are great distraction devices that also bring out the big happy smiles and laughter.
With toddler photography, just getting them to clap their hands is all the distraction you may need to trigger a cheerful look. Or it might be a noisy toy that grabs their attention.
3. Test Your Picture – Does It Tell A Story?
When photographing kids, especially your own, design the picture to tell a story. Years later the best pictures are those that unlock a bunch of warm memories and start conversations.
You can test this right now by looking at your older pictures.
Children change rapidly in both looks and behaviour, right up to their late teens. A single photograph can capture the age-related essence of a 6-year-old’s character, chapters which may disappear completely by the time they’re 7 or 8 and onto something new.
A toddler cuddling a favourite teddy bear, BMX wheelies at 9 or the fashion dilemmas with the onset of teenager-dom; all vivid, real-life snapshots of a child’s life journey.
Child photography ideas which include their current personality are always better.
So think about the shot, what are you photographing?
Frame a story in the viewfinder, not just the child.
4. Change Your Point of View
Similar to tip no.1, above, but instead of eye-level, try every other level.
Outdoor portrait photography is free from the framing constraints in a studio. Shoot from ground level, high above, through a doorway, over the top of a flower bed or between tree trunks.
Creative framing will make interesting photos to view and share later.
5. Take Super Selfies
Selfies don’t have to be boring, just organise them a bit better to create family pictures with kids that are a bit different.
Most cameras have a 10 second timer facility; you can do a lot of setup in 10 seconds. Counting down the timer and trying to get everyone in position can be quite comical, and can make funny pictures for kids and adults both, to enjoy afterwards.
Get a remote trigger for your camera. It’s tiny, lightweight and low-cost, but very useful. We carry ours everywhere and use it all the time. It saves running back and forth to the camera to reset the 10 second timer.
6. Use The Rapid Fire
Kids outdoor photography often involves quick movement. Capture ‘action shots’ using the rapid fire facility, or continuous shoot mode.
Activities such as football (soccer), karate, gymnastics, leaping off a diving board etc., can all benefit from using the rapid fire to catch the perfect shot.
7. Go Hiking Together
Take the kids on a mini hike (longer for older kids) and you will be presented with a glut of great opportunities for taking photos of children.
Sharon and I do this whenever we can with our friends’ children, it’s the perfect distraction from the camera’s presence. And of course, it’s a healthy activity.
Kids will always embrace their inner explorer on a hike and you’ll find even posing for pictures will be fun to them.
8. Negotiate One Sensible For One Crazy
This is one of the fail-safe child photography tips to try. We use this strategy both in the studio and around the house in everyday situations.
Sometimes kids are bored or in a mischievous mood and can’t concentrate for a family photo. We overcome this with a negotiation (or bribe) – basically, if you pose properly for one picture we will all then do a really silly-face-photo. It works every time!
9. Nothing To Smile About? Then Don’t!
Sometimes, just like adults, kids aren’t in the mood to smile.
Rather than forcing a fake smile in portrait pictures, try asking them to hold still, look into the camera but, specifically, ask them not to smile. I’ve found this creates quite a calm, reflective mood that makes a super picture. It’s almost as if it’s such an unusual photo request of kids – not to smile – makes them very curious to try it out.
10. Don’t Obsess Over The Kodak Moment
There’s a tendency with photographers (I’m guilty of this) with children photos to try capture the perfect, classic image; happy, smiley shots – ‘Kodak moments.’
But often, the random moments between the organised, posed shot, is where you capture the authentic personality photos, the ones that makes everyone smile.
Even when organising a posed pictures of children and families, be aware it will be surrounded on either side by a few, wonderful, candid moments. Keep your finger on the shutter button, stay alert and grab those shots when they appear.
Kids Photography – Formal Photo Shoots
As we continue, the next set of ideas are aimed more at family portrait photographers on dedicated photo shoots of children. This might be in a traditional portrait studio environment or on location.
11. Communicate Properly
It might well be kids photography but don’t make the mistake of talking down to them. Don’t talk over their heads to parents while ignoring the kids. You will get a much better interaction and response if you include the youngsters in the process at all times, and with a respectful tone.
Say ‘hello’ to kids right away upon meeting, introduce yourself and explain you are the photographer who will be taking the pictures. Don’t forget to introduce your assistant or anyone else who may also be present and explain who they are.
Meeting someone new in unfamiliar surroundings and having them take your photo can be a little stressful for adults, let along children, so remember make it easier with good communication.
12. Attention Span
When it comes to family portrait photography, younger children especially, tend to have a very short attention span. You might get 20 – 30 seconds of quality alertness with some kids, so work quickly and accurately, just in case. Anything extra is a bonus.
Test lighting, framing and angles beforehand so when the child takes their position, you are instantly ready to shoot.
13. Encouragement Helps
Positivity helps formal portraiture, whether it’s kids or adults.
There’s every chance your subject will already feel a bit awkward, self-conscious and un-natural in front of the camera, so a little empathy goes a long way.
As you shoot, comments like, “That’s perfect, keep looking this way,” or “that’s a fantastic smile,” will help kids to relax and feel they’re doing a good job.
14. Visual Feedback
When I’m doing primary school portraiture there is always a good percentage of shy and apprehensive students, unsure about what’s going on.
It’s easy to assume young children must know what taking a school picture means, when in fact the whole exercise might be a mystery and a little confusing to them. Most have probably never even seen a photography studio setup before.
Showing these children the result of the first picture on the camera’s LCD screen always helps. It never fails to raise a smile and an, “Oh right, that’s what we’re doing,” reaction.
