How to photograph kids

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If you have kids in your family, it’s a good idea to know how to photograph kids. Your family deserves more than snapshots with Aunt Edna’s knee sticking out the side of a photo. The only thing worse than having nothing more than snapshots of family gatherings with bad lighting and cluttered backgrounds is to not have any photos at all.

Photographers have the potential to give some of the greatest family gifts of all – telling stories and preserving memories of our holidays, family events and gatherings.

Why Learn How to Photograph Kids

As adults, we do a much better job of capturing memories. We have photos of engagements, weddings, and maternity photos. We even make sure our babies have photos, even though they aren’t really doing much at that time.

Then we seem to ignore our kids until they get into specific activities or had graduation photos.

There’s a big piece of family history that tends to get relegated to snapshots, and we can do better than that. We don’t want to just capture random moments. We want to tell the story of our kids and our families.

So take some time to learn how to photograph kids. Add to your family history and memories with high quality photos showing them doing what they do best – being a kid.

Photographing Kids During Holidays and Family Events

I particularly like to photograph kids when they see people they love, but don’t get to see every day. Aunts & uncles, grandparents, distant friends and others can all bring delight to a child’s expression.

Those are moments worth saving.

We have a lot of suggestions to get photos of your kids during their high and lows of holidays and family events. Everything from unwrapping presents to getting their favorite meal. Even crashing on the couch and being carried home by Dad is worthy of your time to photograph kids.

Time Stamps

We're coming up on a season for holidays. And there are a lot of questions that have been coming up lately and about how do I do this and how do I do that? And we're going to take the month of October and try and talk about how to take certain kinds of photographs. Since holidays are coming, I want to start off with how to photograph kids.

And that's what we're going to talk about today on I Like Your Picture. I'm William Beem. Welcome to, I Like Your Picture. The show that helps you improve your photography with visual storytelling. What is visual storytelling. It's a method of approaching your photography with a knowledge of who you're trying to serve with your photos and what emotion you want to make them feel.

We encourage you to concentrate on your subject, light and background to create a photo your audience loves. I'm glad you found us. Hi, my name is William Beem. Hi, my name is Lee Beem and today we want to talk about how to take pictures of kids or how to photograph kids, and I'm thinking of the holiday season, but honestly,

we want to make this useful for any time. So, so here's what we want you to take away. First off is what makes a good portrait of a child? How do you get your kids involved? And we're talking about small children. So how do you photograph a moving target? I've had lots of fun with that. Now this is something where Lee is going to have much more experience than I do,

because quite honestly, we have a daughter. She's 18 years old, but I didn't get her until she was 13. Lee had her for the full time. You've done a lot of child photography. Lee think about that. And what makes a good child portrait? It depends on two things. First of all, what do I want? What do I like in a photo in this case,

it was of my child or in children. The other thing is already going to do with the photos. So if the photos were being taken to share with the family, I kind of kept that in mind as well. It is very, very difficult, if not impossible, to totally nail down a portrait with a child or at least small children, toddlers,

the way you do for an adult. I think that is an outstanding point and I think anybody who is a parent or has spent time around small children, understands that they have a short attention span and they don't necessarily understand what's going on. That you're taking photographs. Don't get me wrong. Kids understand where like, if they're in a school system,

they think, okay, today's picture day. We're going to go take pictures. We're going to dress nice. And they go there and sometimes they give a little cheesy grin a little over the top and you know, later on, that's probably cute, but you don't necessarily want every photograph to look like that. And we came up a list, with a list of a few things we thought about,

and actually I give credit to Lee. You're looking for mood. You're looking for action. And you're looking for a memory. Yeah. And either one, some or all of those. To me, those are you're looking for at least one of those things in your photo. So in my mind, I come back to, well, I come back to this with every photograph.

What story are you trying to tell? And is that going to trigger an emotion with a person who's looking at it? For somebody, You know, for me taking photos, they were pictures that I wanted. They were memories. And it's a little bit of a showcase. You want to show off your child. You want to have nice photos of your child.

