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5 Tips for Taking Better Photos of Kids

My absolute favorite subjects to photograph are my brother’s kids, ages 6, 4, and 3 (yes, three kids under the age of 6 during quarantine…not quite sure how Eddie and Kelly survive each day…). Whenever I’m around them, I have my camera in hand. It’s not because I have to take photos of them. Rather, it’s because I want to. I love freezing their innocence in an image. I love capturing their normal, everyday life. I love being able to look back on photos from a month ago, a season ago, or a year ago, and marvel at how much they’ve changed. 

Since most of us are only around family during this wild time of life, here are some tips on how to take better photos of kids:

1. Get on their level

This may seem basic, but you’d be surprised the number of times an adult takes an image of a child and simply points the camera down at the kid. It creates a vantage point that doesn’t result in an interesting composition. Something as basic as bending your knees and getting down to their level, whatever height that might be, is the defining difference between a good photo and a bad photo. I honestly feel like I’ve done 100 squats when I’m done with a family session because of the number of times I’m going up and down to get the best angle of the kids.

Squat down to the get on the two-year-old’s level!

2. Be patient

Some kids need time to warm up to a camera being around (aka the super shy ones). Some kids need time to forget a camera is around (aka the super silly ones). Some kids fall in between those two extremes. Either way, be patient. The best images are the ones where the child acts naturally and doesn’t notice the camera is even there. This may happen organically as it does with my niece and nephew because they’re so used to having my camera in their space, and sometimes you need to let them forget you are attempting to capture their photograph. This can take time, but it will be worth it in the end – trust me.

When I’m doing a session at a family’s home, I love just sitting on the floor and chatting with the kids when I first arrive. While little Ella here had her photo taken by me before, she was still a bit shy to start. It’s a good “warm-up” and these shots capture her in her playroom, which freeze so many memories of her two-year old time, especially her adorable cardboard home!
This gorgeous portrait is definitely the result of Ella having the opportunity to warm up to having me + my camera around

3. Don’t pose them

The best images are when you catch a kid doing what they love to do. Whether it’s playing in the sandbox, swinging on the swings, or running down a hill. Kids are rarely standing still, so don’t tell them to stand and smile for the camera. That’s not natural to them, and it will translate into an awkward, forced image. If you don’t want any unphotogenic toys in your shot, one of my favorite tricks is to use bubbles. Without fail, kids love chasing bubbles, and their smiles when they catch or pop a bubble are some of the most authentic, ever. Bubbles don’t detract from the image like a brightly colored, branded toy does, so it’s a win/win.

Don’t stress about their outfits being picture-perfect. You’ll want to remember the baseball hat they never took off and the mud boots they always reached for when you look back on these photos years from now.
I put leaves in the same category as bubbles. They will always elicit smiles.
What kid isn’t going to smile while in a big pile of leaves?!

4. Don’t simply tell them “to smile”

Similar to #3, when you tell a kid to smile, you often get a really forced, rigid facial expression that isn’t exactly what you’re going for. I do my best to elicit giggles in kids. When they’re laughing, their smiles are the most natural. If you need to, have them make a funny face at someone else. Be ready to hit the shutter button when they stop making their funny face because it’s often a really photogenic expression. Strive for a genuine smile rather than a “cheese” smile.

With babies or very early toddlers, the best way to get them to giggle is by moving them around. This superman movement is one of my favorites and is a sure fire way to get everyone smiling authentically.
Wyatt wasn’t too keen on having his photo taken, so I tricked him. Instead of focusing on photos, I told him we were going to play a game, and I wanted him to hide behind a tree and scare his brother. While the three images on the left still went in the final gallery, I’m sure the one his parents enjoy most was his smile on the right.

5. Get outside!

Your image will be infinitely better in natural light. If it’s sunny, try to find some open shade (i.e. when the child is in the shade but can still see the sky) or position the sun behind them so there’s even light on their faces. The most ideal time of day to snap photos outside is either first thing in the morning or just before the sunsets. These are the golden hours because the light is soft and evenly lit. I’m going to do an upcoming post entirely dedicated to light because it can make or break an image.

While shooting at sunset can often be challenging, if there’s any cloud cover, it can create magically lit images like this one! This is also an example of Patrick not even realizing the camera was there because he caught a fish, and that’s all that mattered, duh.
If the sun is shining, try to have the kids face their shadow. Play a game and ask them to catch their shadow, and you’re then guaranteed even light on their face, which is the most important part.
When all else fails, let them dress up in their Halloween costume…

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