The ABC's of Children's Portrait Photography

in Portraiture and Fashion
By deleted224040/deleted (30,020) Send mail to this user on April 8, 2008 6:58:18 PM CDT

Most of us have at sometime in our lives had to photograph children. After all, there is no shortage of children around us. Everyone on this planet started off as a child and there will always be children around. The interesting thing about children is that while we were all children at one point in our lives, we often forget what it was to be a child and what things we felt and did when we were children. Sometimes, just being around kids, is what it takes for us to remember that special time in our lives. This article will examine 26 points about photographing children. When I write children, I mean from birth to the teen years. And to some degree, this article could be geared towards adults in some measure, yet it will be specific to children. I have photographed children almost everyday for the past 8 years. Therefore, through experience, I can speak about things I've learned through dealing with them so often. There are certain traits that run through all kids, no matter how different and individualistic they are. I myself am a new parent and have learned even more of this truth from just having a child myself. My son is the love of my life and gives me so many joys that it helps me to understand the love that parents have for their children when they bring their kids to me in my studio. I want to give them a portrait of their child that they will cherish forever. I want them to have something so special of the little person they bring to me, that in some way, in a very small measure, fits the emotional love they have towards that young person.

I often hear people say that if they had a house fire, among the very few things they would try to save, would be their photos and portraits. Why is that? It's because portraits mean that much to people. If there is a way that you can convey someone's true personality through a portrait in a creative way that is not only artistically excellent but technically perfect and also emotionally strong, you WILL have a satisfied customer. Why do you think it is that sometimes, people will spend even thousands of dollars on portraits of themselves and loved ones? Because they love their families and if the portrait is well done, they want that split second capture of time to display on their wall or on their coffee tables. This article is entitled "The ABC's of taking portraits of children." It will take every letter through the alphabet and list a topic that pertains to child photography. Obviviously this is not an exhaustive list. But it does give a well rounded introduction and information about the art of photographing children. It will also explore the emotional and behavioral mannerisms of children. Basically this is child photography 101. Hope you enjoy and learn something valuable.

1. Attention Span - People are often surprised to find out that often our children's sessions only last ten minutes. In fact, often times the parents will explain that they brought their children to another photographer and the photographer tried for over an hour to get their child to smile and to no avail. Well, the truth is, that if you don't get them to smile in the first 5 minutes and capture that expression, it's probably gone for good. The idea is to be prepared, make the proper allowances, give the child your undivided attention and then go to work. When it is time to get the child to perform you will be able to get the smile from the child, capture it from them and the parents will be thrilled. But if when the child is sitting in front of you, you are messing with lights and camera settings and metering, etc. you are wasting precious time. The older a child is, often times, the longer their attention span is but still it won't be for very long. But when you are dealing with a toddler, you've only got a matter of five minutes and you have to be "ON". You have to be entertaining and engaging. If you expect to get a child to smile with "say cheese", you probably won't fair very well. Some children smile really great when you get them to say cheese but most don't. The idea is to make photographing them a game that is exciting and one that engages their delights. If they have a good time then of course they will smile. But you have to get them during the time that their attention span is yours. Sometimes, you can take a break and come back to them. That is one way to continue the session once you've lost them, but don't count on it. Often times, once it's gone, it's gone. So make every second count!

2. Bright Colors - Kids love colors. I remember once when I was in elementry school, we visited our local high school. I believe we were taking some sort of test or perhaps we were on a field trip. We sat quietly in a class room made of cinder blocks and painted in dull grey. I had an overwhelming depressing feeling. I thought to myself, "Is this what high school will be like?" You see in my second grade class, our room was painted bright yellow, with bright colors and shapes on the walls. They helped me be excited and stimulated while I sat in my second grade classroom. We had educational cartoon drawings on the wall, colored in bright reds and blues and greens and a combination of those colors. My mind went wild with imagination. I love color. I loved it even then. I remember loving to color some afternoons all afternoon until it was time for me to go to bed for the night. Anyway, my point of this story is that children love colors and are stimulated positively by bright colors. It will brighten their mood and will excite them. So my suggestion to you is to have a colorful studio where you photograph children. Make it a wonderful place that they will love to visit. Make it inviting for them. It may even have a positive effect emotionally on yourself. Also use bright colors in childrens portraits where it fits and is appropriate. Black and white portraits are popular and exciting but bright colors can evoke happy excited emotions in a portrait. If you have an excited child beaming with joy and the colors are dull grey, browns, and dull greens, the color will be in objection to the mood expressed by the child's emotions. If on the other hand, the background is bright yellow or red or orange, and they are wearing white and they are holding a bright colored prop for example, and on top of all that the expression is happy, the photograph will cohesively match itself in all apsects. Think of a bright colored photo with a colorful background, colorful clothes and a sad face. How contrary! When creating a portrait, all aspects must match. Color must even be thought about when thinking through the emotional aspects of an image. So use bright colors on kids, whenever possible!

3. Carefulness and caution when dealing with other people's children - If you go into business for yourself and you photograph children well, you will have parents bring their children to you. This may range from infant to senior portraits. There is a certain way that you should deal with each child. Depending on their age, you must handle each differently. In this day and age, many people are sue happy. You must be very professional in all respects as not to bring your conduct and integrity into question. There are certain things, that while innocent you should or should not do. Also there are things you should and should not say. There should be no room for question in your character. You also don't want to treat people's children in ways that they would interpret as in appropriate in anyway. First and most importantly, you don't want to be in the least way sexually inappropriate. For example, if you want to photograph a child nude, even if they are only one year old, it is smart to ask the parent. You never know what the parent may find tasteful or immoral. You need to be careful with the way you touch a child as well. Make sure that when holding or touching a child you do it in the most innocent way possible. If you want a girl to move her legs, it's probably best not to move them for her, but simply explain what it is that you want them to do. If there is a necklace in the cleavage of a young girl that is off center or a bra strap that needs to be adjusted, better it is to ask mom to fix it, rather than you make her feel uncomfortable or make her mother and father feel uncomfortable. Also be cautious using certain vocabulary. For example if you want to put a younger sibling in between someones legs, you may use the phrase, spread your feet so we can seat Billy in front of you, rather than saying, "Sweetie, would you spread your legs please?" See how that sounds bad, even if you mean it in the most beneign way possible? I have had instances where I was going to pose a young girl a certain way just to have the mother come to me and tell me that she didn't feel comfortable with her daughter doing this or that. She was saying she thought the pose was too mature for her young daughter. You have to be sensitive to that and make sure you don't offend your customers. The other thing you must be able to do is be sensitive to your customers even when they don't say a word to you. If you are posing someone or having them say something and you see the parents are getting uncomfortable, by their body language you can usually tell, then use some common sense and do something else. There are many more common sense tips, I could give you, but the bottom line is to behave in a manner at all times around your customer that is professional, tactful and in a way that you would want your ownself and your child treated if you ever went somewhere to get your portraits taken. The truth of the matter is, you should be careful to not even make your customer feel the least bit uneasy about doing business with you. They should trust you and enjoy your services wholly and completely. So in all respects be very careful with client's children.

