Portrait Photography

Want to learn how to photograph children so they look real and natural, and not like that posed department store children portrait photography? Our special guest writer Barbara Bender, a professional freelance photographer and writer, shares the tips she uses when doing child portrait photography of her grandchildren.

Photographing "Real" Kids:
Embrace the Chaos

by Barbara Bender


children portrait photography
How to photograph children
© Barbara Bender

This article is not about making formal portraits of well behaved, dressed up little children who are smiling nicely for the camera. It's about shooting kids as they really are... messy, adorable, active, silly-acting little people who can laugh with joy one minute and have a tantrum the next. Their emotions are extravagant and their faces and body language reflect them clearly. These feelings can dramatically change within seconds. When I photograph my seven grandchildren. I like to capture the unabashed laughter, the silliness, the tears and all the other precious, fleeting moments of their childhood. I want to photograph them as they are in that moment, not make them act out a role that I have determined for them.

This kind of child portrait photography is noisy, unpredictable, exhausting and exhilarating. In order to capture the true essence of kids and portray the ups and downs of childhood you must have your camera ready at every moment, and work with each situation as it quickly arises. You need to accept the fact that your image quality may not live up to your usual photographic standards. The use of a higher ISO, necessary to "freeze" swiftly moving kids, can result in digital noise. There may be some camera shake or unintentional motion blur. Backgrounds might be messy, and the light not always ideal. Because you only have seconds to shoot, your compositions can sometimes be awkward. However, if you embrace the chaos and relax with the fact that there may be some technical flaws in many of your images, and if your image is honest and evocative, you will have created a successful photograph.

how to photograph children
Children portrait photography
© Barbara Bender

Advanced planning is essential in child portrait photography. Very few kids will wait patiently while you switch lenses, adjust settings, or change batteries or memory cards. They are too busy, and if you're involved doing camera stuff, you will miss the shot. Come to the shoot with freshly charged batteries and several large capacity memory cards. A zoom lens which covers a good span of focal lengths is very useful. Although it offends my artistic sensibilities to have no control over my depth of field, I often shoot in Program mode when photographing the little ones at times when things are happening at warp speed. I set my ISO to 500 or 1000, depending on the light, even though I know that there will be some digital noise. I'd rather capture the moment and the expression, than risk missing it while I fiddle with camera controls. Since action happens quickly and unexpectedly around kids, I set my camera on the continuous shooting mode and often keep shooting even after I think the moment has passed. Frequently the seconds following the "main event" can hold interesting possibilities.

Barbara shares her thoughts on
how to photograph children...

"Advanced planning is essential..."


It is very difficult to capture the personality of very young babies in still photographs, but once they reach several months of age, their characters have begun to emerge, and photographing them becomes easier and more fun. There are countless opportunities for photos as babies begin to sit, crawl, walk and play. Bath times and mealtimes are also full of photographic potential. Just be there and ready, and capture the spontaneous moments as they occur, without any specific agenda in mind.


children portrait photography
Children portrait photography
© Barbara Bender

Toddlers are loveable, impossible, stubborn, full of energy and usually have minds of their own. Good luck trying to get them to cooperate. One minute they are full of giggles; the next in a flood of tears. Follow their lead, accept them for themselves and enjoy the moment. They are busy little people, with many interests, and you can follow them around and photograph all of it. Don't forget, they're small, so get down to their level for better pictures.


By three or four, kids have settled down somewhat and can usually communicate very well. They may follow your instructions... for about two minutes... then will want to direct the shoot themselves. Ask them what they would like to be doing in their pictures.

Around this time, kids often become self conscious and can't figure out how to smile naturally. Because they often love to make silly faces and rude noises, use this to your advantage, and ask them to show you their repertoire of goofy expressions and poses. They'll have a blast and as they laugh in a genuine way at their own cleverness, you can often capture that.

child portrait photography
Children portrait photography
© Barbara Bender

School-Aged Kids

They're bigger and want to appear mature, but they're still kids, and most love to horse around and be silly. Again, photograph them doing what they enjoy doing, and let them tell you what that is. When children are engrossed in an activity, their facial expressions and body language are genuine and natural and the pictures will be more evocative and will reveal their personalities.

child portrait photography
Children portrait photography
© Barbara Bender

So, embrace the chaos of children portrait photography! Have your camera with you, set up and ready to shoot, and be prepared for whatever happens. Take advantage of the moments and opportunities as they arise, but don't forget to join in the fun and enjoy yourself.

Tip: teaches online photography courses on a whole variety of subjects. I've taken three of them myself, and highly recommend the company. They have a 4-week course called "Photographing Children and Babies" that teaches more great tips for photographing kids, to add to what you've learned from Barbara. Secure Your Seat TODAY!


child portrait photography
Children portrait photography
© Barbara Bender


About Barbara Bender


Barbara Bender

Barbara Bender is a freelance professional photographer and writer who uses various creative techniques, emphasis on design, and simple, often graphic composition to make photographs which are frequently expressive in nature. Her photographs have been featured in such publications as Nature's Best Awards Issue, Black and White Magazine, and Color Magazine. A series of articles on photographic Creativity and Playfulness was featured in PhotoLife Magazine in 2010. Over forty-five of her images have been used as book covers for Guernica Editions. As an active member of the Greater Toronto Council of Camera Clubs, she gives presentations and workshops on various photographic topics.

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