December 25, 2008

Photographing Children

NOTE: This is a guest post by Nicole S. Young
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I consider myself primarily a “people” photographer, and most of all I love to photograph children. Photographing kids and babies can be a lot of fun, but also can be very challenging at times! They usually just want to do their own thing, and while this can be frustrating it can also open up photo opportunities that you weren’t expecting.

When I photograph people I always follow a set of unwritten guidelines to make sure I can achieve the best results. I recently took some photos of children at a friend’s house and followed these guidelines, so I thought I would share them with those who are interested in what goes on in my mind as I am preparing for and actually taking the photos.

- One of the most important things to remember is to find the best lighting available at your location. Natural light is always ideal; I tend to prefer soft diffused lighting, like in the shade of a building. If you can, try to start taking the photos in the evening, about 2-3 hours before sunset so you have a broad range of lighting available.

If you are forced to take the photos in the middle of the day then try to find a shady spot outside, or if you are at a house then a window or doorway with indirect diffused lighting also creates very nice light. I also like to use a reflector to bring some light back into the scene. (Here is a link to a behind-the-scenes photo from the images of my recent session.)

- If possible take the photos at a familiar location, one where the children will be comfortable. It’s understandable when kids get scared and cry when having their photo taken at studios because there are huge lights and strange people in a scary place. Homes and backyards can make for wonderful locations, and it’s usually easier on the parents, too.

- Be their friend! When you arrive to take their photo, introduce yourself and let them know that they are special and important. Kids, for the most part, love attention and if they realize that you aren’t “just another grown-up” then they will probably be more willing to open up to you.

- Always have toys or other props available for the children to play with. Not only will it give them something to focus on, it also can add depth to the picture. (If the parents are okay with it, food usually works really well too … I’ve used sweets before in my photos and kids usually behave if they know it’s coming!) Some items I like to bring along with me are flowers, flags, and toys that kids can play with (like bubbles).

- Lastly, don’t forget to get down at their level to take photos. Sit on your rear, kneel, or even lay down on your belly during the session. Sometimes a different perspective will really add to the image, plus it makes the children feel more at ease and they are more likely to be themselves.

In my experience there are two basic types when it comes to children as photography subjects: those who know you and the camera exists, and those who are completely oblivious. Some children will be shy, some will be hyper, and some will be wonderfully behaved and cooperative. I have had great success photographing cooperative children, especially when I am trying to achieve something specific. On the flip side, I’ve also captured some amazing images when they wouldn’t listen to me at all! When you are photographing children to capture their true personality then it really doesn’t matter how they react to you or your camera. Photograph them being shy, crying, running around, or snuggled up against a parent trying to hide from you. Just let the children get comfortable and act naturally; some of the best images can happen when you aren’t expecting it.