4. Details - In portrait photography, an important aspect of the overall portrait is the small details. This is what makes the differance between a snapshot and a portrait; the differance between a simple picture and fine portraiture that the client would consider a work of art. The word snapshot originates from hunting terminology where the hunter quickly without aiming throws up his gun and fires off a shot in hopes to hit the prey before it gets away. If he hits the animal, which isn't likely, then he is very fortunate considering his chances of hitting the animal was small. The same can be said in portraiture, if you don't think about the details and getting everything right, then it is just a snapshot; a picture taken with a camera without putting much thought into. Therefore, you won't hit your target which is a fine portrait. It will be a less than perfect shot which will not be composed as good as possible. The idea of watching details even carries over to the area of children's photography. The idea that just because children are small and move a lot and that you can't watch every small detail is a mistake. Though young children do move a lot and are hard to pose, you can still watch neatness of hair, neatness of clothing and jewelry if they are wearing it. You can also accomplish this by composition within the frame of the camera viewfinder and the use of shallow depth of focus or other uses of the camera controls and the use of lighting and the extraction of lighting to hide unwanted details. The more organized and neater a photograph is composed and arranged, the better it looks and the closer to fine portraiture it becomes. The more professional it will appear.

5. Expression - One of the most important aspects, if not the most important aspect in parent's minds about their child's portrait is their childs expression. Most parents want ear to ear grinning where the tonsils are showing. While this is the norm and often more prefered of parents, other expressions are nice to get and sometimes can be much more pleasing and realistic of the individual child. While most parents do want to see their children smiling in their portraits, the reality, is that every child is different with different tempraments. A good example of this is, the other day, I photographed a one year old boy who was very sober and serious. He did not think any of my antics were funny. He did not even smirk, when most other kids would be dying laughing. The truth is he's wired differently from his sister and brother who laughed very hard at everything I did to get them to laugh. There are different ways to extract an appropriate expression from your subject. This often depends on their age. One other example before I proceed to explain ways to get the expression is, I once photographed a pair of nine month old twins. One of the brothers was very very very happy. He giggled and laughed just by looking at him and smiling. The other brother was serious. He would just look at me with a serious expression on his face. He wouldn't budge. He wouldn't break. He was the exact opposite of his twin brother. He wasn't a teenager or adult. He was a nine month old boy. We are all different, and the purpose of a portrait is to show the true personality of the individual being photographed. So why should we be disappointed when a serious, sober, quiet person doesn't smile for their portrait? We shouldn't. We should try to express the seriousness of the subject in the most flattering way possible. The following will be ideas on working with children of different ages.

Working with children of any age can be fun and rewarding. There is exciting and lovable things about each age level.

Newborn to 2 months old - Don't expect a smile. Not a big one anyway. You can use a soft tissue or feather duster to touch their cheek. You may if you are fortunate get a small soft smile or smirk. If so, you're gold! Also, eye contact is ideal at this age, but even a portrait of a sleeping child can be endearing and adorable. Also, don't worry about getting in close to the babies face, a full length or half or three quarters portrait would be fine.

Babies 3-5 months old - This age they become more responsive. They are looking to play and be stimulated. You can use a feather duster gently on their face or play peak-a-boo or make silly sounds like gitchy gitchy goo. These things will get their attention and ussualy get a smile. But if they are serious, this can be common and no need for concern or feeling like you didn't do a good job. Some of the most adorable photos of babies at this age are where they are serious or have an inquisitive look on their face.

6 months to 16 months - This is an adorable age group whose attention span is very short and you must work twice as hard to keep their attention. You can do this by making funny sounds, talking silly, having them throw a ball back and forth to you, tickle their belly, have them blow a bear off your head, etc. Silly tricks get quick laughs. Keep their attention while you focus, frame and compose the portrait. Then work quickly to get the portrait. Don't try too difficult of poses, or things that require difficult thinking or strenth to keep in that pose. Simple standing against a prop or sitting or laying on something will work just fine.

1.5 years to 2.5 years old - Watch out! Kids at this age are usually mommy's or daddy's baby. They may cling to mommy and hide because of their shyness. Don't try to get them to interact with you. Ignore them and play with their brother or sister and they will get jealous and come around. They will also see that their siblings are fine and nothing is happening to them, so they will want to join in. The rest should be a peice of cake. Just use ball tricks, tickle their nose with a feather duster, blow bubbles if nessesary, use a puppet and talk to them with it. Another good trick is to talk silly to them and ask silly questions as well.

2.5 to 5 years - This age is usually easier to work with. If you smile at them, they ussually smile back. Just talk to them normal and ask lots of questions. You can try being silly, but not always nessesary. Have them give you high five, down low, too slow! That works good with them. Also if they slap your hand, acting like it hurts often works. Have them repeat silly stuff like, "say cheese", "say puppies", "say cheese puppies". In that sequence ussually works good. YOu could try, "say puppies", "say kitties", "say cowies". That sort of silly stuff makes even parents laugh sometimes. Especially if they hear their kids laughing.

