Editor's note: My Lightroom Classic articles have moved to my new website Mastering Lightroom. Visit the store and get 20% off any ebook or ebook bundle with the code ml20 (valid until midnight October 21). Thanks for reading, Andrew.
Photographing children can be frustrating, especially if they’re too young to take direction. But there are ways you can make it easier and more enjoyable for yourself as well as the child.
One of the best ways is to photograph young children outdoors, and that’s what we’ll take a look at in this tutorial. You’ll find these tips and ideas useful whether you’re photographing your own children or somebody else’s.
1. Find a good location to photograph young children
If you want to make memorable photos of kids it helps if you do it somewhere photogenic or interesting.
For example, there are some nearby historic homes that I like to visit with my son Alex. There’s plenty of space for him to run around in the gardens, and lots of new things for him to look at. He enjoys it, and so do we. In turn that means that making photos is much easier.
If you’re photographing your own child another idea is to make photos in your own neighborhood. It helps tell the story of their childhood. Places change, and your child will find it interesting to look back on these photos in the future.
If you live somewhere with distinct seasons then take advantage of the way the landscape changes over the year. Photos taken in places with beautiful fall/autumn colors are an obvious example of this. So are photos made in fields of flowers during the summer.
2. Use natural light
It doesn’t matter how good you are at using flash. If you’re photographing a young child they’re not going to stay still long enough for you outdoors for you to set it up and use it.
Using natural light is a much better idea. It helps if you pick the right time and weather conditions to make photos in. Here are some tips to help.
Use shade. If you’re outdoors on a sunny day, the light is likely to be too hard to make good photos in. Encourage the child to get in the shade instead. The light is softer and you won’t get dark shadows on the child’s face.
Sometimes your only option is to shoot in the sunlight as that’s where your child is playing, or because there’s no shade nearby. If that happens go with it and capture the moment. You can open up the shadows in Lightroom Classic if you need to.
Cloudy days are great. Young children can run around wherever they want and you don’t have to worry about the light. Get your location right so there’s plenty of interest in the background.
Shoot in the golden hour when you can. Although this may be hard for younger children with earlier bedtimes.
Get creative with backlight. This works best in the winter when the sun’s low in the sky and the light isn’t so strong. If you can, hide the sun behind the child, or something else in the frame, to keep the contrast manageable.
3. Keep the poses natural
This is easier advice to follow if you’re photographing your own children, as you’ll know how they tend to behave. You’ll also be familiar with their mannerisms and the expressions they make.
Show your kids having fun and being themselves. If they’re too young to take direction then you’ll only get frustrated if you ask them to do something and they refuse. There’s plenty of time for posing and more formal portraits when they’re older. When they’re younger it’s more about documenting the first few years of their lives.
4. Choose your viewpoint wisely
It’s easiest to take photos from a standing height. And sometimes it works. For example in the photo below it was the best way to capture my son pushing the swing.
But most of the time you’ll get better results when you immerse yourself in your child’s world and get down on their level. Yes, that means kneeling, or even laying on your stomach, to get the photo. It takes more effort, but the results are worth it.
5. Use scale
There are two different approaches you can take to making photos of kids outdoors. One is to use a prime lens at a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus. This type of portrait focuses attention on the child’s face.
Another is to step back, or use a wide-angle lens, and show the child in their environment. You may use a smaller aperture, say around f5.6 or f8, to get the background sharp.
One way to make environmental portraits more effective is to include something in the frame that shows the child’s size. Making a photo of a child next to a tall tree, for example, emphasizes both the height of the tree and the size of the child. Doorways and gates also help show scale.
6. Tell the story of your children’s journey through childhood
Childhood is a journey that starts before birth and continues through to adulthood. If you’re photographing your own children it’s a great opportunity to document that journey. Think of yourself as an observer, or a recorder of your child’s daily life.
When I take photos of my son Alex I’m not only doing it for us. Our photos are a legacy, my gift to future Alex. He’ll be able to look back on these moments when he’s an adult and follow his own journey to adulthood through photos.
Having a motivation like this encourages you to pick up the camera and make photos when you don’t feel like it, or when you’re stressed or tired. The result is always worth the effort when you do.
It’s a wonderful thing to be both a photographer and a parent. The tips in this tutorial will help you make the most of the photo opportunities you’ll get in a child’s early years.
Don’t forget to check out our ebook 5 Steps To Better Photos Of Kids (Age Zero To Three) for more tips about photographing young children.