Outdoor portrait of smiling little girl in pink hat

Learn to Take Great Photos of Kids

How to Photograph Children – 8 Essential Tips for Successfully Photographing Kids

Taking great photos of kids can be a real challenge, whether they’re your own or someone else’s. Ultimately, you want the pictures to look natural and unposed, and for them to be smiling, but not in a fake or cheesy way. Having worked as a family portrait photographer, I know how tricky it can be. But there are several steps you can take to ensure that the odds of capturing some great shots are stacked in your favour.

Ready to find out more? Read on for my 8 top tips on photographing kids!

1) Get Down to Their Level

Don’t forget how much taller you are than a child. Adults can appear like giants!

If you’re down on the ground instead of looming above them, it’s much easier to build connection and rapport with kids, and see things from their point of view.

Most importantly, you won’t seem as threatening – adults look huge from a child’s perspective! Getting down to their level means you’ll be able to engage with them as an equal and connect with them more easily. And if they’re involved in playing a game, you’ll be in the ideal position to capture some beautiful candid photos; plus, the angle of view will be much better as you can eliminate the distracting clutter in the background and just focus in on your subject.

2) Use a Wide Aperture

How to photograph children. Outdoor portrait of little girl smiling and wearing pink hat and jumper.

Select Aperture Priority as Your Camera Setting (or Use Manual Mode for Maximum Exposure Control if This Suits You Best!)

Using a wide aperture will really help your main subject to stand out from their background. Choose something like f4 or f5.6 to really blur the background. If you do this with a longer lens, you’ll get even more blur. (TIP – make sure there’s enough distance between the background and the subject for this to work most effectively.) Don’t forget – a wider aperture won’t give you much depth of field at all, so if you want to shoot at something like f2.8, you’ll really need to be confident about nailing your focus!

3) Getting Kids to Smile in Photos – the Dos and Don’ts!

Make A Family Portrait Session Playful & Fun for Children, Rather Than a Chore

In my experience, as soon as the camera’s pointing at them, a lot of children (especially if they’re slightly older) will lose their natural, spontaneous smile and start to act up a little.

So how do you get children to smile for the camera in a natural way? My big tip here is to never ask them to “smile”. And if you’re taking family photos for a client, make sure you brief the parents beforehand and ask them to resist the temptation – they’ll find it hard, but it will be worth it. After all, everyone needs a reason to smile and kids are no different. Saying “smile for the camera” is a surefire way to produce one of the following reactions – they’ll stick out their tongue, pull a face or give you the dreaded cheesy grin!

If you really want an authentic expression you’ll have to work for it I’m afraid; that could mean having someone else standing behind or just next to you to keep them entertained (this was a technique I relied on a lot when I worked as a family portrait photographer), asking them a silly question, singing, telling them a story or, with very young children, using something like finger puppets to capture their attention – another trick I used to employ. Whichever method you opt for, expect to emerge without a shred of dignity!

4) Natural Light is Beautiful for Children’s Portraits, So Find Great Light

Outdoor Settings Are Perfect for Photographing Children

If you’re outdoors, look for open shade – this could mean anything from a tree to a doorway, both of which will block light from above, and help avoid the dreaded “panda eye” look with shadows under the eyes. The light should fall on the face from the front, and be soft and even. A bright sunny day might seem like the obvious choice, but the trouble with all that intense light is that it’s going to create really hard, unflattering shadows on faces. And if the sun’s shining directly onto someone’s face it will be really difficult for them to avoid squinting – never a good look! 

If you’re indoors, switch off any room lights or lamps; artificial light will ruin the effect by creating a yellow/orange cast on your photos, unless it’s well in the background. Get kids in front of a large window where the light isn’t harsh – so away from any direct sunlight. The aim is to have soft even light falling on their faces, with no shadows. This will also create lovely catchlights in the eyes, which really make a portrait come alive. 

5) Keep the Background Simple & Uncluttered

Be Aware of Any Distracting Background Elements in Your Photos

It’s so easy to overlook the background in all the excitement of getting your perfect shot. But always be on the lookout for anything that could be a distraction; this could be as simple as a very bright patch of sunlight, a tree or a lamp that might be growing out of someone’s head or even an annoying traffic sign or a car.

If you do see something that could potentially ruin your shot, either move yourself or get your subject to move. It’s important to do this first without wasting time on taking a photo just for the sake of it, even when you know it’s going to be no good: obviously, if you feel that the moment or their expression is too good to miss, and you know you could crop out the distraction afterwards, then go for it!

6) Use the Right Lens

How to Choose the Right Lens for Photographing Children

A wide to medium telephoto zoom lens means you’ll be able to capture the bigger view (so maybe placing a child in the context of their surroundings, to emphasise their small stature) and also get closer for those beautiful portraits that are full of expression and character. Another advantage of using a zoom is that you’ll be able to move quickly between either of these two scenarios without having to change lenses. The longer focal length can be really useful for taking candid, fly-on-the wall shots; in terms of perspective, it will also give a very flattering result for close-up portraits.

That said, prime lenses (so ones which have a fixed focal length) will give you a bigger maximum aperture; this is really important when it comes to photographing kids because they seldom stay still! Using a wider maximum aperture means faster shutter speeds and potentially lower ISO settings, which in turn means there’s less chance of accidental blur or unwanted noise in your images. The shallow depth-of-field will give a really beautiful blurred background, although you’ll need to be extra careful with your focus.

7) Turn off That Flash!

Don’t Use Your Camera’s Built-in Flash for Portrait Photography

The flash that sits on top of your camera creates really harsh, ugly light (think hard shadows, flat lighting, blown-out highlights and red-eye) so avoid using it at all costs. The results will look artificial and unflattering, and will not suit your subject at all. There are ways to use flash to create natural-looking portraits, but using the one that sits on top of your camera in its unmodified state is not the answer.

8) When Photographing Children, Don’t Forget to Step Back and Just Observe

Document the Natural, Candid Moments When Kids Are Just Being Themselves

Not every photo needs to be of them looking at the camera; if you just step back and let them get on with things, you’ll be rewarded with some really beautiful candid shots too. And don’t forget that it’s not just about the smiles; try to capture some of their more thoughtful expressions too, when they’re really engrossed in an activity. These natural shots are often a lot easier to take – the pressure is off the child to perform for the camera, and as a photographer, you can concentrate fully on the moment.

How to photograph children. Photo of blonde-haired little girl in pink top, denim skirt and pink striped tights, walking through a field, holding a pink balloon.

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