Photographing children can be tricky when they have so much energy and movement – getting the perfect portrait can be tricky.
What is the best lens for child photography?
I always say the answer to this question really the best lens is the lens you have! Learn to use what you have first – really you can take amazing pictures with most any lens. I know each lens has a purpose but using what you have makes perfect sense too. If you are looking to purchase a new lens I love a 50mm lens as my go to and all around lens.
Photographing children should be an easy task, right? Well most of the time it is, but the mention of it to some parents is enough to make them start sweating and have a panic attack. Picking out the right outfit, getting everyone there on time, keeping outfits clean and not wrinkled, and keeping smiles on their faces is no small feat. This, of course, doesn’t help the child relax. There are a few things I like to discuss and tell my clients what to expect when coming to a session. If the parents and the person taking the pictures are relaxed, the child will be, too.
1. Picking the perfect time.
Do not schedule photos during nap time or right before a nap time. If the subject is a toddler, I usually suggest early in the morning or right after their afternoon nap. When scheduling a session I ask how old the kids are and when are their nap times. The worst is when you find out that the child should be napping right in the middle of the session. This is also when they will tell you their child is always full of smiles, but they are yawning and having a melt down, which breaks my heart. Ask when the child is the happiest during the day and do the session at this time.
2. Helping your client with picking out an outfit.
I am not a photographer who asks for solid colors, pastel colors, or identical matching outfits. I recommend putting children in what they are most comfortable in. If they can move around and are not too hot or cold they will be much more happy. If they are in a sleeveless outfit and it is freezing outside, they are miserable, and it will show in the pictures. (I know this can be difficult in crazy Southern Louisiana weather, so I always recommend having two outfits picked out for the weather here in the fall and winter. One day it could be hot and the next quite chilly here!)
I also love the bold colors, and patterns in my photographs of my own children. This is my personality and I tell clients to go with what their personality is and how they can show that in their pictures. I also remind my clients to bring broken-in shoes if they are going to have their kids wear shoes. Nothing is worse than a pair of shoes that causes a blister in the middle of a session, since that is when the melt down starts. My kids are usually barefoot or in cowboy boots at home, so this is what they wear in photo shoots. We are definitely not a quiet and meek family and that shows in my own children’s pictures.
3.Ask your clients NOT to tell their children they are going to go get pictures taken.
I ask my clients with toddlers especially not to do this. What is a two/three year old going to do when they KNOW you want them to cooperate? The exact opposite. My rule of thumb is to tell them they are going to go play. I want my sessions to be fun! If the child has the expectation of having fun they are much more likely to be cooperative. Asking them over and over if they are going to be good and smile is usually a recipe for disaster. Also, remind parents that children feed off of them. If they are relaxed, the child will be, too.
How do you photograph toddlers outside?
4. Pick a location in which you can move around and is age appropriate. Picking a place with busy streets or a river (that of course that toddler is going to run to over and over) is not the best location for small kids. Some photographers will disagree with me on this next one. Don’t let the kids get there and explore early. You want them to explore with you and not already bored with a location. You want it to be new and exciting. In my last e-mail to my clients I remind them if they get there before me to please stay in their car. I love having a child explore a new location with me! This helps with the smiles being the real deal and not scary barbie doll cheeser faces. Also, having a location that you can move around in helps for the child not to get bored. Remember having the right time of day to photograph outside is key in amazing lighting for your photos –> click here for more info on WHEN to shoot outside: Learn the Best Time to take Pictures Outside
5. Cheese… the absolute most-dreaded word ever.
As soon as you pull out your camera there are many kids that automatically have the cheeser smile. You know that smile. The forced look that looks like a scary barbie doll face. This sometimes also means having a talk with the parents before the session about not asking their kid to smile. The relaxed having-fun smile is the smile you want, and not the plastered fake smile. I don’t ever like asking them to smile.
6. These are a few of my favorite things.
I ask clients to bring a few things from home that their child loves in a bag. I also sometimes ask them not to let the child know you have it. It can be a doll, a tricycle, a Superman toy, a ball, or even a book. After the session is underway and you want some natural interaction photos you can pull these items out and hand them to them. Pictures with some of their favorite things at that stage in their life is something you want remembered in a photo. I have a ton of pictures with my girls playing with their American Girl Dolls and I know I will treasure them when they are teenagers and those dolls are long forgotten.
