with Courtney Slazinik
The Everyday: Photographing Your Own Kids

photographing your own kids

Any of you have one of those kids who is impossibly frustratingly hard to photograph? (Me!) I always get jealous of the people who seem to have kids who are super easy & are perfect participators, but I guess you never really know what goes on to get certain shots unless you are there with them. They might have had to work hard for their shots…who knows.

Let me paint a picture of how picture taking with my son used to go down (something like this)…I get the camera out. Garrett says, “Mom, put the camera away.” I say “Come on, just a few…I’ll give you a marshmallow!” And he gives me this smile (while saying “Are we done yet?” over & over at least every two seconds)!

Not exactly what I was going for!

Taking my Garrett’s picture has always been a struggle, a battle of wills. It was something I wanted to do so badly but wasn’t going to be successful at because I was always pushing my boundaries & not going about it the right way. It’s funny, at sessions I am so patient with other kids regardless of how easy or how hard they are, but I get impatient with my own child. I think it is because deep down I just want good pictures of him that I’m more on edge & don’t always handle him the right way.

Being a part of the CM Daily Blog has helped me to put into practice what I already knew but was too hassled, hurried & impatient to do. It really does help to make yourself shoot everyday or as much as possible.

Garrett doesn’t seem to hate the camera anymore. He doesn’t necessarily ask me to put it away or even notice it’s out now. I will include some pictures I have taken lately for the CM Pro Daily Blog. It’s not that they are exceptional pictures but if you knew my kid then you’d know why I am celebrating…he’s been a tough nut to crack!

So here are some things I have started with my little guy…

1. Keep the camera handy. With a charged battery & a card already in it. Keep it close by so that it’s easy to grab when you catch something cute happening right in the moment. The “old” me would have said “Stay right there, I will be right back!” (I would pretty much ruin the moment with that one!). I use the D3S which i love for low light situations. I have grown to LOVE the 35mm 1.4G for lifestyle work.

2. Premeditate. Set the stage. If there’s a certain picture you know you want…make it happen without them knowing you are making it happen (got to use reverse psychology sometimes for the tough ones!)

Ex: If you know you want to get a picture while baking, find the good light & clear the space beforehand. Get out everything you need & “set the stage” so that they become active participants on their own instead of you having to ask them (it works better when it’s their own idea!).

If there’s something they like to do (like watch for daddy through the window), have them do it on their own without even realizing they are having their picture taken…be discreet!

Sometimes I will set out books or paint or whatever “new” activity that will spark an interest during naptime & put the “stage” exactly where I want it, in the light that I want it in. When he wakes up, he is automatically drawn to it because it’s a novelty (not because I have told him I want to take his picture).

My favorite kind of pictures are the candid, caught-in-the-moment ones that look 100% spontaneous! The truth is that sometimes those spontaneous, photojournalistic ones had some premeditation to them in order for them to be successful (spaces cleared a head of time, ideas generated in your head beforehand, and/or subject led to the “right” spot then freed to just be themselves!)

If you are out & about, carry a purse/camera bag so you have the option of having it with you. Some people say they always leave the lens cap off & their camera ON for faster snapping! (It goes to sleep after a while but “wakes up” when the shutter is pressed).

3. Give them a break. If it’s not working. Don’t push it like I used to. That just creates animosity toward the thing you loooove (taking pictures) by the person you love (your kid).

4. Take them out of the spotlight & put the attention on someone or something else for a second. Photograph the dog or whatever else you have available. Sometimes  they will actually WANT the camera back on them because it’s instant attention! I think this may be called manipulation? But oh well, it works on my kid sometimes.

5. Put the camera down for a second to be silly. Tickle, giggle, tell a joke, act goofy in whatever way your kid likes & then pick up the camera to catch their emotion.

6. When all else fails, bribery works sometimes. I say this with hesitation. I am still trying to get over my old ways where Garrett got a marshmallow for being good in pictures. He still asks me if he can get something if he’s good sometimes. All that ever got me were those pre-fabricated fake smiles so I never liked the pictures any way. For some kids it works, but for mine, I have to really need that picture in order to do this one anymore. But occasionally (so that he knows I appreciate him) I still give him something at the end. All kids are different though! This probably works wonders on most other types of kids. I know I have used a little bribery during sessions before ;)

7. Obviously, all of these pointers work more for your own kids & not as much for photographing other children during sessions. During sessions, you don’t have all day to play with your subjects & “catch them in the moment” when they happen to do something cute (because you happened to have your camera handy).  But you can still set the stage to set the session up for success (with some modifications to all the ideas listed above).

By calling the parent (or corresponding in some way) before the session you can find out what they like & then cater to it. You can find out their interests & surprise them with something they’d like so that you build a rapport & help them to have fun. By getting to know what they like, you can think about meaningful images you could capture that are relevant to their life even though you are more on a time crunch than you are with your own child! The neat thing is that not only do you document a time in their life relevant to them, but you can get some of those “caught-in-the-moment” photojournalistic pictures that are special to the parents.

Pick the times when your kid is in such a great mood that you can take the more deliberate “portraits” without pushing their buttons. Leave them alone the other times & just watch as everything unfolds on its own….then snap!

This new found excitement on photographing my own kid is such a great feeling! There once was a time where I got so frustrated I thought I’d just give up & hire another photographer for all of his pictures because “I liked photographing other people’s kids better” & “It was just not that fun to take his picture.” Sad! I would’ve missed so many memories! Don’t get me wrong, he is still & always will be a tough nut to crack, but I love that we are making steps in the right direction, that we both have fun with it now & that I have some pictures of him that make me smile.

