I am an unabashed man of making pictures of my daughter Sabine. Long long time ago, I cut my chops working in a children’s portrait studio, and really loved the process of making images with kids. One of the things that always surprised parents was how much pre-planning and misdirection was involved with the whole process of taking a childrens image. Because of that, I am (too a fault) hyper critical of the very images that I shoot. Usually when I hear a “Oh, that is such a cute shot of.. ” in my head im almost always saying “Oh you shouldve seen it.. we had to do this.. and that”
In that spirit of tipping my hand, I wanted to share a couple of things I think totally work on making great pictures of kids. These are tricks that are totally applicable of any person – male or female – young and old. But you will be surprised as to how much it can help with kids.
Pre-Light The Scene With a Stand In
When taking pictures of people, the amount of time they spend in front of the camera is critical. If you can bring that amount down, you will be regarded as a hero. I would normally ask one of my friends to pop in while I set up lights ahead of time (this is called a pre-light). This lets me get the type of light down – generally. At this point, I can get close and just focus on finessing. With kids, i’ll go ahead and stack a couple of apple boxes to have something to throw a light at. Once you have the spot set, make sure that you set a mark on the aea. I tend to use different colors of tape for this.
Lock That View Down
This is a scenario where having a teeny bit more camera resolution will help you. I’ll generally setup my camera in a specific height and composition By having myself set in a specific area, I can not be so focused on holding the camera and looking at the viewfinder. I know that any shot that happens in this general vicinity will be good.
You cant really find them all too much anymore, but I really dig my Titan Sidekick studio stand. Basically, a pole with a trigger grip that can go up or down. This has proven absolutely essential as it’s let me quickly increase height and angles by just squeezing the trigger and moving up and down the pole. If you can get one (or comporable) online, i’d recommend it. Just Google It.
Use a Cable Release
For a person who does not like to have their picture taken, you should imagine that they feel like they are staring down the barrel of a gun. It really is that unnerving. The entire “Wait for it.. wait for it.. wait for it… when is he going to click that shutter… oh.. here it comes” can just set you up to produce really bad pictures.
Instead, invest in an inexpensive cable release. You can go on the B&H website and get a cable release for about 20 dollars. This will get your eye off the camera and let you control the action by pressing on the cable.
In getting your eye off the camera, I would focus on talking to the subject by having your head slightly to the left of the camera. This will let you interact and talk. As soon as you see a good moment happening, hit the remote! This will subconciously also tell the person that there is no “wait for it” moment, and that interaction is a lot more important.
Be Ready To Shoot. A Bit.
Whether it be a Facebook picture or a studio picture, I am always one to work the shot for a little bit. When I get my iphone out for a shot, I usually dont go “Smile”, hit the shutter, and we’re done. I’ll usually try to work that session for 15 to 20 shots. All the time. And so should you.
Here’s the thing. One shot gives you one chance to get the emotion right. As you take more and more shots, you’ll increase your chances at one of those being a keeper. It also gets the person ‘in the groove’ of the shoot. You’ll notice that the later shots have a more relaxed look and are generally better.
This also helps you deal with the “in between” problems. There are plenty of times when you say “Smile” and the subject smiles a little early. You pop the shot, and the subject is on their way to the next thing. Those ‘in between’ moments are blackmail pictures, but should never really be shown. If you take more than one shot, you’re going to increase your chance at having better shots.
You can always delete the inbetween shots later. Or save them for blog posts.
Timing Is Everything
When you start shooting, its very important that you get used to starting to hit the trigger right before the action is starting. As you start interacting with your subject, you’ll quickly start noticing when they are breaking into a smile, or breaking into a specific look. Do not wait for the look to get there before you squeeze the remote. Instead, get used to trying to shoot right before it, and right ‘on” the moment. You’ll notice that those moments “right before” will get closer and closer to the exact moment, giving you a great result. In the example above, we did this through three jumps up and down on the apple box. The last one really got me the look I wanted (but the second one wasnt that bad)
Keep the Sessions Short
It goes without saying, kids have short attention spans. While I tell you to shoot often, I would also remind you that it would be best to keep the sessions short. I try not to shoot more than 10 minutes without some break, change, or something. Water time, Food Time, Ipad time. By keeping the breaks plenty, you can get some time to go back and reassess what you are doing as well as make sure tht they are keeping themselves fresh.
Now, as soon as you get into a session and you get a good shot – stop there! There is no need to add to your post worfklow by trying to get lightning twice. If you get some good shots early… call it a wrap and be grateful that you get to shoot another day.
Let those be your rewards for having your ducks in a row, and planning. 🙂
Great stuff RC, going to try this out with my daughter, as I just got a Octobox (for speed light) and light stand from Santa 🙂
Nice writeup. The cable release trick is even better if you have a wireless remote where you can hand it to the child if they are feeling shy. Sometimes being able to take their own photo loosens up the nerves.
Also, candy never hurts. 😉
Good stuff here. I have a 10 month old and I try to have the flashes and every thing ready before I take this monthly photos. I have a wireless trigger that helps a lot. I also bough a stuffed animal to go around the lens. Hopefully the old he gets the easier it is to get pictures of him. I enjoy the blog and all the HDR stuff you do.
Great advice RC! Thanks for the tips. With my firstborn my wife and I did a weekly photo shoot. We learned a few things along the way. With our second, which we are currently on Week 41, I have used a stand in stuffed animal to get the lighting close. Of course we are just using natural light through a window, but we think they’re turning out nice. Thanks again!