5 years and older - Don't insult their intelligence, but find things they like by asking questions and have them talk about it. For example if they play sports, have them talk about that. If they are in second grade, ask them if they drive to school. Silly stuff like that without being too silly usually works good on children this age. You could ask a seven year old boy how many girlfriends he has and when he answers none, wideeyed and surprised respond with "NINE! You have Nine girlfriends!!" "NOOOOOO" they'll respond. Just watch them and use common sense and intuition to get the right path you should take with these children. At this age, you can usually know how you should interact after a few minutes once you find out what their personality is. Once they get to the preteen age, often times, they feel insecure about themselves; use some judgement, and caution not to trample on some ULTRA sensitive emotions. I've had young tween girls cry in my studio for no apparent reason. Their emotions and hormones are going crazy. Again, just use common sense.

6. Fast Response - With children, you can't expect that they will just pose for you exactly the way you want, and if they have some particular response to your attempting to extract it from them that they will do the same thing again for you. You must be ready the first time, everytime. Some of the best portraits I have ever gotten from children was an unexpected response to something that wasn't nessesarily planned. I might find that they are laughing when I don't expect it, or perhaps, they are smiling at something I never even intended to be funny. You have to be ready to take that picture. Kids often will do particular things, or have a cute or funny expression or just do something interesting that you want to put on "film". Once as I was walking back towards the camera, I noticed that an older brother (2 years) was kissing his younger sister (4 months) on the top of the head. Well of course, I didn't pose or expect this, but you better believe I took it. The parents loved it, absolutely loved it! It was the portrait they chose, rather than any of the other posed portraits that we took of their children together. Sometimes they will pull each other's hair or something like that. TAKE THE PICTURE! But in order to take the photograph, you have to be ready and have fast responses. With young children, timing is everything. But remember everything else has to be in place for this to work. For example, general composition and framing and lighting have to all be set. Anyway, be ready and be fast!

7. Go with the flow - In this business, you have to learn to adapt. Though in your studio, you must retain control, you need not control your subjects. You must be able to adapt to any situation. Sometimes in an attempt to maintain control and photograph children the way you see fit, you may not read the signs that a child or parent may be giving you. There must be room for change if need be. You are not a factory, you are an artist, therefore you must work with and around any situation as they arise. Children are tempramental and change quickly. You must adapt and adjust to the situation. If you see you are loosing the attention of the child you are photographing, switch things around and go to plan B. You always have to have a plan B or at least be able to be creative enough to come up with something on the spot. The inability to do this will leave you and your customers very disappointed. Recently, though it wasn't with children, this situation arised. I had an engagement session to photograph and it was raining very hard and it was going to rain all day long. Instead of canceling the day, we simply shot all the portraits indoors by large windows. The couple was very happy with the results. Not what we originally planned, but the results pleased not only the clients, but myself, the photographer. I've also had a certain pose in mind, that I just knew without a shadow of a doubt would be perfect and totally adorable for a small child just to find out that the child is unwilling to cooperate. What do I do? Give up. No way! I just try something else. You must be flexible. Have the ability to adapt to any situation. Go with the flow. It is crucial.

8. Help from mommy and daddy - Often times, people see the portraits that we take of children and they wonder how we get such great expressions. Often times the child was not smiling at me. They are smiling at mommy and daddy. I will often times, when I can't get their child to smile, I will say, "Mom can you come back here and try to get a smile from little Johnny?" If they are shy and uncomfortable with me, they usually will most certainly smile at mom and dad. They feel very comfortable with a familiar face, especially with someone as familiar as mom and dad. Often times a four or five month old would never smile at me, but will smile for mommy and daddy. What's interesting, is that when they see their kids smiling in the portrait, they don't say that they got their kids to smile, they say "wow, that is a great portrait" or "wow, you are good." Why is that, because all they think about is the end result, not the fact that they were responsible for getting their kids to smile. Remember, you as the photographer are still responsible, for framing, composition, lighting, camera controls, and most importantly, decisive moment... when to snap the picture. And why not enlist mom and dad's help to get just the right expression. Mom and dad will almost always be willing to help. I guarantee it. They want their kids to look good.

9. Isolation of your subject - This could also be thought of as simplicity. Take out all distracting elements from your photograph. I have seen many children's portraits where the child is surrounded by nothing but stuffed animals. So much, that you can't even see the child without having to search for them. A child's portrait shouldn't be like reading a "Where's Waldo?" book. This rule applies to all photography, but especially for children. The child is the main subject, don't drown it out with props. Props should only serve to be a supporting element in the photograph, not competing with the child itself. Compliment the child with the stuffed animals, not make it a distracting element. Personally, I don't even like adding props to a child's portrait. If a child has a prop, like a pet or doll or musical instrument that means a lot to them and is part of them, include it in a way, where the viewer can see the prop, can discern what it is, but not so apparent in the photo that it becomes obtrusive and overbearing. Again, remember, isolate your subject. You can do this with lighting, depth of focus, and other tricks. The other method, is just to not include any distracting elements to begin with.

10. Juggle - No, I don't mean you have to have the talents of a clown. I mean you have to be able to multi-task. Anyone, who has ever photographed a portrait, you know that there are many, many different things that you must think about at one time. For example, you are thinking about getting the child to smile, while you are thinking about composition, framing, body language, level of smile, etc. Then their are all the technical aspects such as shutter speed, focus, depth of field, ISO, lighting, direction of light, exposure. If your subject moves to the left or right or moves back or forward, that can throw your whole image out of focus or proper exposure. So you have many things to think about at one time. People who think it is easy to be a photographer, especially photographing children and do it well, obviously don't know much about photography. There is so much that goes on "behind the scenes" that the customer knows nothing about. It isn't just pointing the camera at the subject and pushing the button. There is many aspects that go into making a perfect photo. Then on top of thinking about all of this, you must be able to interact with your customers all at the same time. If that doesn't seem confusing enough, add more subjects to your portrait. Add children of different ages with different demeanors and personalities. I have photographed families with ten children ranging from newborn to older teens and young adults and then the parents and grandparents in the photograph as well. Try getting a baby to smile, toddlers to pay attention and smile, young children to behave and hold still, young tweens to smile right, young teens to smile and not look angry, and then older teens to smile and not put on a fake "put on" face that they do for all their photos and get mom and dad to smile and look at you rather than looking down at their kids, and then try to get serious grandparents to smile, and make sure they can hear you, (often times, they are wearing hearing aids or just can't hear you), and then do all of this AT THE SAME EXACT TIME!!! Again, anyone who thinks photographing children and groups is easy, obviously has no clue what their talking about. In this business, you must be able to juggle many things at once!