The LCD display is such a useful tool to help kids visualise what’s going on.
15. Visual Communication
Photographing kids in a formal setting, ie studio portraiture or organised photo shoots, puts them in a situation that’s is not their normal.
To help the child photoshoot process and prevent confusion, your communication as a photographer plays a big part.
When asking children to adjust poses, demonstration is often more effective than verbal instructions on their own. I will move my own body to help communicate instructions.
For example, if I want the child to turn their shoulders to the left, I will turn my own shoulders while asking them to do it. If I want them to lift their head up a bit, I’ll put a hand under my own chin and show me lifting my head upwards as I ask them to do the same. I will straighten my back and raise myself upwards while asking them to sit up straight.
Visual communication is very important when photographing kids.
16. Start A Conversation
Chatting to children and learning a little about them during a photo shoot will help them to relax.
During school portraiture sessions the time with each pupil is very short, making it a test to establish some sort of two-way conversation.
I usually have a few ‘fail-safe’ conversation starters, such as, “How is school going for you today?”
Or asking, “What are you learning in class today?” tends to guarantee more than a one-word answer.
Football is often a reliable topic – many of the kids follow English Premiership football which instantly opens up discussion while we get their shot arranged.
The trick is to pick topics they know and can respond to right away.
17. Watch Out For Dirty Noses
Kids portraits often comes with runny noses, smudged faces, messy hair and other daily wear and tear!
Most of these problems can be fixed with wet wipes, a box of tissues and a brush or comb, so have these on hand, and an assistant to help where necessary.
Parents with kids who have a tendency to quickly become, ‘unkempt’ after leaving the house, are always grateful we tidied them up before their school photo.
Kids Photography Ideas – Technical Considerations
Ok, the final part of these photography for children tips and ideas is the technical stuff. Camera handling and technique.
18. Get Closer With A Wide Angle Lens
Telephoto or wide-angle lens, which is best lens for child photography you should use?
Neither. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and when it comes to child portrait photography different photographers have different preferences.
Personally I’m biased to my wide-angle lens and shooting in close. Pictures taken at a closer proximity convey a sense of immediacy and connection to the viewer, a realness, I find. I like images of kids playing shot up close where they’re almost peering inside the lens.
I also like the distortion a wide-angle lens introduces up close, which can create interesting pictures from different angles.
19. Focus On The Eyes
Set your focus metering point on the child’s eyes. Choose the eye closest to the camera if that’s relevant.
20. Rule Of Thirds
Photographing kids is no reason to forget basic photography principles and guidelines, like the rule of thirds.
Even if it’s just a picture of your own kids for private use, there’s no reason why it can’t also be an artistic, well composed, photo.
21. Patience Is A Virtue
Finally, always remember when photographing children, that they are still children.
They get bored easily, or distracted. Energetic kids might run around rather than sit still, so you’ll have to adapt your plan. Be patient. They’re just kids.
Take Our 7-Day Photography Challenge
Hope you’ve enjoyed this post about kids photography and you’ve picked up a few useful ideas.
If so, you may also enjoy having a go at our 7-Day Challenge, a no-pressure set of 7 exercises to do at home to improve your own photography. We designed this series after completing three Project 365 Challenges and realised how setting a daily target can really improve a photographer’s skills.
Our 7-Day Challenge is a Free Download which you can then save to your laptop or phone for later reference. Good luck, let us know how you get on.
What the tips you share here are amazing for kid photography.
As I’m a photographer I feel more difficult to capture photos for kids, what the things you share here are more helpful for me in my profession.
The tips that you share for Make Them Laugh and Capture the Best Moment, I like the most. Hope you post content like this to help photographer like me…
Thanks for the feedback, glad you found some of the tips useful.
Good luck with your shoots.
Thanks for the tips and brilliant pictures. I think what make kids pictures so good is their natural presentation. They don’t worry about what they wearing or how they look, the key is knowing what your camera is capable of doing and the understanding what and how to do it. I’ve had cameras for many years and still non the wiser.
Love your work.
Yes, the kids pictures are always at their best when not too posed.
Just let them be and capture the moment 🙂
Thanks for a great set of tips. I’ve used many of them over the years but as always one can always learn more & improve. The desktop photo on my office PC is currently one of our son (then aged 5, now 33) playing a board game with my late mother. The facial expressions, without an awareness of the camera, summed up their relationship & their love of playing all sorts of games together.
You’re welcome Roger.
Your PC photo sounds really special. A picture like this is priceless, eh.
Must admit, going through the hard drives putting this post together was quite nostalgic. The change in the kids especially in the space of a few short years is so big. Those years go by too fast.
Thanks for the comment, great to hear from you as always 🙂
#8 is my go-to 🙂 …Although when I’m done I mostly tend to prefer the ‘silly-face’ ones
Haha, I know, we end up the same. It’s always a sure-thing when you offer them a silly-face photo that they’ll do a proper pose.
Lately, another thing we’ve noticed, we call the ‘Facebook smile’ when kids do that instant ‘smile’ on demand. It’s so fake. So now we actually say, ok, give us a fake smile and somehow that actually generates a genuine smile!!! Go figure 🙂
Thanks for the comment, Kylie.
Thanks Darrin, passing this on to my daughter, Donna, who has her camera ready all day. Grandson Liam has recently become in demand for commercial film shoots.
You’re welcome Billy, thanks for passing it on too.
Wow, good move for Liam. We shot commercial stock in UK with kids and I think it’s a great experience for youngsters.
Good luck for Donna and Liam.