1) Be their friend before turning into a photographer
Children won’t pose for you unless you become a friend with them first. If they come into your studio and the first thing you do is “say cheese” and point your DSLR straight at their faces, they will likely to run away or you will get an un-natural shot of the children.
Remember each child is not here for the photoshoot (it’s the parents who wants the shot), the child just wants to play so you have to play along with them in order to get the best shots.
So the first thing you should do is put your camera out of sight. You can simply put it behind you or just place it somewhere near the toys where the child is going to get there at some point.
The ideal situation would be first giving the children some toys to play with so they get situated in the environment. After that start talking to the parents and mingle with the child. Once you feel the child is starting to have fun then you can start taking pictures when they don’t notice.
2) Never say cheese
At least two things went wrong when you say ‘cheese’ to children. First, depending how old they are they may not understand what you are talking. And secondly, they won’t smile any better when you say this word so you are better off waiting for the natural smile to occur.
So what should you do if you need to make them smile or laugh?
You can tickle them, ask the parents to make some funny faces, and most importantly, YOU make some funny noises so you can get the shot when they are looking at you. Doing this makes the smile more predictable and you can plan your shots just in time for the smile to happen.
3) Use 1/focal length x 2
I mentioned this before in my free ebook and a few other posts. However, the 1/focal length rule doesn’t work unless you double it for children photography.
If you are confused what I meant by 1/focal length, essentially you want to set your shutter speed to be 1 over the focal length you are using to take the shots. So if you are using a 50mm lens your shutter speed should be at least 1/50 second. This generally can eliminate photo blur from camera movements. Similarly, if you are shooting at 100mm the shutter speed should be 1/100 second.
However, to shoot better children photography I highly suggest you to double the shutter speed. Since children move around so much so quickly use 1/focal length x 2. Which means if you are using a 50mm lens use 1/100 of shutter speed to ensure no motion is captured in the photograph.
4) Use macro lens to get close headshots
This is uncommon and more for a personal taste. A macro lens is great to do headshots for children photography. It let you get up close to the child so the whole head fill the frame of the photo.
Since you are likely to be very close to your subject with a macro lens, if you do a headshot often times part of the face is blurry. This is ok and make your photo more artistic. So try it out!
5) Pay attention to the background
If you are shooting outdoor, you must be very careful at choosing the right background for your subjects. Try to match the background color with the clothes the children are wearing. Also look into the props to see if everything matches. Most importantly, look out of environment objects such as trees, branches, leaves, buildings that may potentially ruin your shots.
If you look at the picture below, you’d see a tree sticking out of the child’s head. Which is not as good of a photo as it should be. So make sure you watch out the surroundings when you go out and take picture of children next time.
6) Find shades in outdoor shots
Also for outdoor photoshoot, you have to choose a spot wisely to avoid harsh light. If the sun is bright find a shade but make sure the lights falls on the children are even (unless you do it for artistic reason).
Do not let the children just stand in the middle of park under bright sunlight. If there is absolutely nothing you can do and you cannot find shades, at least face the child away from the sun. The front of the child is almost certainly going to be underexposed and you should pull out your external flash to add some fill light to the child.
7) Use natural light to your advantage
You want to avoid using flash as much as possible with children. Even though I mentioned using flash above but that’s an exception when you have no choice. Generally you want to use natural light for children photography and you would want to do it wisely. The easiest and most efficient is to turn the child in 45 degree angle towards the sun. Doing this allow your subject to have shadows and add dimensions in the photograph. If you want more tips on natural light photography, you can read my post here.
8) Use different aperture
In a series of similar shots, try to use different aperture to get a variety of depth of field on your subject. I can’t tell you how many times I shot the same picture using f2.8 all the way to f8. Then, when I upload the pictures to my computer I found out all the f2.8 pictures were blurry except everything from f4 or above. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
9) Do this in the morning
Very similar to newborn photography, it is the best to do the photoshoot in the morning after the children had a good breakfast. They are less grumpy at that time and more awake (since they woke up not long ago and not hungry). You absolutely can get much better shots like this than in the afternoon. So don’t wait till the afternoon because it could be their nap times and this could totally ruin your photoshoot.
Also, if you are doing on location photoshoot, find a park with easy access to bathrooms and even a snack area. This is a big tip I learn from another photographer!
10) The children’s parents are very important
Do not neglect the power of what parents could do to the child when taking photos. The child is going to likely trust their parents more than you (even if you become friends with the child, that is still less than a day!)
So if you want the child to do a pose and you really had no more idea, get the parents to tell the children to do it for you. In fact, you should always have the parents nearby to help you out in difficult situations.
So there you go with my post of how to shoot better children photography. As always, let me know if you have any photography questions and I’m more than happy to help you out. Happy shooting photographers!