You are children, and you want to be able to share them with family. And it's just like with me, if I have a photo of myself and then I have another three photos of myself and two of them don't look that great, those are not the ones I'm going to share. I don't think you look at your kids photos the same way.

You know, when you're going to share them with somebody, what are your favorite or share, share out the ones that make them look the best. And there's different looks that go with children because children run through different ages, different emotions, just like anyone else. And they've got different personalities. That's the thing. I think it's really nice when you can catch capture that. Children are just little people with huge personalities.

And it's really nice to let that come out in a photo. Is that part of the story that you want to tell is like, is this sleepy time? Is this happy time? Is this when the child got surprised or is the child posing? You know, because sometimes you do want that post because they're going to act up a little bit for the cameras.

Well, it depends on the personality. Again, some kids are gonna mug for the camera and some might be a little bit more shy from the camera. Yes. And she still is. But we think about stories and think about the events that are happening when you're taking photographs with your children. So I mentioned that we're sharing this in October of 2020,

but Thanksgiving is coming. Christmas is coming. Other holidays are going to be within that season as well. I'm thinking of, let's say opening presents or Thanksgiving when the meal comes out and they sit down with a family or when dessert comes out. What's going to brighten their eyes? But also when they get, they're going to have highs and lows, when they get sleepy,

you know, it's like, can you get a cute photo of a kid snuggling up with someone? And I'm looking for those kind of emotions I'm looking for those kinds of moods. And as you said, the memories. What is the memory that you want, that you really cherish from your child? Don't think that you can't plan ahead. You don't have to be completely reactive to a child that's zooming all around.

Yeah. Because if you know your child, you kind of have an idea what he or she may do. Yeah. And especially with little children, they do zoom around. I hate to use a cliche almost, but it's just so true. Taking photos of particularly young children or active and energetic children who just some personalities are not the type to sit still.

I'm not a sit still kind of person. The term that comes to mind with taking photos of kids is roll with it. Roll with it, take a tumble. And then you get up and roll with it again. Where possible, let them set the tone you want. I prefer unposed photos with young children. I think it's, first of all,

it's easier. It gets much less frustration on your part, but it will call for more patience on your part. We can maybe get into that a little bit. I had my own strategies for taking photos of Tové and of my little nephew and, you know, other children. A lot of patience. Let's think about, since this is early October,

we know that Halloween is coming up and in 2020, it's going to be weird for Halloween. Ideally there are still going to be children that are dressing up. They're still going to be looking for candy and treats. And this is kind of one of those little precious moments that you have every year. Yeah. So for Halloween, what do you anticipate in advance and think that you want to capture for your photographs?

Look at the, the kids want to show off their costume. Kids are proud of their costumes. They love dressing up. Halloween is the time when like everybody gets to do it. And typically they get to compare the costumes with those of other kids. You want the memory also, maybe if you do use like way too many things during the year,

like the average parents, you, you want to maybe remind yourself what you did for them last year. So you don't try and redo it the next year. I mean, it's crazy as it sounds, it gets chaotic. But I think this is an event where it's particularly okay to let them pose and ham it up because a lot of the time they trying to get in character with their costume when they're posing,

I think this is a much easier time of year to do so for. If you want to get a picture of the costume, if that's what you want to do is capture them in their costume. A posed photo will be great. Beyond that, I think then you can maybe start exploring the end of a tired night, no candy or chocolate all down their faces and they're falling asleep on the couch,

in their costumes. Those also make really cute photos. The sugar coma at the end of the Halloween. All right. Here's what I think of when I think of child portraits that I've seen before, especially at holiday events. Usually they're snapshots. They're taken with cluttered backgrounds, then there's no definable subject. You know, you're taking a photograph of your child,

but I'm thinking this doesn't mean that you can't be a little bit artistic with using maybe a shallow depth of field to isolate your child, or maybe looking at the light and thinking, what's the direction of light? Is that coming in one direction and he or she is facing another direction? I'm still going to look at the light, the composition. I want as little distraction in the background.

