So you catch your kids playing and laughing outside, the lighting is just right – it’s the perfect photo opportunity. You rush to get out your camera, but then…
They see the camera. They stiffen up. They start posing. The moment is lost. Here, photographer Elena Shumilova, shares her tips for photographing children.
Take lots of pictures
When photographing children, the single most important thing is to photograph them often . It’s the everyday scenes that you want to capture – the ones you’ll want to remember once they’ve grown up.
If you photograph them sporadically though, they’ll freeze up as soon as the camera comes out. Consistency is key. That way they’ll be comfortable around the camera.
To get the most genuine photos, I try to catch them in the moment — when they’re playing with each other and have completely forgotten about the camera.
Think about clothing
I follow a pretty simple rule: clothes shouldn’t be distracting. They shouldn’t take attention away from what’s happening in the photo.
This is easier said than done given that many kids clothes are designed to grab your attention! In photographs, all this takes attention away from your kids.
How to capture kids of different ages
Here you’ll have an advantage as a parent. You’re the mother. You’re around your baby 24 hours a day, and know when he cries and when he doesn’t. Let your parenting instinct help you choose the right moment.
Something I noticed while photographing many children, including my own, is that there seems to be a universal age when kids are the most photogenic. Kids around this age behave very naturally. They don’t care that someone is looking at them, they don’t care what others think, and they don’t care that a camera is pointed at them.
They aren’t yet self aware. And so, they’re free.
Ages 5 and Older
It gets a bit more difficult when they’re older. As early as age five, they start to become more self-conscious when the camera comes out. They start to pose.
The key here is to be very patient. Let them play while you disappear into the background. My best photos always happen at the end of a photo shoot, when my kids have forgotten all about the camera.
Photographing children with animals
Just like children, some pets like to be photographed, and others don’t. I spend hours observing our farm animals, figuring out how they move and what angles work best for them — just as I would for people.
I’ve also tried bribing pets with food, but it doesn’t work. It’s almost impossible to get a good picture when they’re chewing or licking their paws!
With animals, you have to rely on a bit of luck — and patience.
Don’t get frustrated
When I was first starting out, I got frustrated easily. I used to create these elaborate setups — I’d bring my kids to a special place, in special clothes, at a special time with the lighting just right. I’d arrange it all. And naturally, I started to feel like they owed me a good photo.
But I started getting better photos when I realized: no one owes me anything.
If you get frustrated, your kids will sense it and won’t want to participate anymore. Which just creates a vicious cycle of more frustration. When I stopped feeling entitled to a good photo, I was more relaxed. It was more fun for me and for them.
Rather than creating high-pressure elaborate setups, observe your kids in everyday simple situations. Do it every day. Bring your camera along.
And then — when the right moment comes along — you’ll be ready.
Don’t give up
This is the most famous photo I’ve taken. It’s been viewed over 10 million times — but I almost didn’t bring my camera that day.
Before I took this photo, my confidence was at a pretty low point. I had tried for a photo of my son and dog 14 other times — not 14 other photos, but 14 full photo shoots, all failures.
I was convinced that my hands were too clumsy, or my dog was not the right dog for it, or my kid was not the right kid for it. I was just feeling desperate that day and didn’t even want to bring my camera.
But something told me to bring it. And on that fifteenth day, it all just came together.
This dog of ours is now famous — but he’s not all that photogenic from most angles. He’s actually a pretty difficult dog to work with. From the previous 14 photo shoots, I’d learned what angles and body compositions work for him and my son.
It‘s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think, “Oh, why bother, it won’t work anyway.” And it may not for the first 14 times. Those 14 photo shoots weren’t failures though, because I learned from them. And they’re what made the fifteenth one possible.
- Elena Shumilova displays her wonderful photos on SmugMug.com, a paid photo-sharing website and image hosting service, which allows users to upload photos and videos to their SmugMug sites.