Photographing Children in Less Than 7 minutes
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photograph your children in less than 7 minutes
Photographing children can be a challenge. We often need to make the MOST out of the wee bit of time your little one gives you. Let’s face it. They’d rather be playing, coloring, raiding your fridge or rolling in the floor. Anything other than sitting with you and that big old camera. Usually? You need to have a plan, move fast and offer treats at the end. That’s exactly what I did on this day with my little Caroline.

Read more: The Unexpected Everyday: 30 day challenge to document your kids and improve your photography.

First? I noticed the light by my back door was “just right” to create lovely skin tones and catchlights. Also, it was falling off rather quickly. Which means, about 3 square feet of the floor was very nicely lit, but right behind it? It was shadowed. It wasn’t a harsh line of shadowing, but rather a quick fall off of light going back into my living room.

Next, while Caroline played nearby, I quickly cleared the area and background. I also grabbed Baby (her lovey) and sat her down so that I could get my settings together. Of course, Baby’s fur and Caroline’s skin tone are not even remotely related, but I needed to have an idea of where to start before I called Caroline over.

I also didn’t want her in that yogurt stained t-shirt so made sure she had a different, less distracting, shirt on.

Once I had everything together with her clothing and my thoughts? I sat just outside of the backdoor and called her over to sit in front of me. I knew I had to work fast. I asked her to THINK about her favorite animals. I didn’t want her to talk because she gets so very animated. I just wanted her to SIT. No smiling. No talking. Just. Sit.

photographing children in 6 minutes

Once I knew I had that shot, I asked her to hug her legs up and think. Again. BE SERIOUS.

photographing children in 6 minutes

Now, I knew that lighting was very flat, but I will admit that I LIKE flat light sometimes. Once I knocked those shots out of the way, I had her lie down at a 45 degree angle from the door. That way, I was able to use that lovely side lighting in order to create nice form and shadows along her cheek. I also had her stand in that same spot and look down at her toes as well as out to the deck. Remember when you are using side light, meter off of the brightest part of the skin and let the rest just fall into the shadows.

photographing children

photographing children

tips for photographing children

Do you remember what I said about the smiling? All this time I am NOT asking her to smile. I’m not expecting anything out of her except for her to stand, lie down or sit. I don’t say “look at me”….”over here”….”head up”…”SMILE SMILE SMILE!!!” I simply allow her to just…..BE. Every once and I while I will say “hey” in a soft whisper and she’ll look at me. It takes less than a second to get that shot. You only have to wait for it.

photographing children

Finally, once I knew I had all of those shots and I had moved her all around, I sat her back in the even light and sat outside again. (when I say “outside”, I’m just sitting right in the doorway right on the doorframe) She had been holding those grins in for a while. She hadn’t been talking at all and I had been whispering every now and again. We were very calm and quiet. So, when I asked her to lie down and I loudly said the words, “POLKA DOTTED UNDERWEAR!!!” She lost it. I simply waited for her to stop giggling and I got this…

tips for photographing children

I was able to get so many images in less than seven minutes with her. This was such a quick session with her, but resulted in some of my most favorite images of my smallest girl. If you plan a mini session with your little one? Here are some tips to remember in order to make the most of your time:

Tips for photographing children

  • No.
    01
    Plan, plan, plan

    Notice the light. Prepare your area, your thoughts and your settings. “Clean up” your child.

  • No.
    02
    Don't direct

    Don’t get bossy. Just allow your child to BE as long as he/she is sitting in the same spot. No “SMILE” or “LOOK LOOK LOOK!” is allowed.

  • No.
    03
    Don't be pushy, but move quickly

    Be patient and use a very quiet voice. Rushing and being pushy with your words will stress your child and he/she will refuse to cooperate under pressure.

  • No.
    04
    Use all angles

    Get down low, stand facing the light as well as use the side light.

  • No.
    05
    Don't ask him/her to do anything that you wouldn't also do

    If you ask the child to lie down? You lie down. If you ask her to be serious and not talk? You don’t talk.

I know this may seem completely opposite of what you are used to doing when photographing children. Acting crazy, being silly, jumping and going wild is usually what we think we need to do in order to get them to cooperate. However, trying just the opposite is highly effective as well. Just try being quiet, moving quickly, having a clear plan, and not expecting your child to perform at all. Just sit. And just wait.

45 Comments
  • December 26, 2012 at 2:50 PM

    These are awesome tips :) I tend to love flat, even lighting on little people! We have a similar situation, where the best light isn’t always in the biggest of spots. I won’t be sitting outside to get the shot until spring, though :) Brrr!!!

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:02 PM

      Yes, it’s probably a bit cold to sit outside these days :) Glad you enjoyed this post!

  • December 26, 2012 at 7:12 PM

    Such great ideas! I think some of these might even work with my tough, anti-camera kids. Thank you!

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:03 PM

      I bet they would!! Let us know if they do :)

  • December 26, 2012 at 8:33 PM

    Awesome tips! Can’t wait to try them! These images are lovely.