I don't want to see aunt Ruth red shorts, you know, sticking in with one leg from the side. Or somebody leaning behind from the other side with their camera. I cannot say, tell you how often I've seen people's photos, where there's somebody on the other side of the kids taking a photo of the back of them with a camera. We talked about posing or not posing.

Even if you're not posing your child. And I think you get much more natural expressions and results, if you're not posing a child, you still kind of want to direct them a little bit to the best area, to get a photograph that isn't full of distractions. Yeah. Curious for toddlers, whatever, whatever it takes. But I also think that shallow depth of field is going to help you because let's face it.

The kids are moving around. You don't necessarily know where they're going to go. And if you're going to have a great background, but if you can at least blur it out. Absolutely. Yeah. And then when you're doing your post-processing later, maybe you give it a little more exposure to the child and you're darken the background so that they stand out a little bit.

I see there are many ways to get around this. Even if the nearest thing you have by way of a camera is your phone. I'm know that iPhone has that portrait mode. I'm pretty sure that the other types of phones have something similar where it kind of takes two photos and you get the kind of the blurred background layer over it. It's, it's fairly effective.

And then again, in post-processing you could go in and do some into darkness or blur it some more at whatever you want. Right. All right. Now I know you said that the kids want to see, you know, photos of their costume. And so does this family and friends. Yeah. My favorite child photos though. And I'm thinking kind of like a five or six year old age are really facial expressions.

I mean, zooming and tight on the face. Yeah. I love to see those big eyes. I love to see the smile. I don't care if they're missing teeth or not. And that smooth, clear skin that you have on a child, There's just something about children's faces. Yeah. And I think you want to do a series of shots.

You want to do some like, you know, full length, you see the costume. But I really think that, in my mind, my favorite child portraits are the ones where you've got a very clear view of their face and there's nothing else distracting you. And something else you can do, like I've Tové, Tové is used to having a, you know,

she had, it was used to a camera being around tripod. The thing is, every time I turned the camera on, she'd hear it and she'd get into pose mode, which wasn't necessarily what I wanted. So one way around it, when she was little, was this snap a few photos for her and then set the camera down without switching it off or put it on a table.

So it was just kind of position it. And it was one of the few times that it would actually use the LCD screen at the back. Because typically I do not like it and I don't use it, but that was also a nice way. Or you've got a remote shutter release and you've got that close by and you manage to get that plugged in and just sit there and kind of tap the camera around to change position and follow her.

You know, maybe we're at a table somewhere and she's tucking into her favorites, dessert, or some something, or coloring in. Then I'd get it positioned. Once she'd kind of got used to the camera being there. And it wasn't the main thing she was thinking of. It's like, okay, mom's got some photos now. That's when I'd get the real photos because I just sit there and she wasn't focused on the camera.

She was focused on what she was doing and that's what I wanted. So you're looking kind of, for those candid shots that are memorable. I think you can set those candid shots up though. The child wasn't would know it. And it's partly, like you said. Okay, go ahead and get the ones with her mugging for the camera, let them get out of the way.

And they don't think about it. But I think that you want to prepare in advance to understand where do you want to take your photographs? How much light is going to be there at that time of day or night? I mean, so understand what your light sources are, understand what your background is, and then kind of direct the child to be in there and get your shots with it. As much as I'm a fan of off camera flash.

I think that kind of ruins the moment that you're looking at. If you can avoid it. If you wanting candid shots, particularly. The other thing I'll say on the subject of direction, what I find is that too much direction, or even a moderate of direction with children, I gets them to clam up or ham it up, or it can really work to your detriment.

