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Kids photography: How to work with children

 28th Apr 2020

Children are an absolute joy (mostly) and we love having beautiful photos of our dear little ones in place of pride in our homes. They make wonderful gifts for family and hold memories that dissipate so quickly as they transition from toddler to child to pre-teen and beyond!

As much as children are a favourite subject, kids photography is never as straightforward because kids generally aren’t perfectly poised. Unless of course they are young monks… because then you would get this epitome of discipline shown by these boys;


I’m going to assume that most of us don’t have monks in training at home which is why I have written a blog to tell you exactly what you need to know to do kids photography. I’m going to highlight some of the biggest challenges, walk you through the technical set up and share my top tips to get that great shot.

Biggest challenges for kids photography

Photographing small children especially can be challenging because of how unpredictable they are. Little people are notorious for losing focus, having off days and just not wanting to do anything because they don’t want to.

Distractions can be a massive obstacle. Young children have a very short attention span. It’s important to work at their pace and don’t get frustrated! 

Hunger and tiredness can play a big role in the mood the small human is in. Try and anticipate this by working around their schedule. We all get a big hangry when we need a snack.

Tantrums can be erratic at best. You could be having a lovely time, getting great shots and then a meltdown takes over. Be prepared for these because they can alter the pattern of the day very easily.

Children are quick. They move around a lot so take care to have your camera prepped to shoot without blur and make sure you wear your running shoes.

Peek a boo could mean you struggle to get their face in a photograph but eyes peeking through fingers, children walking away or interacting with their parents all make for creative alternatives.

Kids photography can be challenging and even frustrating at times. If you have never photographed children before then be mentally prepared to be patient, play entertainer and get creative!

How do I set my camera up for kids photography?

I always take the necessary steps to set my camera up before approaching children. It’s much better to be technically ready than to fumble while you’re missing key opportunities. Obviously the light, environment and child themselves affects the set up but here I will go through some key things to consider.

I like a long lens when it comes to children because it offers a narrow field of view and shallow depth of field. This means that I can really focus on the child’s features without overcrowding the image.

When it comes to shooting mode you want to be able to move quickly to capture every potential photograph. I would use AV mode because it means I can control the aperture for the look I want so that the child is in focus. AV also means that the camera will handle shutter speed for me. You want to be able to freeze the action - capture the jump, hold the leg kick or snap the victory arms!

Focusing on a blur of a little person can be challenging so autofocus is definitely your friend. I would always opt for single point focus so that it is easier to compose photos that are in focus.

Don’t forget your white balance! White balance will make sure you don’t over or under exposure which is easy to do when you’re racing around trying to get a lovely portrait of a child.

I would opt for a raw file type because it gives plenty of space for correction. Think about what file type works best for you. Once you’ve set your camera up, take the time to test. Choose an area of neutral tones and check that your settings are working for the environment. These are the steps I would recommend taking when you set up your camera. Like with all types of photography, preparation is key!

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Top tips for kids photography

As we know, children can be challenging to photograph. Now that you have the technical know how I want to share my top tips with you to help you when you photograph kids.

  • Technical setup is only part of preparation. You need to put thought and effort into your photography. Choose a location that the child will be comfortable in, think about where they will be most at ease. Consider a park, the beach, their own home for example
  • Be armed with plenty of distraction techniques! If the child seems to be too focused on the camera and what you’re doing be ready to whip out a distraction to change their focus. Have fun with it, put your camera down for a bit and play a game with them before trying again
  • The time of day is critical. You do not want a toddler overdue a nap or a hungry child. Work with their routine and allow for snack breaks when necessary. Better yet, bring snacks, you’ll soon be a firm favourite
  • Follow the child’s lead. If the child wants to go down the slide or play peekaboo or throw stones into the water, move around them to get the shots you want. Don’t try and deviate them from their pattern
  • Keep the child as the centre of your composition. It is all too easy to lose a child in an environment so take care to maintain your focus on them so they stand out
  • Get down on their level. Crouch, squat, lie in the grass! Use your feet and get down to the child’s level. Not only does it help the composition but you get a view into their little world
  • If it’s a sunny day, find some shade. Try and encourage the child to play under a tree or in the shadow of a house so you can balance the light. Keep a sharp eye on your exposure though
  • If the parent is helping distract or calm the child, don’t just sit back! Take the opportunity and isolate the parent in the photographs. You will get wonderful emotion from the child engaging with their mum or dad
  • Don’t force the shot, be patient. Follow the child at a distance not interrupting their play and wait for the moment. Kids photography can’t be staged!
  • Move quickly! Don’t let your old legs lose you quality images
  • Continuous mode is there for you. Lean on it to shoot little busy bodies so you capture as many moments as you can
  • Don’t say cheese. There is a time and a place, if you want at least one of your subjects pulling a face, let them know to pose but if you’d like some candid photos of genuine facial expressions then don’t say cheese

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To sum up, it’s important to be prepared and patient. 

I’d love to give you a guide about how to get a wonderfully posed photo of a child but where would the fun be in that? Let the child lead and you work around their world, don’t try and disrupt it!

If you are just starting out and need to learn more about your camera controls, sign up for the Masterclass in Photography.

You can also watch my videos on kids photography so you can see a live shoot in progress!

Masterclass in Photography