Working with Children

A strange mix of adult human and small pet. They can be cute, charming sweet and adorable. Or they can howl and bite you every time you get within reach. Children are one of the most sellable subjects to photograph while simultaneously being one of the most frustrating subjects to work with. So how do you get a good portrait of a child? Here's how I do it.

First determine the approximate age of the child. The abilities and attention span of a child can vary greatly from one age to another. Once you know the age you can set up scenarios for the child. Forget everything you learned about this hand goes there and curl your fingers, tilt your chin. A child is not a short adult - and you will just bore them with directions.

Instead give them an object to interact with. Don't be afraid to tell them a story and let them act it out. In the case of this image.

I gave the girl in black the apple and she gave it to the other child. Since they were familiar with the story of Snow White it was not hard for them to act through it resulting a cute shot of a worried child.

Younger children are easily distracted so you need to be on the ball. But again give them something to do.

(Note: The image that goes here is from a portrait session and not available on DT. For whatever reason the system will not let me link to the image posted elsewhere. Once I figure out how to correct this I will edit the post)

This young 3 year old would rather be anywhere else then in my studio with his "nice" clothes on. So we shot his sister first, then he got curious. When he was interested I asked if wanted to give his sister a kiss. I watched his reaction. Mom took the cue and encouraged him. I was ready when he finally took the plunge resulting in a precious image of affection.

One thing that people tend to get wrapped up in is that they want the kids to smile. This is fine except that most kids do the cheesey ear to ear grin that scrunches up their face and makes them look demented.

There are several ways to combat the demented child smile. Many photographers attempt this by being over the top silly. With some children this will work. With others is causes complete fits of laughter that end up with the child rolling on the floor. Not really productive when you want a portrait.

I tend to let the child make an assortment of silly faces to "warm up". This is done through a mimicking type game.

Once we have a few in a row I change to a gentler expression and the child continues to mimic me. Resulting in a much nicer image.

The reason the game works is because you shoot every expression. You know it is highly unlikely that Mom will be purchasing the image of the child with his tongue out but the child doesn't know that. To the child you have just made the most boring thing of this day a little more fun.

Repost from my personal blog.

Photo credits: Nancy Catherine Walker.

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August 08, 2009


Thanks! Children are my favorite models, too. I love their spontaneity and bursts and if captured by the camera... you will see natural wonders...

August 06, 2009


That is nice, thanks ;)

August 06, 2009


Awesome article! Very helpful tips! Thank you for sharing.

August 06, 2009


Great article! Thank you for sharing :0)

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