11. Knowledge of the business - Know your business. You've heard this before, but it's the truth. How many amazing photographers are starving artists. How many mediocre photographers have a striving business. You may be the best photographer around but without business saviness and knowledge, you will not be in business for long. You must not only have knowledge of the photographic side of the business, but also the business side of it. It truly is not that difficult to learn and run a business, but it does take hard work and being professional and doing things that work, and not doing things that don't work. Some aspects of business are marketing, money management, organizational skills, hard work, keeping your word, knowledge of tax laws, etc. These all take time to learn as did your photography skills, but they can be learned and mastered. But without business knowledge, you will not have a business, no matter how good you are. Fortunately, you can sort of learn as you go. But I do caution you to know as much as you can before you actually dive in head first. A good suggestion is to talk to other photography business owners. Also learn to do as much as you can yourself. Everything you have to outsource costs money. Know your photography, know your customer, know your business!

12. Lighting - My friend says that to be a good photographer, you must be able to see light. When most people get into portrait photography, their main emphasis, I venture to say is on posing. What's a good pose? What's a good way to pose a model, or what's the best way to pose kids. But the truth is, that while posing is important and composition is important, without good light, you won't have a good portrait. The best portraits aren't the best or great because of how great the poses are. They are great because of the light. Look at any fashion magazine, the lighting is amazing. If you put those same models in front of a camera with pop up flash and take the same pose, same setting, same everything, you will not have the same photograph. You will have something that looks like a snapshot. That's how important lighting is. Lighting, when directed right, can be very emotive. There is a very emotive quality to light. Soft light has a romantic feel. Think about a sunset on a beach... makes you feel romantic, doesn't it. Do you feel the same romantic feeling at high noon on the same beach. No you probably feel like going swimming. I know that there is a specific time shortly after the sun goes down that there is still some light, but very faint and it is pretty much dark and pretty much night time, that I sometimes get a depressing feeling. Why is that? I don't really know but I think it has something to do with the light. The same can be true in the studio. To create a soft emotive feeling, use soft diffused light. The more diffused the better. There can be contrast, but there needs to be diffusion in a situation like this. An easy way to remember this is the softer the subject, the softer the quality of light. More full or wrap around lighting is perfect for this type of attempt at getting emotionalism in your portrait. A suggestion of mine to any reader would be look at portraits that you find extremely emotional. Ask yourself, what kind of lighting are they using?

Lighting example 1

Lighting example 2

Lighting example 3

13. Mommy and daddy as a prop - Portraits that really speak loudly, the ones that speak a thousand words, are the portraits that are emotionaly strong as well as technically and artistically strong. One way to do this is use all your tools available to get that point across. One way to get a strong emotional portrait with young children is to use the parents as "props". I have included a couple of links to demonstrate exactly what I mean; portraits that I have taken. The idea is to include mom or dad in the photo but they are to be used specifically as supporting elements to the real star of the show: the child. Believe me, unless mom and dad are extremely vain, they will not care that they are playing second place to their child. Their children are their pride and joy. You can accomplish a pose similar to this by using mom and/or dad as "something" for the child to "pose" on. Think about how they naturally hold on to mommy and daddy's legs or wrap their arms around mommy. Think about how daddy embraces his child tightly and lays his head with pure love in his face. His eyes could be closed. This actually adds to the drama of the photograph. Remember, the child is the main focus of the portrait, not the parent. The parent will be very obvious in the photo, as a supporting element, but not number one. The child will be usually centered in the photograph. They will be "vignetted" by their parents. They could be holding onto mommy or mommy can be holding on to them or a combination of both. These sort of portraits show the intimate relationship that only they have with each other. It shows the tender love and affection that mother has towards baby and the trust that baby has towards mommy. It's a beautiful thing, and it is beautiful to portray them in this way in a portrait. Another great aspect is that it is a great way to keep the portrait simplified. It also works great in black and white if the lighting is dramatic enough. Having the parents wear black turtlenecks and the children wear black or if it is a baby, have the baby nude. Use a darker background or even go with black. Or you could use the reverse effect and have everyone wear white and white background for a high key portrait that is easily just as strong emotionally. These sorts of portraits are to be subtle in the area of expression. Big cheezy smiles are a big no no usually. Just soft subtle smiles. Tender embraces, with deep passionate love displayed in the face is the mood you're going for. These are the kind of photos that when the parents see them, make them go awww or make them tear up even. A strong emotional image will pull on the heart strings, which means more money in your pocket. It's not all about the money, it's about the art and the love that you can bring to your clients, but in the end, you are running a business and that's how you feed your own family, the family you love and cherish.




14. Notice and compliment your subject - Do you enjoy when someone says to you that they like your photography? Or how about when someone compliments your clothing or a physical feature, like your smile? Of course you do! Children are no exception. They like genuine compliments just as much as anyone else. Be genuine and sincere, but find something to compliment your subjects about. If you like the color they're wearing, tell them. If you like their smile, tell them. If you like their name, tell them!!! You get the point. Compliment your subject and it will get smiles from them. This is also a way to get the kids to talk to you about themselves which is a good way to keep them engaged in what is going on. Compliment sincerely and you will have an easier, less stressful session, for both the child and yourself.

15. Own photographic style - Every photographer has a photographic hero. I have a few myself. We admire their work and seek often to emulate what we see and like in their work. But while those photographers became famous and well known for their own style, we should seek to find our own way in our own work. While we should be humble and open minded enough to learn from others who succeed in this line of work, we should find our own style of photography. Something that people will recognize as your work when they see it. If you have a style, work on it. If you don't, find out what you do or don't like about other photographers and begin from there. If you get better and your work is sellable, you will find that you start to fall into a certain style and look. Think about photographers on this site or professionals that you admire, often times you can recognize their work before you even see their name on it. What is interesting is that sometimes, even if that work is of something that they normally don't shoot, it still looks like their work. They may be specialized in senior portraits, but if you see a children's portrait from them, you think, "that looks like so and so's work". This is a good thing. Even if you don't specialize but are a generalist, you can still and should have a style. People will hire you for your style. Photographic style is something you will always work on and perfect if you are wise. You will not remain stagnant. Just because something works really well, doesn't mean that you can't continue to grow and learn and get better.

