Photographing children can be a bit of a challenge — but it is worth every moment.
Photographing children is very different from photographing adults. Adults can cooperate with a much greater ease. They can either pose for you while you make the photographs — and even when you make spontaneous pictures they are aware your presence and can take you into account. No one will stand up and walk away suddenly or trot into your picture when you are carefully composing a photo.
Although working with children requires much more effort, it’s well worth the challenge. With some practice, you can capture many lovely memories. Fortunately there are quite a few children in our family and some of my friends also have children, I managed to gain considerable experience in that field. Below I tried to collect some useful tips to start with (and some pitfalls to avoid). However, be prepared that the old saying, “practice makes perfect” is especially true here. You will also have more success if you work children you already know.
Be a spectator
Apart from a very few examples, children are not really into posing for a photograph (they usually have better things to do. You better be a spectator of their activity. Instead of trying to pull them into photography, be a part to their environment — let them be familiar with you, let them accept your presence in their own terms. You can play with them, talk to them first as a warming-up — some level of trust have to be built before you can effectively photograph them.
Some children, however, are really into posing to photographs — in these cases, consider yourself lucky. Children can be lovingly charming while posing to photographs — but only if it is fun to them, too. If they do not volunteer, better not to be pushy.
Work on their level
Quite plainly: sit on the floor. Photographing children from the above very rarely provide an appealing result. Unless you can give your photo some really unique perspective, it will only make children to look like little puppies. Sit down, immerse yourself in their world, try to evaluate the situation from their point of view. This will make your photos much more authentic.
Choose your spot carefully
Some places are more comfortable than others, however, photographing children is very similar to event photography in one aspect: you have to be on the right spot. Try to situate yourself to see as much as you can from the child’s face and what he or she is doing. If he is playing with a puzzle or a card game, sit on the other side of it; if he is playing with an adult, sit so that you could see what’s happening. And of course, be prepared to shift positions often. By all means, do not be satisfied with you favorite chair.
Wait for the opportune moment
Since posing is very rarely an option, there is a lot of waiting and timing involved in photographing. Usually I spend a lot of time with a camera lifted to my eye, viewing the scene through the viewfinder. With children, it is very hard to tell when will the right moment come — so be prepared to push the button fast. Also try to shoot as many shots as you can; this directly comes from the spontaneous nature of this task.
Do not be afraid to use the flash
Some adults are a bit over-careful about using the flash near children — however, realistically thinking, there is no real harm may come out of it. Flashes were desired to shoot human beings — and a child’s eye is no more sensitive to light than an adult. Flash is a great aid in low-light situation, since it “freezes” the moment: it creates a very distinct picture on the emulsion, so you can still pull off a good picture with relatively high (1/30, 1/15) shutter speeds.
Ask for assistance
If you are not alone with a child, it can help you in many ways. First of all, you can concentrate on photography — when a kid’s well-being is your sole responsibility, it is much easier to set aside the camera and dedicate yourself to the child. However, when there is someone else to take care of his or her needs, then you can have much more time to shoot the perfect photo. Also, another adult has the opportunity for some subtle manipulation which can aid you further.
Go for classic themes
Although photographing children is always worth the effort, there are some “classic” moments which can earn you absolute success in the family. The child’s relationship to his or her parents or to other kids, family celebrations, or Christmas are all typical examples. So make sure to pack enough films to capture every moment you are expected to put on photo.