Photographing Children- Portraits

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Portraits of childrenEveryone wants to take their children's portraits to either commemorate an event (like their birthday), or an occasion (like their graduation from the 3rd grade) or so they can send a photo with the yearly Christmas cards to show everyone near and far how much the children have grown. 

While candid photographs are always fun sometimes you want something a little more formal. 

You can either use a professional photographer or with these tricks do your own formal photography at home saving yourself time and money. 

With a digital camera you can take portrait photos of your children that you will treasure for years to come and rival what you get from most portrait studios.
While most people think that to take a good photo all you have to do is have a good camera the real secret is to be organized. Your camera does matter but with most digital cameras these days you can achieve very good results with even a moderately priced camera.

You have to start by choosing where you want to do your photography in your house and decide if you are going to be needing extra lighting. Remember the time of day that you will be taking the photo will matter. If you want to take pictures right after school then this is the time that you should be checking the spot out. Don't hope it will be a sunny day, if you think that it will be too dark where you have chosen pick someplace else. Remember that the colour of the room and carpet will reflect on you children's face so if you have a pink carpet then it will cast a lovely pink glow on them but if you have a dark green carpet it might make them look a bit sickly. Using a flash on your camera will often bleach out their faces so try for natural light.

Thumbnail image for Baby PortraitsYou don't want the background to be so busy that it will detract from the kids. Wild wall paper or a loudly patterned curtains will take away from them. Look for some place that has a solid plain background like a wall or a paneled door. Remember that this is a picture of your kids and not your house so you can move furniture around and maybe bring a chair in from another room for them to sit on. You could have a back drop cloth that would be a neutral colour or a contrasting colour to what they will be wearing. This would just be a large long piece of fabric that you could have behind them and continue on the floor, we used light denim that was discounted at a fabric store because it had flaws in it and canvas that we were going to use for another project. These backdrops where actually draped over a easel that had a very large piece of cardboard on it. We chose not to iron the fabric. If you are going to do this then your child will have to be at least three feet away from the back of the back drop so they don't accidentally pull it down and so there will be a depth to the photo.

If you want to do your photo shoot outside you will have the same considerations as an inside photo shoot.  You have to make sure that the background is not too distracting and that there will be no odd branches or buildings looking as if they are sticking out of your children's heads. Try not to take photos during the brightest time of the day as it will cause the children to squint. Often the light is best in late afternoon.

Look through magazines to get ideas of interesting settings or poses. If you pose them all standing beside each other it could look a bit stiff. Using chairs or benches one child could be sitting while another leaning against the back of the chair. The don't all have to be facing the camera, they could be standing sideways with their face towards the camera. 

Do a practice shoot. When you have chosen your setting try to find a stuffed animal or some other item that you can substitute in for the kids and take a few pictures to see how it is coming out. You might find that there is a distracting vase  that you forgot to move or that you can see the messy kitchen from the angle you were going to chose. This is the time to make sure that you will be prepared and you will take your time taking photos with the kids, not running around fixing problems. If you have a tripod then use it. Remember to  lower your camera so you will be photographing them (or your practice teddy bear) at their level and not taking a picture of the top of their heads. Take different pictures with different camera setting and move around a bit to find better angles. You don't need their whole bodies in the photograph. The photo can be from the waist up or not showing their feet. That being said you can always crop a digital photo very easily.

Decide if you want them to be holding any props, like their favourite teddy bears. A very sweet photo would be everyone with their bears that have bows on them. If you are using props make sure that they are clean and ready.  

Chose your time wisely. Children tend to be quieter right after they have eaten and more riled up or grumpy when they are hungry. Some photographers believe that a child's skin tone is nicer after they have just eaten. You might want to give them a small snack before you start. Stay away from sugar and anything that is messy and sticky. Some cut up apple and cheese would be good.

Kid's portraits
Have the clothes that you want them to wear ready to go. There should be no last minute ironing, or cleaning or running around looking for the right pair of socks. If you have to, prepare the clothes the day or a few days before and place them in a bag so when you are getting the children ready you just pull out the bag and dress them ( or have them dress themselves). This is really good to do if you are dressing more than one child. Make sure that their clothes are not too busy with contrasting colours. You could have them all in crisp clean white t-shirts, or the boys in white shirts and the girls in dark blouses. When you are choosing the clothes place them next to each other to see how they will look.

Tell them what is going to be happening. A few days before hand say that on Friday (or what ever day) after lunch (after school) you are doing to take a few photos of them in the living room.  Have a treat planned for them after the photo shoot. It might be that they will have a new movie that they will be able to watch and have popcorn, or you will all bake cookies together, or that afterward you will be playing a board game with them or you will take them to the playground. Think of something that they would enjoy doing.

Decide if you are going to need another pair of hands to help you. If your children are very young or you are photographing more than three you probably will find it easier if you have some one else helping you. Make sure that this person knows that you will have everything planned and you need them to listen to what you are telling them. It will only be frustrating for you if they think they are helping by moving furniture that you have already placed or telling you that you are not doing it right.

Try to be relaxed and happy so they feel the same. Before you pose them tell them how you want them to be and if there is an argument remind them of the treat you have in store for latter and that the faster they do this the faster to the treat. Tell them once they are posed to try not to move around. No matter what the expressions on their faces take a few photos just to make sure every one is posed how you want them.
When you are taking the pictures focus on their eyes. To relax them tell them to open their mouths very wide, this will relax their face muscles so the won't have a stiff look. Take a photo while they are doing this and take one immediately after as they probably will have smiled. Most professional photographers have tricks that they do to have the children give more natural smiles. This runs everything from making fart noises to telling silly jokes to having odd sounding squeaky toys that get babies interests to just making really weird sounds. If your children are old enough to appreciate jokes have some ready to tell. You can also tell them silly stories where you get words confused or have your helper behind you making silly faces. Don't neglect this part. Telling children to SMILE really will not have the effect that you hope. Let them make a really silly face and again take a photo of that and another one right after as they again will probably have smiled. Take as many photos as you possibly can but don't spend more than 10 or 15 minutes tops. If they get too stiff looking tell them to shake out their shoulders. Ask them if there is any poses they would like to try, they might have seen something in a magazine that they think is cool or they might want to try a really silly pose.

If you have everything prepared before hand you will be surprised at how quickly the actual photo shoot will go. If your children know that it will be fast then they will be more agreeable to doing it in the future.

Have your Read:
Baby Memory Book

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Photography and Content
Copyright Ingrid Talpak 2009

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1 Comment

These are really awesome tips! Especially for homeschoolers who don't get the option for school pictures... I linked to this on my weekly roundup, the post is under my name. Thanks for sharing!

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