So what you want to do is make it not seem like it's a big deal to you cause I've seen people do it. I've probably done it myself, where you so anxious trying to coax them to a certain area. It's, you know what, don't do that, move yourself. Because when you move yourself, often they'll move as well. And you,

you find that you can just naturally progress through it. And this is why I say it's a game of patience. I mean, some of my best photos of my nephew, he was just playing out in the yard. My sister and her husband wanted some pictures and they said, Oh, you're going to take some photos. I said, it's fine.

Just let him play. And I just lay there on the lawn. And I crawled around and I just got down to the level and awaited. And you know, there were a lot of shots that got thrown away, but he turned around, he'd faced the camera, you know, for that split second, you just hope he got something. And sometimes you do,

sometimes you don't, maybe the eyes are closed. But it really is a game of perseverance and just be out there with them. They they're happy when you're there. My idea of direction wasn't necessarily to try and coax them into a certain position. But I think it's good to prepare for moments. In other words, you can probably anticipate some moments that are gonna happen in the day.

I don't care if you're on vacation, if it's a holiday or a family gathering or any kind of type of thing. There are some things that I think if you think about it and you know, your child, you know what kind of moments are going to happen. So if like, if there's a surprise that comes out and you want to capture that expression,

well, you decide where the surprise comes out and, and where the child is probably going to be in the lighting and so forth like that. So it's still a natural event as far as the child is concerned. You've just given a little bit of a thought in advance. Yeah. I mean, you've seen us do that even now with, with a teenager setting up in front of the Christmas tree,

I make sure that everything's set up and I kind of move things around a little bit so that it forces the tree behind the people, because that's what I went in the background. Because otherwise what can happen is you everybody's sitting around the tree and then the person who tried to take pictures of you either getting the side or the back of their head, or,

you know, you just got to be aware of where you positioning yourself. And, and I'd also say, be very mindful. If you're at a family event, there are other people involved because if the camera starts to dominate what everybody's doing and be a bit of a mood killer, doesn't matter how nice the photos are. That camera is going to have a negative association,

whenever people see it, because it was kind of the interference with a natural flow. Yeah. That's very important that you don't interrupt what the day is about. A couple of things. When I talk about prepare for moments are let's take a family gathering like Christmas, you know, that hopefully there's family coming over or you're going over to visit with some family.

What's the moment going to be like, when your child sees someone, maybe it's an older brother, maybe it's your parents or grandparents. What are those moments going to be like? And those are the kinds of things where you want to think, okay, can I capture this without just seeing the back of somebody's head? Yeah. And it's not necessarily a bad thing if you're behind your child and they're running up to their grandparents,

the back of their head and you know, their arms way out. Cause they're getting ready for a big hug for grandma. That's not a bad thing at all. That's actually a nice little photograph. Think it through as far as what is going to happen, other moments are, are they unwrapping presents? Are they getting ready to eat something? And maybe the dessert comes out?

What are the moments that are going to happen in your day that you can anticipate? Maybe you're the only one who knows what you're trying to do. Then that's part of not dominating the day with your photography. Don't gather and say, okay, kids. Look surprised when we bring out the ice cream cake and the worst, the worst thing you can do is Joey.

You weren't paying attention. When the cake came out, mom, go back to take in the kitchen, had come out again. And that's the thing. It's like, you get what you get. You want natural moments and you gotta be prepared for the fact that you know what, you may not get every moment that you want. It's okay to be a little disappointed.

You're trying. And I think that's, what's important. And you're going to get some things that you're going to take it out. That's really nice. The other thing we want to say is be prepared for highs and lows. Kids have energy levels that skyrocket and crash. Yeah. And go back and forth and you can talk to that a bit more Absolutely. You know,

if you wanting action, this is the time you're going to have to work for it. When they're sleepy or they they're just wanting to recharge a little bit because they've been running around, they sitting quieter. That's a great opportunity, but don't try and hype them up. You've got to kind of sense the mood they're in and kind of try and move with it.

