Tips for Photographing Kids

Many people have had to postpone or cancel their spring portrait and mini sessions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fresh spring pictures!  So since a lot of folks are quarantined at home with their kiddos, I thought it would be fun to put together 15 tips (including 4 bonus tips) for taking your own portraits like a pro!  Have some fun with it and send me your results – I’d love to see!

Before we get into the tips, PUT AWAY your iPhone!  By now, most people have an SLR camera so pull that thing out, blow the dust off of it, and let’s have some fun!

 

1)  STEP AWAY FROM THE BACKGROUND

That lovely soft-focus background, called “bokeh,” always makes an image look more professional, right?!  Find a background that is far away, and it will be softer.  Don’t sit your kids up against a stone wall or it will be just as in focus as they are!

**Learning to shoot manually and using a wide aperture also plays a significant role in creating that bokeh effect, but that lesson will be for another day!

2) GET DOWN TO THEIR LEVEL

You’re always looking down at your kids and while that can be great for a close up of those beautiful eyes looking up at you, images taken at their level will be more natural looking.  To get a more unique perspective, you could try shooting up at them by placing them on a higher level or getting down below them.  Don’t be afraid to try different angles!

If you want to get even more creative, try shooting through a tree branch, flowers, or a doorway to create a natural frame and add depth to the image!

**When photographing toddlers, crouch down instead of sitting so that you’re ready to run after them or change your angle in a split second!

3) KEEP IT MOVING

Nothing makes a portrait stale faster than keeping your subject frozen in place! I often ask my families to run, spin around in circles, turn their kids upside down, or throw them up in the air. I’ll encourage a toddler to chase me, and then I’ll run backwards to take the shot while he’s still grinning. I’ll also ask the kids to show me their best dance moves.  For older kids, I’ll ask them to tell me their favorite idea for a photo.

4) TAKE WAY MORE PHOTOS THAN YOU NEED

Come on, we live in 2020! Unless you’re shooting with film, there is no reason to feel bad about taking lots of images.

Kids move FAST and sometimes the cutest moments happen in a split second. I take at least 4-5 versions of the same photo (one immediately after the other) so that I’m positive that I have a shot that’s perfectly in focus and their eyes are open.

5) WHATEVER YOU DO, DON’T SAY CHEESE

One thing I love about kids is that they don’t fake their emotions. If they’re unhappy, it will show. If they’re having a great time, their smiles will shine through! That means that you can’t ask for smiles — you have to earn them by PLAYING instead of POSING. Tickles, snuggles, peekaboo, and ridiculously goofy faces are all part of getting those natural smiles.  Hide behind a tree or invent a new game!

6) SWAP ROLES

Kids love it when I teach them how to take pictures with my “big girl camera” and it keeps them interested! It’s exciting to them to have such a grown-up toy to play with, and they can immediately see the images on the back of the camera. This also works as a great bribe — “You take two more pictures and then I get to take two pictures of you!”

7) TURN OFF YOUR FLASH!!!!

This is the fastest, easiest quick fix — all you have to do is turn that thing off! Your built-in flash will usually give you harsh, unflattering light and you should never use it unless that’s your only option.

8)  FIND THE BEST LIGHT

Search for soft, natural light! You don’t necessarily have to go outdoors to find it, either. Window light is some of my favorite because it’s soft and universally flattering. To start, ask your child to stand so that they’re facing the window, and then put your own back to the window. The window light will make their eyes twinkle even on a cloudy day!

Once you’ve mastered direct window light, try photographing them at a 45-degree angle instead of straight on to add a little more dimension to your image. Walk around them and watch how the light falls on them.  This is a great way to find beautiful light!

When using window light, TURN ALL INDOOR LIGHTS OFF! Artificial lighting, especially overhead lamps, will usually cast an orange/yellow glow on skin. It can also create under-eye shadows.

Backlighting (putting the window or sun directly behind the subject) is one of my favorite techniques! Make sure to bump up your exposure (translation: brighten your image) so that your child’s face can be seen. I love backlighting outdoors!

