How to photograph children: 8 practical tips to help you get started

PhotographChildren26

Kids...they grow up so fast. And parents just want something precious to hold on to—a preserved moment of the innocence, silliness, and glory of youth.

01 carpio_photographchildren_caleb-woods

Photo by Caleb Woods

There are different styles of child photography. Some photographers specialize in classic studio portraiture where the intent is to create something beautiful, while others practice documentary photography where the intent is to create something truthful. Falling somewhere in the middle of the spectrum is lifestyle photography, which takes a more natural approach yet is still guided by art direction. Though different in look and feel, these approaches all seek to capture a single moment in time for our future selves to look back on, hoping to find both beauty and truth.

02 carpio_photographchildren_max-goncharov

Photo by Max Goncharov

The advice offered here touches upon the different genres with practical, child-related tips to get you started, as well as general photography suggestions to help you find your style.

01. Set up in advance

03 carpio_photographchildren_koichi-nakajima

Photo by Koichi Nakajima

Children can be unpredictable, so try to have everything in place before your child photography session. This includes all the lighting, backdrops, and props you will be using. Plan out the wardrobe if you are going for a particular look or theme. If the kids are coming in their own clothes, coordinate with the parents and keep the clothing simple, classic, and preferably with no loud branding.

02. Have a shot list in your head

Sometimes you’re not just shooting one kid, you’re shooting the whole family. The more members there are, the more group combinations there will be, and you’ll need to keep track of your progress.

04 carpio_photographchildren_laercio-cavalcanti

Photo by Laercio Cavalcanti

In the case of child photography, the client will usually expect you to get certain shots, such as the family group shot, solos, one with dad, one with mom, one of dad and mom. The order you follow can change, of course, as you go with the flow during a shoot.

03. Be playful and engage your subjects

You need to have a playful personality to get the best out of children during a shoot. Playing games, talking about popular toys and shows, singing songs, and simply doing silly things with them will help make your session a lot easier. 

05 carpio_photographchildren_aaron-mello

Photo by Aaron Mello

But while you should be able to relate well with children, that doesn’t mean you have to do everything on their own, particularly with very young children. Consider having an assistant right next to your camera to help make children look toward the right direction.

06 carpio_photographchildren_eye-for-ebony

Photo by Eye for Ebony

04. Have a lot of patience

Having professional portraits taken are, 99% of the time, the parents’ idea, so you can expect some of your young subjects to show up reluctant, reserved, or just not in the mood.

07 carpio_photographchildren_caleb-woods

Photo by Caleb Woods

If this happens, consider taking more simply photos—like parents holding their children or soothing them—and rescheduling the shoot when children are older or in a better mood.  

08 carpio_photographchildren_hermes-rivera

Photo by Hermes Rivera

05. Put safety first

It’s great if the kids are letting their hair down and expressing genuine joy, but you’ll also need to keep them from running all over the place, so they don’t trip over equipment or wires, or do anything that might get themselves hurt.

09 carpio_photographchildren_seabass-creatives

Photo by Seabass Creatives

Handling infants is a different matter altogether, and newborn photographers should be trained in newborn safety posing. A wrong pose can injure a baby, break a bone, or lead to asphyxiation.

10 carpio_photographchildren_chi-n-ph-m

Photo by Chiến Phạm

06. Focus on the eyes

People are naturally drawn to the eyes in a photograph, so, as a rule, they should always be tack-sharp focal points. Visually, your subjects' eyes appear even more striking when they catch and reflect back light.

11 carpio_photographchildren_michael-mims

Photo by Michael Mims

07. Go toward the light

When using natural light, you can’t always harness the evocative magic of golden hour, so knowing how to make the most of less-than-ideal lighting situations can transform some potentially bad pictures into incredible ones.

12 carpio_photographchildren_timo-stern

Photo by Timo Stern

Try using light filtering in from windows to create moody, heavily contrasted side-lit photos, or even hard light from the midday sun to form interesting geometric shadows, adding a graphic element to photographs.

13 carpio_photographchildren_chinh-le-duc

Photo by Chinh Le Duc

08. Practice with your own kids

There’s nobody better to practice on than your own kids if you have them, but some photographers simply want to document their own family’s daily life. Photographing your own family, your subjects will be more comfortable, and you'll be able to keep your photos as raw and unfiltered as possible. 

14 carpio_photographchildren_caroline-hernandez

Photo by Caroline Hernandez

Many factors come into play when photographing children—from setting up to finding your style. Ultimately, the most important things to remember are to keep them safe and happy during the session, and you’ll see everything else should fall into place.

Your secret weapon for stunning design