It is more difficult. The more children you add into the mix, because then you've got different energy levels, different stamina, different personalities. For example, going in there's four children there and you decide any, at least two nice photos of each of them and I want a photo of all of them together. That's fine. You've gotta be really, really flexible when you have your plan,

you know, trying to say, I want this and this and this, the more specific you get, the harder it's going to be at a can totally backfire because you start putting all these instructions on kids and you get nothing. Photographing kids is probably like photographing wildlife. Yeah. You can kind of anticipate them in their natural habitat, but you don't know for sure how they're going to react.

The same thing with puppies. Yeah. I mean, we try to photograph puppies and the puppies, you know, just want to pee on the camera. So this is something where sometimes you can have somebody else and it helps to have somebody else involved. You know, for example, you want a child running towards you and you've got the camera. Well, if you're alone there with a child,

like where do you leave them? Say, wait here, you know, run. When I tell you that sometimes works. Sometimes it may not work. If you've got another adult or a family member there who can hold the child and you say, okay, when I say, you know, let them run towards me. That helps as well. Because depending where you are,

you may not want to have him even six feet away from you. Also. Don't think that you only have to take portraits of the children. Take portraits of the children, interacting with other people around there. Yeah. For example, let's say that it's nighttime, you're leaving and dad's carrying out his daughter. He's holding her and her head is over his shoulder or crashed out,

sleeping With the legs, dangling dead weight, the heaviest child in the world. That's actually a nice photograph. It's like, okay. That's and that's one of the highs and lows that we're talking about. So it's okay. She spent a lot of time running around. She had a great day, but it's all over. And that kind of comes back to something that I've talked about many times.

You want to get the story from small to big. So there's the, you know, maybe there's a big group shot. Maybe there's a medium sized shot and maybe there's details that you need to show it. You know, you might just be taking a picture of the kids' shoes cause they dressed up a certain way. And this is important to them.

Just look for the details. You know, if there's a cake, look for that. And if there's a birthday and they're going to blow out the candle, get on the opposite side and photograph through the candle, you know, as they're getting ready to blow it out, I'm just throwing ideas out here. But think about one of the little moments that people remember and one of the big moments and everything in between,

and that's really your story of the day. So what about the shoes that made me think of a ballet show? Little with that? I think the kids were about five or six years old. It was this big production that was being put on. And one of the other moms we'd spoken to each other a lot, you know, over the year or two that they were in the dance school.

And she asked me if I'd take a couple of pictures of her daughter. Now that this daughter was, she was really good with her dancing, but she was also a bit of a tomboy. And she came, she went and found, her daughter brought her over and she said, well, you know, Abby, where's your socks? They had these little white socks that went in with the pink ballet shoes.

And she went, I don't know. And this little girl looked up and said to me, could you please help me find my socks? And I said, sure, yeah, sure. She says, by the way she said, they used to be white, they're actually Brown now cause I was walking in the dirt without my shoes, but you know what?

We got those socks back on. We took a picture with the ballet shoes and everything. It was. So it was such a cute photo. And that's what I'm talking about. You never know everything that's going to come up. But if there's something that you look at maybe as a parent or an aunt or uncle and you think, Oh, what did you do?

That's a good photo. That's the personality. That was the fun, loving outdoors. Each child. He did ballet. Yeah. Yeah. And that's the part where, like you said, you look for their personality. What do they do that says, okay, that's so, you know, whatever your child is. We've actually got a domain for our daughter.

Like, you know, that's so Tové. And thinking of those moments, I hope this has been helpful to you. If you have any questions, please let us know. You can hit us on the comments of this episode or you can join us on the Facebook group. I like your picture. Just go to, all together. And we'll talk to you there.

Thank you so much for joining us on. I Like Your Picture. This is episode 237. So show notes are going to be available at And please let us know what kind of events are you looking for? What kind of photography questions do you have? There are folks who are already in the, I Like Your Picture group on Facebook that have given me that information and that's really helping us decide what our topics are going to be.

So if you've got something you want input, tell us, either in the group or in the show notes. We'll be happy to give it a shot and see if we can come up with something that help you. Thanks so much. We'll see you again next week.

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