In a sense, babies are easy to photograph. They’re too young to be aware of what a photograph is, so they can’t react to the idea of being photographed. Being “camera-shy” comes later. It’s a good idea to avoid using the flash when taking pictures of newborns, since it’s not known how much the bright light might disturb them. Work by available light. Indoors, during the day, have a parent hold the infant near a window without placing the child in direct sunlight, which will be too harsh. Take photos up close of just the cradled infant, and also take some pictures from a greater distance showing the child and the proud parent.
Be very careful with infants. Don’t prop them up or leave them unattended on a table while trying to take a photograph – even for a second. The safety of the young child must always be paramount. Also, be aware a person holding a camera in front of his or her face can frighten a small child. Put the camera down every 30 seconds or so, and talk to the subject to offer reassurance.
When children get a little older and have seen photographs of themselves and others, they start to be a little more self-conscious. Some will become shy of the camera, while others will ham it up and play to the camera. Both reactions make it difficult to get a true portrait of the subject. This is the age when getting good photographs becomes tougher, and for most subjects, that challenge will last through the teenage years when self-consciousness often peaks.
Try to take candid photos of kids when they’re immersed in some activity, so they’re unaware of your presence. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze action, and don’t ask them to pose. It’s possible to interrupt an activity and say, “Look at me for a second,” or “Hey, look this way,” when the child is in the midst of an activity, but don’t ask them, or expect them, to hold a pose.
Another thing to remember about children in the 3- to 10-year-old range is they are curious. Take advantage of that. When taking a photo of a group of three or more, the best way to make them all look at the camera is not by asking them to do so, but rather by asking them a question. After the photographer gets the family, soccer team, or birthday party attendees posed, just ask, “Can you guess what’s in here?” A paper bag with half a dozen hard candies (beans, coins, or pasta bits) will make a nice rattle when it comes from behind the photographer’s back and is given a few shakes adjacent to the camera lens. Even the most determined youngster will have to take a look. If you use hard candies, distribute them after the photo is taken as a reward for the cooperative bunch you’ve assembled.
Perhaps the single most common mistake family photographers make when taking pictures of kids is taking the photo from too high an angle. Get down low for the most effective camera angle. Taking the photograph from a high elevation means we’re looking down at the child. From a low angle, the child looks more imposing in the scene, and that’s always a good thing. For a toddler’s first steps, the lower the camera is, the more exciting the photograph will be.
As with all photographs, try to get in close to the subject, avoid distracting backgrounds, and watch out for clutter anywhere in the photograph. With a little work and a digital camera that allows you to take lots of pictures, you’ll be able to capture great pictures of kids of all ages, suitable for display or gifts for proud parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.
Prepared by New York Institute of Photography. For more tips visit