Over the years, I photographed hundreds of children, and while my gear has changed over time, one element has remained constant: To take great pictures of kids, I have to show my inner child, be silly, fall over, become accepted by my subjects, and be constantly entertaining (especially with younger children).
One of the many techniques I use is to talk to my camera. Sounds strange, right? It is, that’s why it works. Having the camera fixed on a tripod, locked in, focused, radio triggered, I’m sitting next to it, looking at the kids, the radio trigger in my pocket, and I tell the kids: “so, I count to 3, and then we’ll take a picture“… “1, 2, 3...” nothing happens. I turn to the camera, with a big pointy “telling off” finger: “You didn’t listen! I said on 3“. I turn to the kids, smile, and say “ok, let’s try this again, 1, 2…” the camera fires, way too early. I turn to the camera … “really?“. The kids crack up. And so the story goes
The entire point of such techniques is to make the children comfortable, while getting the planned shots. I get images where the kids are looking interested and smart, right down the lens. Of course we also get the big laughs, and a couple of seconds after, the most gorgeous happy and natural faces. At no point (ever) will I ask any subject (of any age) to “smile” – so – I have to “make them” smile ;)
The image above is an example of how interested and happy even small children can be in such a photo shoot. In this picture, the 3-year olds laugh about me looking for my glasses (which of course are on my head already). Knowing that the kids will look at me in this moment, rather then the lens, I will ask my camera, if it has seen my glasses. Now the children look at the camera. I fire the camera. Result: the shot below.
As it happens when we laugh, the little girl has her eyes closed in this image, but just a second later, we got the “final image”, eyes open, while still having the most gorgeous (and natural) smile.
Long story short, if you plan to take pictures of children, you have 2 choices: Let them run wild, follow them, and if you’re lucky, you will get some great shots. In a set (studio) environment however, you have to find your personal ways how you can entertain the children. Just like your technical knowledge, the better you’re prepared, and the more ideas and techniques you have in your arsenal, the more likely you’ll capture those “wow” moments, which will last forever (and make parents very happy).
The best starting point: be a child yourself ;)
PS: If you’re not a clown at heart, you may want to consider still-life or landscape photography instead :)