5 Tips for Photographing Kids & Keeping Your Sanity

I've been taking a lot of photos of kids...babies and toddlers most recently. A camera is an intimidating thing for most kids over 2 years, it's an unfamiliar object attached to an unfamiliar person and it's in their face for an hour. While it's fun photographing cute people, it's also challenging when they have their own ideas...which usually involves running around, messing with props and not looking where and when I ask. So now, when I prepare for a shoot, I tailor it to the child, their personality, and I involve them in the wardrobe decisions. I pick a general look & feel for the shoot, location, props, wardrobe, and then let the kids fill in the details.

The kids I photograph are not professional models...but they really enjoy deciding what to wear and which props to use. (Babies are a different story...they are a bit easier to photograph before they become mobile. I'll share my tips on photographing infants in another post.) So, here are my go-to tips on making it fun and stress-free for the kids, parents and photographer:

1. Keep it short

Timing is key. Kids will get tired, get bored and lose interest in under an hour. I aim to make all my photo shoots last 45 minutes. This is a big challenge when there are multiple locations, multiple wardrobe changes, and lots of play time in between. You need to come prepared with a mental picture of what photos/poses/looks you want to capture, and be realistic in how many you can manage to pull off in under an hour.

My goal for a 45 minute photo session is a minimum of 2 "looks" and a maximum of 4 "looks". I usually end up with 3 good shots per look.

If you are photographing multiple kids at the same time (e.g. siblings), you may want to set your goal slightly lower. This is because kids can get distracted by each other, and if they are siblings may compete on who got the best pose. If the kids don't know each other, then you may waste time during a shoot breaking the ice and coaxing a shy kid out of their shell.

2. Unleash your imagination

Kids who are shy are a challenge to photograph when they don't know you. Still, you can score a lot of points with kids, shy or outgoing, if you make a photo shoot fun. Tell them stories of an adventure...play pretend, make silly faces and noises. Make up a game and play it while you photograph. If all else fails...bring snacks!

This, in my opinion, is where the photographer's creativity really shines through. Like any photographer who photographs people, it's about connecting with your subject. When you make the connection, that's the point at which you can begin capturing those elusive "candid" moments, or as Henri Cartier-Bresson called them, the decisive moment. 

The way I measure my own success, is by the number and quality of images that approach "the decisive moment". Candid shots are my favorite...especially with kids. That's the moment their joy, innocence and purity shines through. It's priceless.

3. Let go of expectations

Working with kids is fun, full of surprises and unexpected moments. I let myself be surprised with what the kids do on set, and I just roll with it. If you're a perfectionist, or obsessive over details, you will find it challenging when kids don't respond to your requests to turn a certain way or "look natural", or turn 3/4 to the camera...and they almost never do! 

Here's a great example of photographing kids being kids: This series was captured by the talented Kate Parker, and I find it so inspiring because I just picture this mom being in the moment and letting the kids act naturally in their natural environment.

Not only are kids an unpredictable subject, but also, the location of the shoot may be full of unanticipated nuances (e.g. shooting outdoors in iffy weather). Take this photo for example..what you don't see is that their is a whole construction crew just out of the frame, a few inches away.

Be ready to improvise. Let yourself go with the flow.

4. Let them be "in charge"

It's best if you can manage to get to know your child subject prior to photographing them. Once you know more about who they are and what they like, you can find opportunities for them to take charge. Some kids love to choose their outfits, others love to choose their poses...and still others just prefer to play and ignore you! 

After I snap a few photos, I call the child over and show them the photos on the back of the camera. Then we talk about which ones they like the best, and what other pictures we should take. This back and forth is really encouraging and it opens up the child to the camera.

In this example, my subject told me she was hungry and wanted to eat the graham cracker. I told her I was just going to do a few practice shots while she ate...turns out, this is one of my favorite photos from that day!

5. Let other people photograph your children

I can't seem to follow my own advice when it comes to photographing my own kids. I hear myself saying things like, "will you please sit still?"...or "stop moving around!" None of my commands seem to get through, I end up in a bad mood. If you're like me, let your photographically-skilled friends or professional family photographers take the pressure off and capture your kids in their own beautiful decisive moment.

Here are some of my favorite photographers based in New York City:

Laura Farr
Kevin McGrath 
Jocelyn Voo

Looking to get more tips on photographing children? Follow the links below:

7 tips from the Digital Photography School

Tips from the Shutterfly Blog

Advice from DIY Photography

Now, it's your turn to share your advice and tips on photographing children. What has worked for you and what challenges do you still face?


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