16. Professional appearance and conduct - We have already discussed in some detail some of the aspects of professional conduct. The way you handle other people's children. There are other things to consider when thinking about conduct. That is the basics of being professional and having a successful business. For example, always show up to a location before your client. Always keep your word. Always give the best possible product available. If you shortchange your client, they will know it. Use the best materials to print your images. After all, the better the material, (ie. paper, inks) the better the final product will look and the better you as a photographer will look. Your appearance from the way you dress, to the way your studio looks is also extremely important. I'm not saying you have to wear a tie and suit, but it's important that when a client comes to your studio, you're not wearing ragedy clothing. Have some pride in your appearance. Perhaps some photographers can get away with dressing and looking a certain way, but generally when dealing with children, you want to have a clean cut appearance. Personal hygeine is important. It can even ruin your business if you don't have good hygeine. Think if you got a reputation for not brushing your teeth and having bad body odor. How embarrasing would that be? Would you frequent a resturaunt, no matter how good the food is, if there was dust everywhere and the restuarant smelled bad and there was trash in the parking lot? Probably not. The same needs to be your thought if you run a business. Clean your studio. Keep it neat and orderly. Keep your outside premises clean and neat. Your appearance physically should be professional. You could take the best portraits in the world, but if your appearance is shotty, it will affect your business. The way you look on the outside often speaks volumes about how you are on the inside. If you are a mess on the outside, you are most likely unorganized and probably won't be very good at your business either. This as is most of what I am talking about in this article is just good common sense. Be professional.

17. Questions, ask lots of them - I have found since I haves started photographing people, that some photographers are so much into themselves and their "art", that their work is 100 percent their vision and its all about themselves rather than their client. In the business of portrait phtoography, your subject is the person sitting in front of you. Though as a photographer, you have a style and way you do things, but you also have a subject sitting in front of you, the child in this case, that is your subject. The customer is the parent. You must please them. My suggestion is to ask questions to find out exactly what your customer wants. If they have ideas and suggestions, don't be so prideful as to not take suggestions. Not only taking suggestions, but asking questions as to find out exactly what they like and don't like about pictures and what they like about your work even. There are tactful ways to ask that question without coming across as just wanting a pat on the back.

The idea of asking questions and lots of them also comes in handy when photographing the child themselves. A lot of kids love to to talk about themselves. So to keep them engaged, ask them questions. Its a way to get to know your little subjects. Also it's a way to get good expressions. If they start talking about their puppies, their eyes light up and look excited. Remember the session is all about them, so why not have them talk about themselves. It will also put them in a good mood about their experience with you. And if they go home and talk about how much fun they had with you, YOU WILL HAVE A REPEAT CUSTOMER! Ask lots of questions. Questions about pets, sports, school, favorite subjects, friends, toys, food, what they do for fun, if they like having pictures taken, ask them if they have a camera, if they play music, how old they are, their favorite animal, colors, etc. etc. etc. Use your imagination and if they start talking about something, let them keep talking. There is no need to talk about all these subjects. Just have them talk about what they want to talk about. Remember, it's all about them. And the good thing about this is you will get more natural responses and expressions from them, rather than the cheesy ear to ear grin. This will show off their personality more naturally.

18. Rested and Fed - My friend jokes that the worst torture you could put a toddler through is to deprive them of sleep. I now have a young child and know exactly what he is talking about. Our son, who is usually a joy to be around when he is well rested, can be downright obnoxious when he is getting tired or has skipped a nap or hasn't gotten his full night of sleep. My son is no exception. He is the norm. All people, not only children, become irritable and annoyed easily when they are deprived of sleep. When my wife first had our child she had very hard time because our son kept her up for hours and hours and hours in a row. She became sleep deprived and became extremely emotional and iritable. I told her it would pass, and it did, (thanks be to GOd), and I told her that in a form of torture in some places is to deprive the enemy of sleep and that is what she was going through. Anyway, the point of all this is that when customers bring their children in for a portrait session, I try to express just how important it is that they feed their children and make sure that their children are well rested. That they get their naps and sleep full hours at night. This simple advice can make all the difference in your session. It can be the element that either makes or breaks your session. Children who are well rested and fed, prior to the session are many times more likely to "perform" well in their session and will last longer. Also an application of this would be to make sure the parent doesn't schedule the appointment when their child is supposed to be napping. Of course, we are referring to young children, but the same could be said for older children and even teenagers. Don't have them schedule them an appointment right before a big meal where they haven't eaten all day. Offer small snacks to keep them from being tired or easily distracted due to their hunger. If a parent still comes into your studio with a fussy child who is that way because of hunger, take some time and let them feed their child. It is worth running a little late to get a good portrait from your subject. Remember how you feel when you are hungry and tired and ask the parents scheduling an appointment to think about how they are affected by lack of sleep and hunger. I know this probably seems trivial or even common sense, but don't put it past your clients. You'd be surprised how often families have tried to schedule appointments at 7, 8 or even 9 at night, with a one and half year old. It sounds insane, BECAUSE IT IS! Don't do it if you can help it at all. Again, remember the importance of the basic needs of food and sleep.

19. Safety - Safety is very important in the studio or on location. The subject of liability and caution with other people's children has been discussed in some detail already, so I won't speak too lengthy on the subject, but there are some important things to remember. When anyone visits your studio or for that matter when you are on location, there is a need to be very careful with your clients and insuring their safety. Some key points I will point out is making sure that especially with kids, you have any wires and cords on your floor taped down. You don't want people tripping, especially if you have wood or concrete floors. Keep your studio as neat and orderly as possible. Small toys and props can become dangerous when kids don't see them and are running into them. I would caution you to make your studio itself as safe as possible, by making electrical recepticals childproof, not having sharp things laying around and even padding whatever you can, while still keeping the look professional. You don't want very heavy things on top of shelves where a curious child could pull it down on top of themselves. Also when on location make sure that you make the location as safe as possible by watching for potential dangers around and let the children and parents know if you see something that could be harmful. Also, don't bring children to dangerous locations or any of your customers where their safety could be in jeopardy. Often times, the seedy parts of town become popular for photo sessions of high school seniors, but is getting a really cool photo worth the danger that might be there. I think not. Use common sense when choosing locations. With children in the studio, ensure their safety, by having parents nearby if you are posing them in a situation where it might be the least bit unsafe; for example, where you might pose them on a posing table, or on top of a rocking horse. If they fall or jump off, someone to catch them would be ideal. Once, a few years ago, I had a child jump off a table and land on their face. We had concrete floors and I heard the child hit the floor with a thud and a slapping sound. A cold chill ran down my back, the room went silent, and then the young child laughed and ran off. Fortunately he was fine, but it could have been a much much different story. Be safe! It's all part of being professional and considerate.

