3 Important Tips for Photographing Children

February 4, 2014

Photographing children is incredibly rewarding, but at times it may be tricky depending upon the age of the child. Using these 3 techniques when photographing children can prove to be extremely beneficial in the success of the session.

  • Learn about the client and child prior to the session
  • Control location if possible
  • Focus on shutter speed

Learn about the client and child prior to the session

Speak with your client prior to the session to discuss their expectations. So many fun ideas are usually generated during those conversations.  Does their child like to find and smell flowers, play peek-a-boo, play with airplanes, pretend to be a superhero, etc?  Be certain to ask the parents to schedule the session during a time when the child is at their best; ask mom and dad when the child is typically happiest.  This upfront work will help you build a more focused plan for the session. You can even plan to incorporate a fun activity or chat with them about something they like during your time together. Suggest that your client bring the child’s favorite lovey, some snacks that aren’t messy, and more clothing changes than they need. Have them prioritize the outfits they “have-to-have” their child in and shoot those first and then let the child choose an outfit or two toward the end of the session.  Unfortunately, we are only able to spend a small amount of time with each of our clients and creating a comfortable environment as quickly as possible during the session can prove to be critical. The sooner everyone is comfortable, the sooner you will be able to capture those magical images. Remember if the child becomes frustrated or unhappy, let them take a break, hang out with their lovey, and have a little snack picnic, and don’t forget to grab some cute candid images during this time.  If you’ve done your homework with the clients prior to the session, selecting a location for the session will be a lot easier.

Control location if possible

If possible, control your environment when doing outdoor child portraits. Try to schedule sessions at a location that is not only appropriate for the child’s age but also for their personality. During your conversations with the client you should have learned if the child loves playing outdoors, farm animals, their puppy, a park near their home, ducks, etc.  With this information in hand, try to select a location that not only fits their personality, but also one that you already know has beautiful morning or early evening light. Lighting is critical, images can be so very beautiful if you can shoot in the softer morning and evening light in a natural, earthy setting. I have several locations I use, but most frequently use various farm locations because I can access open land, old barns, interesting rustic props already on-site, beautiful forests, ponds, and occasionally even the farm animals. If the family has requested to have the session at a new location, visit that location prior to the session around the time you will be on-site so you can check the lighting and determine which areas you should target during the session. If you learn that the lighting is problematic at that location, do not be afraid to tell the client and suggest that a different location is used. Typically, I only do this if the location is very open with little shade or if the location is busy with a lot of people and distractions. Children tend to be on the move and when you utilize a beautiful, open outdoor location you get to take advantage of the entire landscape, every step and expression that crosses the child’s face. And hopefully these expressions will connect with you and the camera and create something beautiful and timeless. This leads us to our final topic, watching your shutter speed.

Focus on shutter speed

One of the most critical settings to watch when taking natural child portraits is shutter speed.  Your shutter speed doesn’t have to be cranked up to 1/2,000 just to obtain a sharp image, but letting it drop below 1/250 is risky in my opinion.  At most of my sessions children are typically playing and moving around.  For me, that is what makes the portrait so special, capturing the child’s essence and natural expressions, those that are loved and cherished by their family. Occasionally, I’ll ask a child to sit down, but a lot of my time is spent chasing them around and capturing those oh-so-special expressions.  Therefore I need to be conscious of motion and the sharpness of my images.  I’ve found that adjusting ISO and aperture are typically enough to set the shutter speed at 1/250 without any issues.  If needed, exposure compensation is an easy way to add more light to your images if they are still underexposed. I use this a lot since I prefer to keep my ISO under 800.  By bumping exposure compensation up to a +1 or 2, your exposure can be dead on, even if your images were underexposed prior to adjusting this setting. I shoot with a Nikon D700 and have a variety of lenses that I love to use.  Some of those include an 85mm f/1.4 and a 35mm f/1.4, so if I am really struggling to stay at 1/250, I’ll shoot a 1.8 or wide open if needed. Some additional tricks, simple yet important, are to lock your elbows and hold your breath during the shot. This will help with the sharpness of the image and control as you focus on your subjects eyes. Using back button focus if possible can also help with the sharpness of your images as it separates focus from the shutter release.


headshotJennifer McCarren is a portrait photographer specializing in custom newborn, child, and family photographer who occasionally dabbles in other types of portraiture.  Jennifer’s ability to connect with a child and respond to their emotions is what makes her portraiture so magical.  She is passionate about photography, capturing those moments that tell a story and touch the hearts of her audience.  Being a mother of two boys, she has a patient and calming personality which resonates with everyone she photographs.

Freckled Flower Photography is an on-location, natural light photographer, serving Atlanta and surrounding areas.  Jennifer is also available for travel and often holds sessions at St. Augustine Beach and Southeastern Indiana, where she grew up.  If you are interested in scheduling your own custom portrait session, Jennifer can be reached by email at freckledflowerphotodesign@gmail.com.

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