Nothing has an “awww” factor like pictures of cute little kids. However, this people group tends to be the squirmiest and most difficult to get pictures of. Remember, no matter how technically perfect your shots, the key here is to capture the subject’s personality, not just a clear photo. Here are a few tips on snapping that perfect picture, whether you plan on using it for a catalog printing project or for a client’s family photo shoot.
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In Their Element
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The best time to take pictures of kids is when they are “in their own element” and not posing. Babies are pretty easy to put in poses and outfits because they are usually asleep. Toddlers provide a whole set of problems when you want them to sit still, which means you have to trick them into being cute for the camera. Put them in a sandbox, give them a tub of bubbles, or set them in a yard with puppies. You will, undoubtedly, get great shots.
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Get the child excited about the photo project. Engage your little “client” by getting down on their level and talking with them in a language they understand. Ask them what they like, and try to work their answer into the photo shoot. Better yet, turn the photo shoot into a game. Award point values for various small tasks. Kids love games and will be all over this challenge trying to please you and win the “game.”
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Learn the child’s personality. A “great photo” isn’t always the one where the child is looking dead into the camera lens and smiling from ear to ear. Sometimes those pictures are fantastic. Sometimes, however, you will get kids who are naturally shy or naturally subdued. Don’t try to change that child’s personality just for a camera. Rather, attempt to capture the essence of a child, their expressions, their unique cuteness factors. Pictures done this way will win the hearts of their parents (the ones who are paying for the pictures) much more so than generic poses.
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Shoot photographs in bursts of at least three. Kids are always in motion, especially if you have them playing with something. Thus, take action shots in sets of three so as to show progression of movement. These shots can look great in tri-frames. They can also (if you can get the right activity) show a variety of three or so different emotions and facial expressions.
The Trifecta: ISO, F/Stop, and Shutter Speed
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Getting the right balance of ISO, F/stop, and shutter speed when photographing children can be a serious challenge. You already know you’re going to need a fast shutter speed because kids tend to move around quickly and unpredictably. A setting of 1/250-1/1000 is recommended. Depending upon the amount of light in your shot, start with an ISO of 200 for bright scenes and work your way up as needed. Start with an f/stop of f5.6 and adjust as needed. Most of these settings are highly dependent upon the scene and the child. You can set your camera to auto mode, but you will likely need to set the priority to Aperture.
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Use natural lighting. Children represent innocence and purity in the world. The best way to capture this idea is by creating a natural atmosphere. Take the pictures outside, or open a large window. If you use a window, you can get some neat shots of the child’s reflection, but beware of the dreaded backlight.
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Use backgrounds that are reflective of childhood. Using situations that drive parents crazy like board game pieces scattered about, socks and shoes left on the floor, and getting into mommy’s make-up will all work together to make a picture more realistic and endearing. For added kid bonus points (and possibly some wonderful candid shots) let the child make the mess for you. This will make the photo shoot experience more enjoyable for them and for you since happy kids make for great pictures.