20. Tools of the trade - toys, camera controls, remote control - Their are certain "tools of the trade" that while I could do my job without, it would be very difficult and i certainly would be less succesful without them. I feel that though some of these tricks or toys are very simple, they make my job many more times easier with them than without them. Some of these toys or tools, I have maybe paid $2, but they have made me thousands of dollars in some cases. I will go through and list some of my tricks and tools and explain briefly what you can do with each. I will also include an approximate cost of each and where you might find them, as well as any other intersting or helpful facts about each item or trick.

Feather Duster - The feather duster is one of the greatest things ever invented for the child photographer. You can find it at any grocery store or Wal-Mart, K-Mart or Target for anywhere from $2 for a cheap imitation duster to $8 or so for authentic turkey feather duster. The nice thing about feather dusters is that they can be used on many ages; from birth to four or five years old. If you simply tickle their chin or under their nose, they will usually smile very nice for you. It works very well.

Tennis Ball - The tennis ball is a good ball to use but any kind of lightweight ball will work fine. You can use a bouncy ball as long as its not too small or too big. Balls like this only cost a few dollars at the most. You can buy a pack of three tennis balls for just a few bucks at Wal-Mart. They work good for having the children throw them back and forth to you. You can play ball to get those great expressions when they get excited. Of course, you want to reward them with excitedness about playing with them. If you get excited and compliment them for a "good throw", this usually gets great expressions.

Bubbles - Bubbles are great tools of the child photographer. Younger children especially love to see bubbles. They will reach for them and try to touch them. They float around your child and the child is hypmotized by the round wonders. Bubbles are very cheap, but can be very messy if the bottle gets spilled over. Also, you must be careful if the child is sitting on a table when using bubbles. They may try to reach out and touch the bubbles and not think about how they could fall off the table. That's why it's important to always have mommy and daddy in reach of the child. Have them stay VERY close to their children.

Stretchy Centipede - I bought this toy at Wal-Mart for a few bucks. It is a centipede made of some sort of stretchy rubber. It is about 1 foot long, but stretches easily out to about five or six feet long without breaking or tearing. If you have the child hold on to one end and then stretch it out, by holding the other end yourself, ask the child to let the toy go and it will come flying back at you. If you act like it hurt you or act silly when it hits you in the face or chest (it doesn't hurt) it usually gets really great excited expressions.

Puppet - Puppets are great because kids love puppets. Especially if you can make the puppet talk to them. I have a puppet of a kitty can and the kitty meows a couple of tunes. The kids love it because I pretend to "get them" with it. I pretend to get their knees or feet with the kitty and when it "bites" them gently, it meows at them. Kids think it hilarous and will respond really great. But you can just get a normal ordinary puppet of anything really and give the puppet a voice and make it come alive.

Remote control - If you have the ability, connect a remote to your camera that will allow you to focus and set off the shutter by remote rather than by hitting the button directly on the camera. By doing this you can elimanate camera shake, (it needs to be on a tripod obviously) and then using the remote frees you from having to be behind the camera. You can interact more fully with the subject. Instead of having to run back to camera or never leaving it in the first place. This gives you better chances to get a better portrait.

Old Children's Book - Sometimes we get children who just refuse to smile. So we have to adapt and think of poses and ways to photograph the child even though they don't want to smile. Just have them read the book. Pose them in such a way where they can converse with one another in the photo or just interact with one another by having them look and read the book together. You would be surprised to see how many young children actually smile when holding up a children's book and pretend to read it to their small younger sibling.

Tripod - I've heard photographers say that in the studio, they don't like to use a tripod, but if any place a tripod is of good use it is in the studio. Children move around so much that you need the steadiness that a tripod can offer. Also if your camera is on a tripod, you don't have to hold your camera. You can then position the camera, compose and frame your subject somewhat and then go over, with a remote preferably, and try to get a smile. Once the child smiles, just make sure you are not in the frame of the picture and snap the picture. You can take good photos of children by hand holding in a studio, but this is less than ideal and I really do believe that you cannot get the level of photography by simply having a tripod and remote. A tripod enables you to do so much.

Squeeky toys - You can find toys that make silly or squeeky sounds for very inexpensive. You can even find just the squeeker part in some toy stores or pet stores. They are the replacement for the toys, but you can just use the squeeker themselves. They usually come in a pack of about three. Toys in the pet section or just go to a pet store like Petsmart. They have really high pitched squeeky toys that are perfect for getting a child's attention and their pets too.

Shutter speed - My suggestion if possible set your shutter speed as fast as possible when photographing children because they are going to move around and sometimes fast. So to keep the movement blur down to a manageable level, keep it at a higher shutter speed.

Depth of focus - Use a longer depth of field if possible, which you must balance with wanting a faster shutter speed. But in the studio, you can only sync your lights between 250th to 500th of a second usually. So just power up your lights more powerful so that you can use the higher numbered focal length and the faster shutter speed. The reason to use the higher focal length is to expand the area at which your focus will be acceptable in case your little subject moves backward or forward.

An assistant - You may not be able to have an assistant, but you can usually engage the parents as your assistant. Assistants can be crucial for children's portraits in that if they move slightly to the left or right they will be off center in the portrait if you are using a remote and are away from behind the camera. To get them centered, often times, if they move a lot, you need someone assisting you to get that smile, so you can fire the shot when you're ready.