7. Take control of the session.
This may mean asking parents to back up a little and let you just interact with the child. A parent standing over your shoulder asking the child to smile is not going to get you the true smiles. Every once in a while, I have an amazing mom/dad/or grandma who acts like a total clown and gets those kiddos laughing, fast. Those are the parents I don’t mind interacting with child and me during a session. You have to read if the parents are stressing the child out or if they are going to help with having them relax and be themselves.
8. Relax and be yourself while taking the pictures.
Children sense when you are uncomfortable and will feed off that quickly. I ask a ton of questions to the them about their everyday lives. Older children you can talk about their favorite tv shows, sports they play, or favorite foods. Ask a 6 year old girl if she has a boyfriend and be ready to catch that reaction. Ask a boy if he hears that bird, and if it is going to fly over and poop on his head. I promise you will get a smile out of them then!!! Even two year olds you can talk to about their favorite things. Remember that Spiderman he brought to the session as his favorite thing? Put it on your head and make him dance. Showing the child that you are interested in them makes them forget they are getting pictures taken.
9. Don’t drag the session on.
Children lose patience quickly and get bored fast. Once the session starts I try to make it all about the child. I try to move from one spot to the next quickly and shoot fast. Trying to pose them and doing everything slowly will make you lose the child’s interest. Know in your head where you are going to try to move throughout the session, but be flexible since that might not be what the child is interested in.
10. Capture REAL moments.
Have fun with them. Create fun moments if you have to…let them run, dance or sing. Sitting in one spot is boring for anyone. Getting up and moving around, exploring, dancing, and singing will allow you to catch real-moment shots. Two brothers tackling each other to the ground… you can bet that I will be ready to catch that shot. It’s a real life moment and that is what we want to remember of our own kids looking back. Did they ever sit perfectly and smile perfectly at home everyday all day? I doubt it. Making silly faces, laughing and having fun is the way I want to remember my girls as they grow up. I even want to remember the melt downs they had in the middle of Disney World. Why?? It is REAL. It is what really happened at that age. Throwing a tantrum at two/three is a rite of passage, and some days I felt like I saw them lying on the floor, screaming, more than I did with a smile on their face at that age. Some of the most precious shots of a three year old are ones singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider with you.
Lindsey Saling Jacob says
Well said Nikki!! <3
Logan Cantrell says
These are really great tips! My toddler can be pretty difficult to photograph sometimes, so I will have to keep these in mind.
Brittany McKenzie Arcand says
Seriously, Sarah? says
Those pictures are so good! I love the candid shots and real smiles! Those seem like great tips 🙂
Kristin @ MOMentous Moms says
These photos are absolutely beautiful. We have been putting off having family photos taken recently because our daughter seems to hate the camera. Maybe taking some of these things into consideration will help. Sharing this for sure!
Kristin, don’t put it off!!!! Find a great photographer that is a lifestyle photographer and will allow her to run and jump and play and be her…then she’ll smile and look at the camera too!!!
Nikki spreen says
Thanks so much! I truly love what I do. I agree…don’t put it off. You just need to find the right photographer who can work with your daughter and have some fun!
LaShawn Wiltz says
Great tips! I’m always looking for ways to get my toddler to settle down!
Oh sheesh toddler to settle down…fun stuff!!!! 🙂 That’s when I just go with the flow and get pictures of them being active!!!
Great pictures thank you for the tips. May I ask you what camera and lens you used for these? Thank you so much.
I’d be happy to help you find a great camera that fits your needs and budget! Feel free to email me at email@example.com
Linda I shoot with a Nikon d800 and almost all of these were shoot with a 50mm 1.4
Caden Summers says
These are amazing tips. I think my white balance needs to be tuned a little better to really make the pictures pop. I need to carry my camera around more for sure – I get all the best poses out and about on my phone…which it has a nice camera but it isn’t a canon!
Caden, white balance is an easy fix! especially if you edit in lightroom!
Rie Heurtin says
#6 is a great idea, Nikki!!
I live in Ireland says
Amazing tips! Thank you so much for that post! xox