Wednesday, August 11, 2010

15 minutes or less...Children's Portraits

Anyone who has kids, knows this. When you don't have your camera, they are all smiles, cuteness and perfect posing. As soon as you lift the camera to your eye, smiles can turn to frowns, scrunched up faces, whines and all kinds of awkward angles. Getting a great photo of your kids can be trying to the patience to say the least.

This is actually what draws me to children's portraits. It is hands down, my favorite. I like the challenge! I love working hard to connect with a little body, getting down to their level, laughing, chatting, taking my time, letting them be them. I follow three rules with my children's portraits. Well, four.

1. Work quickly. This doesn't mean plan on accomplishing a portrait session, start to finish, in 15 minutes. Some kids need time to warm up, some kids are chomping at the bit and ready to go. You have to read the situation. Give it some time. Feel the scene. Observe. But...when the moment strikes, be ready to move. Quickly. Don't waste time. Because whatever it is that is striking you (and striking the child!) at that particular moment, is fleeting. Know your camera and be ready!

2. Don't be afraid to move. I spend most of my children's portraits sessions on the run. Literally. Running all over the Botanical Gardens. Running all over the house. The railroad tracks. The beach. I keep my 50mm 1.8 on and always have good sneakers. Follow them! Don't make them come to you! Wherever they are about to take you will always be much better than where you try to put them.

3. Get down on the floor. Like Lil' Jon says, Get Low. Ha! Kids are discerning in that weird kid way. A towering giant with a big lens and clicking shutter button is no friend of theirs. Get down on the floor. In the grass. In the sand. Meet their eyes on their level. You are, after all, entering their terrain. If you want to capture their spirit, you need to be willing to meet them on their terms. I usually spend the first part of a session sitting on the floor with them, playing, talking. I'll snap a picture and then show them on the screen what they look like (this is always a big hit!) and then go for silly faces. Silly faces are key. I mean, seriously, who doesn't want to smush up their face and stick out their tongue for a good picture?

4. Never stop shooting. If you wait for the moment to come, and then pick up the camera to take a picture, you missed it. Always be ready. Always be shooting. Even if you throw away 75% of what you took later on, you won't have missed it. Because that one key shot is usually buried amongst a million duds. Be patient!

Here are a few examples of a recent shoot with my favorite little model, Matthew. We tried to start outside on my back deck and were met with a resounding NO. Tears, whining, squirming and a downward spiral. Matthew was right, it was too darn hot out! So, we improvised and moved into my living room, under the window, against a nice clean wall. Here is Matthew's first shot:

Silly face accomplished. And I have to say, I love that shot! In the next 3-5 minutes tops, I took the following:

Then, scene change! He was over it and ready to be on the move. A swift promise to move on to lunch and play time if he would give me a few more smiles in one of the upstairs rooms on a beautiful white wall and that would do it! We took another 2-3 minutes here and got the following:

After a quick lunch to perk up the energy for our next adventure (Don't be afraid to feed kids if there is a storm brewing in their mood. It's a miracle worker. I've sat through newborn feedings, rocking babies to sleep, full on meals, etc.!), I knew I had to pull out all the stops to get Matthew back out in the sun for some outside shots. Solution? Railroad tracks. All boys like railroad tracks. And their plastic hammers. And not having to wear a shirt. And being told to just go play. I chased Matthew up the tracks. Down the tracks. I told him to catch me and ran away. I told him to show me how cool he could jump. I told him to catch butterflies. He just got to be a boy, playing outside, doing boy stuff, and totally forgot that I was a photographer. I was now officially his friend. A comrade in arms on the railroad track adventure. And here's what we got:

Total time invested for this day: About 4 hours. Total dead on shoot time: 15 minutes. Yes, my time included letting Matthew play for awhile with Emily, lunch with a good friend, and some much needed "kid breaks," and not all sessions are like this, but the moral of the story is, 15 minutes of shoot time can go a long way if you are prepared to be flexible and remember what it's like to be a kid! Happy shooting!


  1. I love that none of these are posed...just Matthew being Matthew. Oh, and a question for you. Where is the best place to go and have quality prints made? Several of these are going on the wall, and I want them fairly big. Suggestions?

  2. Richmond Camera. There is one in Norfolk and one in Chesapeake. I used them for all of my prints for my last class and they were awesome!


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