There are many other little tricks like using a teddy bear and having the young child blow it off your head. You could use a tissue on their cheek when they are really young babies for a soft pleasant expression. One very good thing is making silly faces and silly noises. These are free, but you must be willing to make a fool of yourself. You really aren't making a fool of yourself. The children love it and mom and dad usually think you're funny too and they are glad you are willing to do it to get their young one to smile. My suggestion is to go to toy stores and look for toys that you think would be good for kids to smile.

21. Uniqueness - We have already discussed having a style. But what sets you apart from the competition. What sets you apart may or may not be photography based itself at all. It usually is, but it won't nessesarily be. If it is a photographic style or technique, this is good, and can be used to your advantage. Perhaps you are known in your area for shooting children's portraits exclusively by window light and shallow depth of field. Perhaps you shoot in black and white only. Maybe you are known for bright colorful portraits with happy children in every shot. Maybe you specialize in only babies or just families. What sets you apart? Maybe it's not a photographic process or style, but instead a way you do business. Perhaps, you specialize in large wall portraits. Perhaps you offer a product that noone else offers. THe way to really know is to find out what your competition in your area do and seek to set yourself apart from them. It is a way to market yourself more effectively. Let's say everyone in your area charges to take senior portraits on location, an ideal situation marketing idea would be to not charge to take photos on location. You could seperate yourself by being the only photographer in your area to specialize in only photographing toddlers. Or set yourself apart by only marketing yourself with images of serious portraits of toddlers. Perhaps no one in your area takes portraits with pets. I know in my area there are few photographers who photograph pets. This seems strange to me but it works to my advantage so I use it in marketing our studio. The list could go on and on. Use your imagination. Be unique. In this day and age, especially with photography, that's what the customer wants. It is hard in photography to do things that has never been done, but that doesn't mean that something that has already been done, has been done in your area. Be yourself, but find a way to be unique.

22. Variety of props, poses and ideas - There is no way to make every portrait you take, different from anything you have ever taken. And this should not be a goal either. Just because you have done a pose or a certain lighting for a thousand other customers, this doesn't mean you can't do it for the thousand and first customer. You may have done the same pose many times, but that doesn't mean the customer has ever had that pose done for them or that type of portrait taken for them. So, it's okay to take the same sort of portraits for multiple customers. In fact, I heard of a very well known fashion photographer in the Baltimore area, that used the same red paper background for literally thousands of customers. Don't feel that every photo has to be different than anything you have ever done. BUT! There is a but. But, you should have an arsenel of many different posing ideas, props and ways to pose on each props, lighting scenerios, and just all around ideas for how to photograph your subjects. Your subject while they want your style, want your creativity too. I suggest keeping a folder or even filing cabinet of ideas; clippings from magazines, books, etc. You could even keep a digital inventory of poses and lighting ideas on your computer. Keep them in a file organized and seperated by their subject matter. Just organize some ideas so that you can think of something when the time comes. Keep easily accessible ideas that you have taken as well. Even drawings or actual photos that you have taken in your records as well. This is all part of being prepared and having variety in your photography. Another suggestion, is that everytime you photograph a new session, try to incorporate a certain idea or theme into that session.

23. Where do I get customers? - Good question. That's the question that all portrait photographers are trying to answer. The truth is that there are children everywhere. And almost all parents want portraits of their kids, so this is a business that is just full of potential. Why do you think that the K-Marts, Wal-Marts and JC Penny's stay so busy. Because people want portraits of their kids. Sure, their prices will usually be more inexpensive than what you might charge, but you have an oportunity to do things that they won't. For example you can photograph on location. You can offer more time with each client. You can offer more variety, more backgrounds, more props, more variety in lighting and depth of field. You can offer clothing changes. Also the paper that they print on is not the finest quality. You can offer higher quality materials, to match the higher quality portraiture. You get what you pay for. There's a lot of truth to that. The customer doesn't have to feel like their being rushed through just so you can get to the next session. There are many ways to market to your customers. Some of these are the phone book yellow pages, newspaper ads, billboards, posters, business cards, radio and tv ads, word of mouth, putting up portraits in doctor's offices, kiosks in the mall, putting up portraits in children's specialty stores like clothes and toys and direct mailing. Each have their pros and cons. Some are much more expensive than others. But they will all cost you something, except for word of mouth of course. My suggestion is to see if there is a need in your area for a children's photographer. Maybe there are already 25 photographers in your area specializing in children's portraits. If so, you may want to consider being more general in your portrait specialties, or become ultra specialized, like only black and white location portraits of children twelve years old and younger. This is really specialized, but you will become more knowledgeable about this group, become more of a expert in the field and if you do good work will become regarded as the person to go to if you have a child that age and want location portraits in black and white of them. You don't nessesarily need to just only take those portraits, but you could only put those kinds of portraits out and show that work, so that people get the idea that that is your specialty. As the old saying goes, "Jack of all trades, Master of none". That is not what you want to be. You can charge much more money when you are an expert of one specialty, rather than a "handyman" that does anything and everything. When you find what works, obviously do more of that. Do more of what works. And then always remember to follow up with your customers periodically after you have photographed them. Find out when the child's birthday is and send a birthday card to say happy birthday. Small things like that keep you in the parents memory and really make a good impression on them. Offer specials to return customers. Be willing to put your name out there. Be willing to introduce yourself to parents in public you see with kids and hand them your business card after you tell them who you are and that you would love a chance to photograph their child. Give your card to everyone you meet. If you are shy, then portrait photography is something you are going to struggle with, because you are with people all the time. You need to break yourself of your shyness. When I was young, I was the most shy person ever. There was things I wanted to do, but my shyness got in the way. I realized that if I didn't get over being shy, I was never going to be fully satisfied. I would have regrets my whole life. And I was thinking this when I was just a young teenager. Many photographers are shy. Shy away from people, but if you want to photograph people, you are going to have to get over being shy. Never give up. Never stop promoting yourself. You won't get customers just because you put out a few business cards or put up a few fliers or run a radio spot. You have to be consistant and keep putting your name out there until people recognize your name and then they will call you when they need you. One last note, a nessesary thing to have in this day and age is a portfolio online. A website is ideal but there are plenty of other places you could post your photos like photo sharing sites like,,,, etc. These are often free or not that expensive and they give you a way to post and display your photographs to potential clients without having to have an actual physical portfolio to put in their hands. And with children's portraiture, this is usually just fine.

