Getting great photos of your children, whether for a birthday party, special event, or everyday occasion, can be a challenge. Kids rarely sit still and are prone to fake smiles—and once the moment appears it’s gone in a flash. How do the pros do it?
Child and baby photographer Shannon Echlin shares with us some tips for taking the perfect shot.
Be in the moment.
Kids can be moody and spontaneous. Some kids are very shy. Take a minute to see what is happening with each child before you attempt to photograph them. Every child and family has a different style and feel. I need to understand who the people are in front of me before I start taking photos.
One thing you need to be aware of at all times is light. This is the most important aspect of photography. If the sun is bright behind you, fill in the light with flash. If the sun is extremely bright you will get shadows in faces, it’s better to move into an area where the light is even (eg. under a tree). If you are indoors, make sure you are in a room with lots of windows. The best times for taking portraits is early in the morning and half an hour before the sun goes down.
Plan for action. (Or, how to keep kids still.)
Kids are constantly on the move and even professionals have a hard time getting a toddler to stay still. There are a few things that work…sometimes.
For crawlers, find something they can sit in, like old milk crates, wash basins, bathtubs, etc. If you are trying to do a portrait of siblings find something fun for them to sit on, like a log in the forest or tire swing. Holding hands can sometimes work. If it’s a child 3 and up you can engage them in storytelling or singing. The trick is to make them feel like they are doing something other than having their picture taken. If all else fails, move with them and capture them being silly.
Also, if you know you are going to be somewhere where there will be great photo opportunities, have your camera ready and set to the correct exposure. The automatic setting is great if you will be in different lighting situations.
Keep the composition simple.
Make sure there is nothing distracting in the background, people walking, garbage cans, etc. Find somewhere peaceful in your home or outdoors where that background would be nice without there even being a person in the photo.
Heed bad moods.
The biggest challenge in photographing children is bad moods. If your child is having a bad day or is very against having their photo taken my advice is: don’t push them. You don’t want them to associate having their photo taken with punishment. Wait until they are in a better mood and let them photograph you first if you have a camera your child can use. If they hate it early on you will always struggle with them.
Avoid the fake smile.
Another challenge is the fake smile. Never push your child to smile, wait until they are doing it naturally, tell them a joke before you take a shot or ask them to tell you one.
Look for natural moments.
This may sound funny but sometimes you will see a child doing something that looks beautiful, if they are older you can ask them to freeze or do something over again. You can also compose the shot in your head or use an example of a photo that you like. Then show the child how you want them to stand. Or again, be patient and wait for a natural moment and be ready.
Keep your options open.
I feel like every moment has the opportunity to be great as a wide or close-up shot. It’s really about your perspective on the moment. Everyone has their own unique style and ability to be creative. For example, when it’s cake time it’s nice to get a close up of the birthday boy or girl blowing out the candles but it’s also fun to go wide so you can see the excitement on all the other kids’ faces. Be aware of the possibilities and go with what you think would be the nicest in that moment.
Have fun with group shots.
For groups of kids, there are some fun things you can do. Everyone leaning against a wall if you have a nice wall, like a barn or something rustic. Everyone lying in the grass or on the floor on their belly, if there are smaller kids they can sit on top of the older ones. My favourite picture of me and my cousins as kids is one where we are all sitting on a giant rock with some of the older kids standing behind.
Know when to pull back from retouching or editing.
When I look back on my early work I would say my biggest mistake would be over-retouching. I remember a couple moms saying to me, “That is a really nice portrait but it doesn’t really look like my son/daughter.” You need to know when to pull back.