9) EMBRACE GOLDEN HOUR

If you’re photographing outdoors, the most ideal times of day are early morning and evening – one hour after the sun comes up and one hour before the sun goes down (this is what we call “golden hour”)!  However, if your only option is to shoot mid-day then look for shade and position the kiddos on the edge where it is still bright, but there is no light overhead causing harsh shadows on their faces.  Try under a tree, on a covered porch, or sitting in an open doorway.

10) FOLLOW THEIR LEAD

Placing a child where you want them to stand and asking them to smile nicely rarely works. Let them roam, explore their surroundings and any props that might be around. There will be plenty of natural smiles and beautiful expressions along the way—it’s your job to catch those moments, not force them.

11) DON’T HIDE BEHIND THE CAMERA

Genuine expressions are a result of human connection. If your child is staring at a giant black box, you might not have much luck! Try setting up your shot first, then peek your head out from behind the camera as you click away.

12)  BE SNEAKY

There are times when you don’t need to let the child know you’re taking photos. Observe and pick a moment when they are completely engaged in an activity and start snapping away. Candid portraits often produces the most beautiful images (with both children and adults), because the subject is relaxed and not trying to pose or look a certain way.

13)  VARY YOUR SHOTS

If you’ve taken a lot of full-body shots, move in a little closer and focus on their hands, feet, and sweet faces. Even photos where your subject isn’t facing the camera can show a lot of personality and body language. Move around with them and get a great variety of photos.

14)  GET IN CLOSE

Move in and capture the details of their expression and those cute little faces. This way you don’t have to worry about a cluttered background taking away from that sweet face!

If you have more than one child, get them CLOSE and CONNECTED!  Get them to play games with each other or pile up.  Kids love this and keeps them engaged and happy!

15) FLEXIBILITY AND A SENSE OF HUMOR = EVERYTHING

You know what I mean if you’ve ever tried to set up a Pinterest worthy photo and then failed miserably. Kids do things on their own terms, and it’s better to follow them into a great photo opportunity rather than force them to do something they don’t want to do. Let go of perfection and embrace the unique quirks that make your child amazing. Yes, even those pouty toddler faces!

BONUS TIPS!

* Get the kids involved in the wardrobe and location selection! Make it a fun family project so they are excited to participate instead of doing it because mom said it’s time for pictures.

* PLAN YOUR WARDROBE! The colors you select will make all the difference, including the setting you choose.  Choose simple clothing with limited to no patterns.  Muted colors work best and draws the attention to the face.

* If your children are very little, find something for them to get in or on! Try a basket, wagon, or little chair.  Please be safe about it! Also consider giving them something to hold that you don’t mind having in the picture.  A cute toy or stuffed animal works and will keep them distracted long enough for you to get a picture.

* Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to SAVE AND BACKUP YOUR IMAGES! Your computer and memory cards won’t last forever, so make sure and save your images by either using a type of cloud storage or on an external hard drive!

 

I hope these tips help you capture images that you love!!! Please send me what you come up with — I’d love to see (broadriverphoto@gmail.com)!

XOXO,

  1. Raye Hedden says:

    Ashley, you are an amazing photographer and such a sweet person! Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing these wonderful tips for photographing children.

    • Ashley Koch says:

      Raye, your kind words have made my entire week! I am so blessed to work with so many incredible people and I hope this post will brighten someone’s day! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and for commenting! You’re the best!!

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Hey there!  I'm Ashley!

I'm a small-town, North Carolina wedding photographer, and a full-time spaghetti enthusiast! If I'm not behind my camera or computer, you'll be able to find me at the barn with my horses or in the garden - I'm pretty sure that I'm a wannabe plant lady at heart!

The blog is here to not only showcase weddings and portraits, but also to be a resource for clients and other photographers. You'll find session and photography tips, style guides, and so much more! If there's something specific you're interested in, shoot me a message - I'd love to hear all about it! 

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