24. Xplain Yourself - When photographing your clients, let them know what you're doing. People like being involved and letting them in on what you're doing helps them get involved with the process. They may even have suggestions as to how to make the portrait even better. Xplain things as you go along. For example, explain why you are placing lights a certain way. Explain why you are posing a certain way. Explain why you are doing what you're doing. Customers appreciate even knowledge about the camera, if you don't give them too much info. Explain things as you go. It helps the session to go by more smoothly and keeps the conversation going. Explain why you use certain colors, for example, when trying to coordinate the clothing of the child with the background. It just makes you seem like that much more knowledgable and I think it helps the customer to be able to appreciate the portraits even more.

25. Your studio, Your business, remain in control - Anyone who has ever photographed children more than a few times know that they have energy. They enjoy running around and exploring. While this is fine and should actually be encouraged to some degree in your studio, it should be kept under control to some degree. Kids should be allowed to feel comfortable in your studio but as you know, children sometimes can get "out of control". Without setting too many rules and regulations, you need to set some boundries in your studio: what you will and what you won't allow. Don't be a stick in the mud and a control freak, but don't be so loose that you let the children tear your studio up either. While usually the parents will be somewhat controlling of their kids, they don't always control their children in the same way. Some parents are so strict that they get mad if their children don't stand up straight and are acting even slightly silly. On the other hand, some parents think it's funny and even laugh when their kids are tearing up your studio, throwing things all over the place and even writing on the walls, etc. When photographing kids you will see a wide range of super well behaved to super out of control kids. If they are under control at home, they will be controlled when they come to you and if they are out of control kids at home, don't expect much different when the come to you. There is no need when people come through your doors to say these rules to them nesessarily. Most customers respect you and your property but when things start to get crazy, that's when it's time to speak up. It might be a good idea, especially if you specialize in photographing children to have a small board with rules tactfully written. Not to seem like a prude, but in order to have a sane and enjoyable experience with all people involved. The more professional you appear and you act, the more your customers will respect you and your studio when they bring their kids over. Remember, though your customer is your number one priority, it's only because they pay you, but if it costs you money for them to come to you because they tear up your studio, it's not worth it.

26. Zeal (be excited, it'll rub off) - You should be excited about what you're doing. You should show that excitement when you're working. If you are excited, it can and often does come off as confidence, which is just what your customer wants from you. They want to know that you are confident in what you are doing. They don't want someone who is unsure or uncertain and it's hard to be excited when you are unsure of yourself. Customers want competence, excitement and confidence, (not arrogance), from the people they are paying to do the work for them. I have seen many times where a customer has become excited about the process when I was excited. I have even heard customers comment on the fact that they liked the fact that I was excited about my work. If you get excited, it will rub off on them and could even help you take better portraits. It's called momentum.

This article as lengthy as it is, only scratches the surface of what it is to photograph children. The real test is when you are actually doing it. Begin by photographing your own kids, friend's kids and even stranger's kids. This will give you lots of practice. If you offer to photograph other people's kids and give them a copy of the photos in exchange for the practice and being able to use their work in your portfolio, that will give you the samples you need for other's to see your work. I hope you have found this article informative and helpful. If you did find it helfpul, then check out Pieces of the Picture It's a link to our brand spanking new blog! We are excited to announce that we are going to be bringing to the masses advice, tips, stories, interviews and much more about everything that revolves around family based portrait photography! The blog is a joint collaboration from my wife Holly and myself. Check it out!!!

Sincerely, Tommy Peterson, T.H. Peterson Photography

Read 36,138 times


From craigc/Craig (1,564) Send mail to this user on April 9, 2008 12:05:20 AM CDT

Very useful article! Thanks for writing it! I'm bookmarking it. :)


From deleted224040/deleted (30,020) Send mail to this user on April 9, 2008 1:35:42 AM CDT

Thank you very much Craig! Tommy


From sheenawilkie/Administrator (0) This user is a Premium Member This user is an Administrator Send mail to this user on April 9, 2008 10:50:25 AM CDT

Great work Tommy. I left my recommendations in the forum. Thanks for this!


From deleted224040/deleted (30,020) Send mail to this user on April 9, 2008 11:44:03 AM CDT

Thank you Sheena! I'm glad you find it helpful. Tommy


From diegoluis/Manhy (957) Send mail to this user on April 16, 2008 6:49:20 AM CDT

I find that this article is absolutely interesting for me. Thank you to share your ideas. Manhy.


From deleted224040/deleted (30,020) Send mail to this user on April 16, 2008 2:05:36 PM CDT

I'm glad you like it! thank you so much! tommy


From consapp/Tim (486) Send mail to this user on April 29, 2008 10:52:39 AM CDT

Well Tommy I have some bad news for you. I was going to buy your book when it came out. I ws prepared to pay top dollar!! Now I can read it for free :) I'll have to read this about 20 times to get it all but it's EXACTLY what I'm looking for. Shooting kids is a blast but can really be challenging. You really seem to have it down from shooting Moses to your other portraits. Thanks so much for this. It really helps people like myself who have the passion but not all the "know how". Tomorrow my new lens should arrive. Canon 50mm f/1.8. Thanks again Tommy, Tim


From deleted224040/deleted (30,020) Send mail to this user on May 3, 2008 12:26:46 AM CDT

Thanks so much Tim!


From mjhanegraaf/Mike (5,377) Send mail to this user on May 9, 2008 9:16:17 PM CDT

Phenomenal summary Tommy. And your portfolio reflects all you talk about. Thanks very much!



From deleted224040/deleted (30,020) Send mail to this user on May 14, 2008 5:59:13 PM CDT

thanks a ton mike!


From casca/June (321) Send mail to this user on June 5, 2011 9:15:10 AM CDT

Thanks so much for this article. I'm really excited about your advice to use a remote. Not exactly sure how it works, but I'm definitely going to figure it out!


From creativestream/spammer (0) Send mail to this user on June 23, 2014 4:43:25 AM CDT

My experience of photographing children has always been bad... as I don't have so much patience... Lol :)


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