31 Dec 2007

TEN TIPS on how to photograph children - part 1

Children may be spontaneous subjects, but photographing them needs a little planning on the part of the photographer – plus good camera craft and lots of patience.

How times have changed. I am fortunate to be of a generation that that could photograph children without being demonised as an evil pervert. Point a camera at a child these days and you will immediately be branded a dangerous monster. This paranoia, fostered and encouraged by official agencies, has even got through to the children themselves and we are all poorer for the loss of beautiful images of childhood.

But let’s not be too negative, there are still many enlightened parents who are overjoyed to have natural, unposed photographs of their children, and you may have children or grandchildren of your own… perfect subjects.

Sensible parents can be a tremendous help by keeping an eye on things (wiping runny noses etc.) but only assisting when asked. It can be very frustrating when mum moves in to straighten clothing just at the moment when the child’s expression is perfect and you press the shutter button. So talk things through in a really informal, friendly way before the photo session starts. Stress that you will all be working together to produce lovely pictures of the children. You need their help.

I went along to photograph Rory and Niamh, whose parents are good friends of ours. I had the advantage that the children knew me and were relaxed in my company. I did go armed with a few carefully chosen presents – the sort of things that would make good props for the pictures. I knew, for instance, that Niamh loved making pictures, so I took along a colouring book for her – and a book for Rory, of course. The plan was that these books could be used not only to occupy and interest the children, but the white pages of the books would act as reflectors, putting light back into their faces. This did work remarkably well. I also took along a golden tiara for Niamh (Rory certainly wouldn’t want one of those), and bubble-making pots for each. These proved unsuccessful – I spent so much time helping the kids make bubbles that a didn’t get a single picture of them blowing bubbles themselves.

Top right photograph: After trying unsuccessfully to get a picture that caught both children at their best, and with Rory’s attention flagging, I decided to photograph the children individually. I gave Niamh her tiara, which she immediately put on her favourite teddy and gave him a cuddle. This made a lovely picture. You simply MUST be ready and waiting to capture these wonderful moments when they happen

Lower left photograph: From behind the camera I asked Rory what he had in his bulging pockets. He continued to look out of the window while distractedly fumbling around in his pockets to find out. This made another natural pose


Talk through your plan with parents
Find a position in good natural light
Try to ‘confine’ your subjects in some way
Check the background for unsightly elements
Take your light reading and set the exposure
Try to set a shutter speed of at least 1/125sec
Set white balance
Have toys or props ready
Drawing books make good reflectors

When all is set, bring in your subjects

Photograph of the two children: The pictures were taken beside a patio window. A large white reflector was placed off picture to the right. Getting the two children in the same frame and with good expressions proved almost impossible. Niamh would always go one way, Rory the other. When they came together it was for a fraction of a second; they were always on the move, and so was the camera. Shooting at 1/45sec at f3.3 without a tripod has taken its toll – and this picture is not quite sharp as a result

Bottom photograph: WRONG! The problem with this sort of set-up is that there is a high possibility that when your subject leans over the book, you will only see the top of his head – like this

Next, in part 2 - TEN TIPS while taking photographs of children

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