As a parent, you are constantly facing the challenges created by caring for children. One such challenge is taking good photos of them. Here are five tips to help you take better photographs of your children. These tips should be applicable whether you use a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, a point-and-shoot, or a smartphone (I’m going to use the term camera to mean both an actual camera or a camera app on a smartphone).
1. Use a Fast Shutter Speed
“Youth is wasted on the young.”
–attributed to Sir Bernard Shaw
One of most difficult things about photographing children is they are always on the move. In some great, cosmic joke, God took the energy parents need to deal with children away from the parents and gave it to the children. How can you hope to take a non-blurry picture if the kid is always moving?
Fortunately, there is something relatively easy you can do—use a fast shutter speed with your camera. The shutter opens so light can hit the camera sensor. Smartphones, which are the most common camera nowadays, usually have an electronic shutter instead of a physical one. For the most part, you don’t need to worry about that difference.
A fast shutter speed causes the shutter to open and close so quickly that it effectively freezes movement. So how fast of a shutter speed do you need? Depending on the age of the child and the activity, a minimum of anywhere from 1/500 to 1/1000 of a second. If you are using a camera that allows you to set the shutter speed, set it for one of those speeds.
But what if you don’t have any controls for shutter speed? In that case, you will have to use an indirect method to control the speed.
2. Tire Them Out
This is a trick I use during family photo shoots. Let the kids run around before you get into the “serious” photos, and let them burn off some of that energy.
It is almost inevitable that a young child is going to “act up” during a photo session. It’s not their fault. Most children are hams in front of a camera and they want to show off their dance moves, how fast they can run, or other astounding feats. So let them show off. They will hopefully then be tired enough to sit or stand still for photos.
3. Schedule Photos Around Their Naps and Meals
Children are creatures of routine. Break that routine, and woe is you.
I don’t like to have a portrait session right before or during a child’s normal mealtime. They are more likely to listen to their stomach at that time than they are to parents or a photographer. If we must take photographs at that time, let the child have a snack to tide them over until they can eat a meal.If you’re trying to get your child to say, “Cheese!” and all they can do is think about eating cheese, you’re going to have a bad time.
Do I really need to tell you children (and adults for that matter) tend to get cranky when they are tired? I didn’t think so.
4. Dress Children in Comfortable Clothes
As a child, it’s difficult to sit still for a photograph. It’s even more difficult when you’re bothered by a scratchy collar or the corner of a shirt tag is poking you.
Make sure your children’s clothing is something they are comfortable wearing. I realize that you probably don’t want them photographed in their “play clothes,” but you also don’t want to be so bothered by the clothes their wearing that the are constantly tugging at their collar, adjusting their pants, crying over tight shoes, or whathaveyou.
So make sure that the child’s clothes are ones that they’ve worn before. Your child will be more comfortable, and as a result, better behaved for the photo shoot.
5. When All Else Fails, Ignore Them
This is the age-old advice to ignore a child when she throws a tantrum. And the advice usually works. If your child isn’t listening, won’t sit still long enough for you to get a good photo, or even worse, don’t pay attention to them.
Admittedly, this usually works better when there is a sibling to whom attention can be directed. This will often make the “troublemaker” come see what they are doing to get attention, and they will try to copy the “good one.”
This strategy not only plays into the child’s desire for attention, but also their FOMO——fear of missing out. If big brother and sister look like they’re having a good time, then the other child wants in on that!
Bonus Tip! Let the Child be in Charge
I’m not saying to do only what the child wants to do. I mean that it’s ok to let the child decide where she wants her photo taken, what she’ll be doing in the photo, etc, after you get the photo you want. Depending on how comfortable (and careful) your child is with electronics, you may even want to give them a turn being the photographer, while you model for them.
It’s the ole carrot-and-stick routine. You hold the promise of photographing the child’s picks up to entice the child into doing what you want.
Children often misbehave because they have so little over which they have control By giving the child a little bit of control over the photos, you may wind up getting much better photos over all.