My tricks for photographing children

When I first started out I used to see a lot of tears and tantrums – and that was just the parents…!!

As time went past I quickly realised I’d need to learn some tricks for photographing children if I was going to get beautiful, natural images.

So, I started studying and today I’m going to reveal some of my secrets.

Let them be the boss

No-one likes being constantly told what to do. The best photographs of children generally come when they’re enjoying themselves and doing what they want to do.

If your child decides they want to walk away and explore the woods for a bit then I’ll use my long lens and follow them at a distance. If they want to roll down a hill then I’ll be right there doing it with them.

So long as they’re not in any danger I let them take the lead.

Once they like and trust me then I’ll use some tricks to get them to do what I want…

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Let the photographer do the talking

When parents are giving lots of instructions to their children it causes a few issues. Here are some of them…

  • It’s much easier for a photographer to build rapport with a child if they are speaking one-to-one. 

  • Having lots of people give your child instructions is a quick way to turn their smile into a scowl. They get confused, stressed and overwhelmed.

  • The session should be fun and that means allowing your child to let their hair down and do what they want. We’ll get those magical photos that way.

  • If you’re speaking with your child then they’ll be looking at you rather than at the camera. Of course sometimes wonderful photos come from you interacting with your children, but a good photographer will engineer that interaction so that it looks and feels natural.

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Feed their imagination and ego – yes ego!

Even fun stuff like jumping and twirling gets pretty dull for a child if it’s one instruction after another. They’ll soon get bored. 

However, when I say “Hey, can you jump like a frog?” it instantly becomes more fun, because you’re adding imagination. Also, you’re challenging them and kids LOVE a challenge. It’s that old reverse psychology of ‘I bet you can’t….’

Try betting your child tonight that they can’t get their pyjamas on in less than 15 seconds and see what happens. They can’t resist it!

This trick even works with seemingly boring things. I’ve asked children how long he could stare at the camera without blinking. I often get photos of them chuckling as their eyes start to dry out!

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Kids like the word like

If you asked a little girl to kiss their baby brother they might not do it. But if you asked them to kiss him LIKE a princess would you’ll get a much better result. It focuses their mind and gives them a frame of reference to work with.

Child Photography Secret 3: Show, don’t tell

Never ask anyone to do anything you’re not prepared to do yourself, that’s what I say! Children instantly understand when you show them what to do rather than just telling them. The fact that I normally look daft doing the thing just makes it more entertaining for them than just having someone order them about.

Child Photography Secret 4: Don’t give them the chance to say no

Ask a child a closed question and they’ll seize the opportunity to say no. Which of the following sentences do you think will get the best result:

“Would you like to go jump in those leaves?”

“Look, there’s a big pile of leaves over there – let’s go and jump in them!”

Option two reveals something new and exciting for them, but option one just sounds like you’re giving them another instruction.

Child Photography Secret 5: Let them think it’s their idea

If you can make something sound like their idea, then so much the better. Let’s take that pile of leaves as our inspiration again. If you said, look at that huge pile of leaves, what shall we do with them? 99 times out of 100 they’ll tell you what they want to do and then go do it. There’s almost no other response, other than ‘I don’t want to do anything and that rarely happens. Kids love to be asked what they want to do, you just coax them in the direction you want them to do, without sounding too transparent.

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Child Photography Secret 6: No means NOOOOOOO!

If a child tells me they don’t want to do something in the session – I’ll never push it. It only ends in scowls at best and tears at worst. I’ll move onto something else and then maybe come back to the previous idea later. I’ll then repackage the idea so they’re more likely to say yes next time.

Child Photography Secret 7: Children don’t like being left out

If a child doesn’t want to be part of the family portrait then let them go off and do their thing. Say this in a really nice tone of voice and don’t make it sound like a punishment. Just sound free and easy about the whole thing. Pretty soon they’ll want to come back and join in because they can’t care being left out. Again, this doesn’t work if they’re told “Well you won’t be in the photograph if you don’t join in.” This kind of angle just makes them miserable and dig their heels in. If it genuinely sounds like it’s no problem that they’re not in the photo then they’ll quickly come to their own conclusion that they’d like to be involved. What did I say in secret 5? Let them think it’s their idea!

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Child Photography Secret 8: Whispers and secrets

Children love to be whispered little secrets and ideas. Not everything has to be loud and enthusiastic. For example, when I whisper “What could you do to show mummy how much you love her?” she’s far more likely to be in a calm responsive mode than if I just said “Do you want to give mum a kiss?” That’ll get a NOOOOOOO!!!!!

Child Photography Secret 9: The special power of ‘special’

The word ‘special’ seems to work like magic. For example “We’re going to do a really special photo with you and granny – can you give granny a cuddle and smile like a princess?”

OK, so that’s just some of my box of tricks I use to ensure that every session results in beautiful child portraits that will touch your heart. You’ve devoted your life to your children and having treasured photographs to capture their spirit, personalities and their relationship with you is what I’m all about. I dearly love what I do and I’m constantly looking for new ways to provide the very highest level of service and professionalism – whilst also being a silly big kid at heart too!

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