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:03 PM

      Glad you enjoyed it!! :)

  • December 27, 2012 at 10:13 AM

    I love Melissa’s work and humor, plus the fact that she is fellow Georgian. Thanks for having her share and thanks Melissa for the great tips. It actually inspired me to pull my camera out yesterday and work with my 2 year old and then the 16 year old joined in the fun. Thanks again.

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:04 PM

      How fun that your 16 yr old joined it :) Melissa is pretty fabulous, isn’t she? :)

  • December 28, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    Terrific photos! I found the one where the little girl’s face is half off the shot so interesting. The lighting is great. I need to borrow my friends’ kids and see what I come up with.

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      I love that shot too!! Hope you are able to photograph your friends’ kids :)

  • December 28, 2012 at 11:12 AM

    Thank you so much for having me, Courtney!! I hope my tips were helpful to everyone. :)

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:06 PM

      Thank YOU! Love this post :)

  • Adele Humphries
    December 28, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Such great tips! Thanks for sharing your amazing skills with us Melissa! LOVE your work so much x

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:08 PM

      So glad you enjoyed the post :)

  • December 28, 2012 at 8:44 PM

    Love this so much Melissa! I love your style and your tips are awesome!! Thank you so much for sharing a bit about how you do what you do!

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:08 PM

      I love her style as well :)

  • Jessica
    December 29, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    Melissa, these images are just beyond lovely. You are awesome! I so enjoyed reading this. Might need to be weekly reading for me. LOL ;-)

    • Courtney
      December 31, 2012 at 5:09 PM

      Glad you enjoyed it :) Melissa is pretty awesome :)

  • January 3, 2013 at 10:18 PM

    Wonderful article, Melissa. You have such a special way of sharing your point of view. I hope to see you here again soon. <3 Your images are gorgeous!!

    • Courtney
      January 7, 2013 at 10:39 PM

      Thanks for commenting Lisa :) I hope to see Melissa writing here again too :)

  • January 7, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    Oh my goodness, this is perfect!! I’m better at food photography because it…. doesn’t move!!! I want to expand my photography skills though, and some friends asked me to take pictures of their kids. I’m a teacher, so I did okaaaay, but THIS would have been GREAT!!!! I can’t wait to try it! :) Wonderful post!

    • Courtney
      January 7, 2013 at 10:40 PM

      So glad you found it useful! I can imagine that food is a lot more cooperative than a small child :) Good luck!

  • January 10, 2013 at 9:51 AM

    Oh, I’m so happy so many found this helpful! I hope y’all were able to get some lovely shots of your little ones! :)

  • January 31, 2013 at 9:28 AM

    Wonderful tips. Thanks.

  • January 31, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Polka Dotted Underwear! Cute.

  • February 15, 2013 at 1:59 PM

    Great tips! My daughter is too hard to photograph these days. She’s 17 months and has no interest at all in me and my camera. She just wants to run.

  • Beatrice
    March 1, 2013 at 2:00 PM

    LOVE!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU FOR SHARING!!

  • Julie Anne Moore
    January 8, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    These tips also sound great for working with pets.

  • January 14, 2014 at 9:18 PM

    Big fan of your work!! I’m amazed at what you do with jpegs and just elements!? Awesome!!

    • January 22, 2014 at 9:17 AM

      Well, thank you! How sweet! :)

  • January 21, 2014 at 8:56 PM

    Can’t wait to try this with my kids; they are always quite stubborn when it comes to pictures!

    • January 22, 2014 at 9:18 AM

      Oh I hope it works out for you, Ashley! Hopefully they will cooperate for a bit and you can get some sweet shots. :)

  • jen
    January 21, 2014 at 9:05 PM

    What lens were you using? Beautiful

    • January 22, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      Hello! I believe I was shooting with the 50 1.4g. It’s my go-to lens for photographing my girls. :)

  • January 21, 2014 at 10:12 PM

    Love the pics, love the tips!!! Great article – thank you for sharing! :)

    • January 22, 2014 at 9:19 AM

      Thanks so much! Glad it was helpful to you. :)

  • January 22, 2014 at 2:12 AM

    Thank you for an awesome blog post!!! This just made me a better photographer, I know, and I haven’t even put it into action yet!!! Thank you:)

    • January 22, 2014 at 9:20 AM

      Hahaha! This made me giggle! So glad you enjoyed the post. I hope it works wonderfully for you!

  • Jessica
    January 22, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    I needed this post after my horrible attempt at a shoot of all 4 of my kiddos yesterday ended in my heart rate being WAY too high! Thanks so much! Do you have any posts about lighting?

  • January 24, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    Such a great reminder to keep it simple!

  • July 13, 2014 at 4:04 PM

    Melissa, Thank you so much!! These are such great tips! I just used a bunch of them to take some great pictures of my 6 and 3 year old, and I’m so happy with the results. Thank you again!!

  • Paty
    September 26, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    Different way of handling the situation with children. I will definitely try these ideas and look forward to the images I will create.
    Thank you

  • Aimee Glucina
    June 4, 2015 at 11:46 PM

    As soon as I saw that gorgeous little freckled face I knew who had authored this post! Great tips Melissa!! Thanks again.

  • Silvina
    June 5, 2015 at 2:00 PM

    I really need to take notes down of this tips to never forget them
    Thank you, my kids disappear when I’m with the camera…

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