Taking Memorable Photos of Children
By Nancy Hill
Children are a favorite subject for many photographers. Advertisers know a photo of an adorable child will grab people’s attention. Fundraisers know an image of a sick, wounded, or sad child will bring in donations. And parents cannot imagine a better subject than their child. Parents take cameras to sporting events, school functions, and parties. It seems like every moment of a child’s life is documented either in a still photograph or in a video. But how many photos of children are truly memorable?
Here are some tips on getting shots that draw total strangers into your photographs of children.
Take Time to Get to Know the Child
Most children let you into their world quickly. Before you start taking a picture, spend at least 10 minutes talking to the child. Ask questions about things that interest the child. Good openers include:
“Do you like bugs?”
“Would you rather be a giraffe or a butterfly?”
“What’s your favorite game?
Pay attention to how the child responds. Does he/she make eye contact? Capture that confidence when you take his/her picture. Does the child laugh at the questions or seriously contemplate them? Look for that sense of whimsy or pensive side when you take the picture. Does the child doodle when he/she responds? Then look for ways to show the child is creative. Does the child twist her hair while she’s thinking? Great. Include that in a photo.
If you’re taking photos of your own child, you already know your child’s personality traits, his/her habits, his/her facial expressions. Capture those instead of (or in addition to) a posed in-front-of-the-camera smile.
Observe, Observe, Observe
After you talk to the child, explain you’re going to get your camera ready and back away. The child will soon lose interest in you, giving you a chance to observe the child relating to the world. Inquisitive? Intent? Distracted? Capture that in your images.
If you’re taking photos of your own child, try observing your child as if you don’t know him/her at all. You’ll probably see some things you haven’t noticed before.
Use a telephoto lens. The best photographs of children are those when a kid is acting like a kid. To capture that and all the emotions that go with it, you need to be an unobtrusive as possible. Use a telephoto lens so you can have some real distance between you and the child. This will help the child tune you out and do whatever he or she does best, whether it’s play, dream, run around, make up stories. Capture that.
Alternately, move in close to the child to capture a curve of the cheek, curls tumbling down a forehead, eyes deep in thought.
Show the Child’s Environment
Try to take your photographs in a place that means something to the child. A bedroom, playroom, playground, field – all of these say something about how the child relates to the world. Does the child run freely across the open field or sit quietly reading a book? Does the child see how high he or she can climb a tree or does he/she prefer to lean against it and pet his/her dog? Is the child’s room spotless, showing the child’s organizational bent, or is it a wild jumble of clothes and toys?
Look for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
Take photos of the child doing everyday things like eating breakfast, elbows on the table, hair not yet combed; sleeping, curled up with a favorite animals or spread eagle, blankets off, bold even in sleep; doing homework, scowling over a difficult problem or with one eye on the TV. These say a whole lot about who the child is, which is way more moving than a posed photo with perfectly combed hair and a brand new outfit.
Try Shooting in Black and White
This really adds drama. Check it out. You can have black and white prints made from color negatives. You can also turn digital prints into black and white either in your camera (depending on which camera you use) or in a photo software program.
Above all, respect the child’s world. It is complex, compelling, and very, very deep.