Originally I wrote the article for Clickin’ Moms but then I found out there was a thread that was very similar to this written by Lacey Meyers. I had no idea! I decided to save this for Click It Up A Notch since they already had access to Lacey’s thread over at CM. For all of you members, here’s the link to her thread  if you want to check it out – click here.

Here are some tips I’ve tried to get smiles out of him when all else fails:
-squeaky chicken (dog toy)
-duster (mine was from Ikea but you can get them anywhere!)
-any noise makers

What about you?

Thanks for reading! If you have other tips for photographing your own kids, do share!

  • jean
    January 19, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    love this piece. it is also great for parents that do want their child to be photographed, too! sometimes when the child’s parents walk away… they are more likely to open up to the photographer.

  • January 19, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    This is so helpful, Kelly! It always felt like cheating to me to set the scene before inviting my children over—not spontaneous, not REAL. But I think I need to let that go, at least once in a while. :)

    The light in your home is gorgeous! I love the image with the cereal boxes.

  • January 19, 2012 at 10:11 AM

    Great post! My son was like yours for a LONG time but now he’s finally coming around. Must have finally realized that Mommy is never gonna put that camera down! heehee :)
    He actually asks me to take his picture sometimes :)
    My problem now is light. I get great shots of him outdoors but I can’t EVER seem to get nice shots of him indoors especially when he’s moving, and especially in his playroom which is in the basement with no natural light whatsoever. I’m working on it though :) LOVE your blog… so helpful and inspiring!

  • January 19, 2012 at 10:32 AM

    So I totally love this post, because I am there. I have basically quite taking photos of my son, because it is so frustrating, but this has really encouraged me to be proactive and change the way I have been doing things.


    This one is pinned for sure!

  • January 19, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    I totally need to follow my own suggestions – tonight I got SO mad at my son for not letting me take a picture. I just needed ONE for my 365….just ONE! I was so annoyed :)

  • Laranda
    January 19, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    I totally have a child that hates having her photo taken. You have really inspired me to go at this with a different approch. I am going to try some of the things you have mentioned to make it more fun for her. Thank you!

  • Kira
    January 19, 2012 at 1:12 PM

    This was so helpful! Thanks for the ideas and the beautiful pictures. I’m going to try setting the stage during nap time. Great idea!

  • January 19, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Thank you so much for this! I have one child that hates the camera and one that loves it some much you can’t her away from the camera!

  • January 19, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    OMGoodness! I can’t tell you how much I LOVE each one of these photos. This was such a great read, & a fabulous post! Thank you SO much! I want to take pictures like you, when I grow up! Lol)

  • January 19, 2012 at 9:25 PM

    Great tutorial Kelly!! I love to watch how far you’ve come. Your pictures are so lively and fresh! Garret handsome!!!!!!

  • January 20, 2012 at 2:32 AM

    Wonderful post Kelly. My daughter runs screaming from the camera now so lifestyle photos are all I shoot of her for the most part. I always love hearing new ideas of how to capture my little lady. Your pictures are so beautiful and I’ve always admired your work. :)

  • January 20, 2012 at 3:48 AM

    i had to constintly bribe my kid to let me take his pictures but after i had baby #2 he would always put his cheek on hers and say look at us mom… take a picture! OK SON right on top of that! :o) YAY now the little one is on the move and it’s hard to get her to stay in one spot! haha

  • January 27, 2012 at 1:44 AM

    These are beautiful Kelly! I missed your post because I thought we were starting in February….leave it to me! Great tips and what a handsome little guy!

  • Melissa Kayser
    January 28, 2012 at 7:03 AM

    Love this post and site; it was recommended by a photographer friend. Wonderful advice!!! I recently have had a hard time with my son and because of his love of Batman, I asked him if he would be willing to let me take pictures of him dressed like Batman. Boy has that been a hit!! I know it will end soon, but he is still asking for more, so I will take advantage of it as long as I can. =)

  • January 26, 2013 at 10:31 AM

    This is such a wonderful piece! I loved it so much that I shared your link with our readers today on our blog:
    I am always looking for better ways to photograph candid moments of my four little ones! Beautiful post! Thank you!

    • Courtney
      March 18, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      Thanks so much for sharing :) Glad you liked it! Kelly has such great tips!!

  • December 7, 2013 at 12:08 PM

    Such cute pictures! I don’t have kids, but can use these tips with my nieces and nephews. Since my time with them to get a good shot is limited – I have to be quick! My three year old niece hides from the camera sometimes. But then I take pictures of her younger sister and she is quickly doing something silly and wanting me to get her again!

  • Julie Anne Moore
    December 12, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    Great post. A lot of this advice works great with pets as well, except bribery is a little higher on my list.

  • November 13, 2014 at 2:37 AM

    Brilliant article. Clearly these tips work as you have beautiful images of your boy. Thanks for sharing.

  • November 18, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    LOVE this piece! I have learned that for me to get a smile out of my daughter, or even just look at me, when taking her picture is to meow at her. Like me, she is obsessed with cats and when I meow at her she looks and smiles. She’s almost 21 months old so she bounces of the walls and can be very difficult to capture photos of that are worth keeping. I’m definitely going to favorite this article and keep it in mind. :)

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