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Cape Coral FL 33904

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Photographing Children
by Harry Cutting

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Photo of young boy with missing tooth smiling
I am stating the obvious when I say children are high energy, active photo subjects. Yet many photographers seem to forget this. Barking commands and shoving children into awkward positions they click away oblivious to their subject's temperament. The air quickly goes out of the situation and we've all seen the photographic results: sour faced kids with body postures that say, "I'm so sick of this." Photo details > picture at right

When photographing children you've got to keep it moving, make it fun and yield to their character. This article will teach you tips and tricks that will make your children photos worthy of their place on the frig, shelf or wall. Photo details > picture below


Photo of group of African American girls



> Locate your background

> Tricks and props

> Proper equipment

> Anticipate the picture




When photographing children locate your "photo spots", your backgrounds - Photo of somber young girlbefore you begin. Scout the area beforehand, alone if possible. If the location atmosphere needn't be in the photo then try to locate areas with plain backgrounds such as the sides of buildings, in front of hedges and trees and large empty expanses. Choose places where you can control the situation. Avoid areas that would distract your subjects. For example, if filming at the beach, locate a photo spot that doesn't have the children looking onto the beach. Kids love the water and soon they will be irresistibly pulled to it - and away from you, the photographer. Photo details

Sometimes though you may want to include some background features to show "atmosphere" - if you're at a theme park, for example. Try arranging your subject(s) around a distinctive sign post or statue instead of attempting to show a jumbled background scene. Get in the habit of pre-arranging this all in your imagination, before the picture. Always be on the lookout for good picture locations. Always be asking yourself - where's the best light? where's the best background? Where is my best picture spot? Photo details > picture below

Photo of boy near Sea World signOf course, you won't always be able to pre-arrange your backgrounds. Often you'll be flying by the seat of your pants, making it up as you go. For me this usually works out to be the most enjoyable technique. In these cases you need to develop your instincts for what would make a good background, and where you'll likely find it. When I first enter an unfamiliar photo situation my mind and senses launch into overdrive. I quickly locate the location of the sun, buildings, clumps of trees, vehicles. Then I compute where I'm likely to find good bright shade: the sides of tall buildings are often good, especially if they face a brightly lit street scene. Once you've found your spots lure your subjects there and try some of the tricks below.


In my experience children have what could be described as a "sadistic sense of humor". Or maybe it's just an enhanced appreciation of slapstick. Either way, it's a photographer's gift. Photo of three children smiling This photo was taken at the end of a long morning session. I'd already taken many useful pictures; somber poses, children in pairs, straight-on portraits. But the energy had drained from the children. They were bored.

Yet I still needed the most important picture; all three children together, upbeat expressions. I quickly arranged them against a brick wall facing a brightly lit parking lot. Whining ensued, "Aren't we done yet." Disaster.... until I began smacking my head with my hand and feigning great pain. Laughter and cheers. Click, click. Seriously, this is my number one child photography trick. Photo details

Another trick, or prop, that works well with children is to ask for help with setting the camera controls. Let them run over and set the exposure dial. Then set it back to your preference before taking pictures. If you're using a digital camera you can also show them your results on the glass screen. Take a few oddball photos to throw into the mix so you don't bore them.

A handheld light meter is another useful children photography tool - as much a boredom reducer as a practical photography device. Often I'll position it up close to a child's face and ask another child to press the button. Then, after pretending to evaluate the reading, I'll laugh or make a face Photo of two childrenand scoot back to my camera and make a big fuss about how "these photos will be pretty weird".

If the energy is running low and you really want to liven things up, have the children run at you repeatedly while you click a few shots (after pre-focussing, and holding that focus, on a spot about ten or twelve feet away). Don't forget to brace yourself.

Also, flat out ask your child subject(s) to do some acting for you. Select out a child and ask if she can act sad, then happy, then sad again, as if she were just grounded for a week. Usually there soon evolves a kind of contest to see who can act the saddest, or show the most teeth when they smile. Kids love to act and they're naturals at it.

Lastly, keep your camera low for most straight-on or portrait children photos. Try to film at children's eye level. But add some spice to your photos, too, by using different angles. Try seating kids, or a single child, on the ground and have them look up while you stand and aim your camera down. Photo details > picture above


You'll want to concentrate on making pictures, not fumbling around with complicated or unfamiliar equipment. Simple, straightforward gear is the way to go. No matter what camera you use you'll need one with the least possible lag time between the pushing of the shutter button and the picture actually being taken. This is often referred to as "shutter lag".

Photo of man using cameraIf you're contemplating buying a new camera be sure to check this statistic; you want as low a number as you can afford. Digital cameras, especially point and shoots (P&S), had notoriously long shutter lag even a few years ago. Most digital cameras sold today (mid-2009) have vastly improved shutter lag times. But still, check it out because not all models have improved enough. Most film cameras, on the other hand, have a nice short shutter delay. Don't be shy about using a film camera.

As for what type of camera is best for photographing children: basically anything you're comfortable with. Well, okay - within reason. As I said above, it should have a short shutter lag. It should also be fast handling. It should have simple, intuitive controls. And finally and most importantly, you should be comfortable with it. The perfect camera for you could be anything from a high-end SLR with a super fast lens to an inexpensive point and shoot. So much depends on what you're already used to.

I usually use a digital SLR camera with one lens. My favorite lens for children photography is a fast (low numbered F-stop) zoom of about 28 to 105 mm (35 mm film equivalent). I'm usually using it in the middle to high end of its range. Often, though, I end up using a small fast point and shoot. Whatever works.


In general it's always a good idea to anticipate the picture. But when dealing with the frenetic qualities of children, it's imperative. There are really two flavors of anticipating the picture: one is knowingPhoto of boys playing tug of war what situations will likely lead to good photos, and being totally ready with your camera in those times or places. Some key times are when kids are eating (especially eating something sweet or messy), when they are spontaneously fooling around, when they have just been given "a rest break" and when they are viewing photos on the screen of your backup digital camera. Be ready. Photo details

Very often the time between a perfect photo opportunity and when you actually make the picture is an eternity. That refers to the second flavor of anticipating the picture: timing the shot.

Timing the picture is tough because we think we know when we see what we see, but that's not quite right. You can't know what you've seen until it's already happened, and that's too late for a picture. Still, our brains insist on us clicking the picture that we've just seen. The solution is simply to speed up our shutter finger. When you're straining to get the kids to smile, and you're using your best tricks, your best photos will usually be the first nano-second following your trick. Don't wait. If you're planning to fake a head slap, for example, use your spare hand and take the picture a split second after you strike. Those gleeful smiles are already decompressing after one long second.

Photo of smiling girl peeking around wallConversely, there are times when the best picture is actually later than you'd suppose. For example, when asking a child to do something mildly outrageous, like making the biggest, toothiest, goofiest smile - the good photo is usually right after that stunt, when she is laughing and smiling about her act. Photo details

One last thing - take lots and lots of pictures. Take more pictures than you think could possibly ever be needed. When the goings good and everything's working, take lots of pictures, different poses, the same poses, individual children, pairs of children, everything. When you think you've gotten just what you wanted, double up. Redundancy is a photographer's best friend. Later, when you weed out the reject pictures, you may be surprised at how few good ones remain.

Photographing children is great fun, rewarding, sometimes frustrating and makes for a good aerobic workout, all at once. There are probably easier ways to make good photographs of children than what I've talked about here. If I knew what they were I'd gladly tell you. But try it my way for awhile and see if your children photos don't improve.

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