Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

Let’s face it – kiddos can be HARD to photograph!  They are fast and busy and couldn’t care less about looking at the camera with a real smile.  They’ve got things to do!
photo 101

I’ve been photographing families in Charleston, SC since 2012 and I want to pass along a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way.  Here are some thoughts along with photos to help you next time you’re photographing some busy children!

Before you even take a photo…
Set realistic expectations
Be patient 🙂
Kids should be fed and rested
Remove clutter from area

MAKE IT FUN!  Kids are not designed to sit still, look at the camera and smile.  Even when they are old enough to do that they often have a forced smile they’ve been trained to give when an adult pulls out a camera.  To pull out real, genuine smiles get ready to play with your kiddos!  Below are images I’ve given to clients and the activity we were doing exactly when I snapped the photo:

Play “peek-a-boo.”  This one works really well with certain ages!

Bubbles!  They have been a lifesaver for me.  I order them in bulk from Amazon, ha!  They make for some really fun candids.  I typically save them for the end of a shoot because once you pull them out that’s all the kiddos are focused on.  But sometimes I take them out earlier in the session if a kid is having a meltdown or you need them to be still for just. one. second.

Choose toys you don’t mind being in the photos.  If it helps the child feel more comfortable it’s worth it!  Plus, I think it adds to the image because you can look back and remember what the child was into at different stages.

For this image I was was throwing a ball with Blaise with my left hand and taking photos of him with my right.  It takes some coordination but it works!  Be sure to have your camera on a high shutter speed.

Along the same lines, bring an activity they love.  At the time these little ladies were into tea parties so that’s exactly what we did at the park.

Let your kiddo just do their thing.  Allow them to play and explore and follow their lead.

Visit a playground.  I love the one at Palmetto Island County Park which is made of wood as opposed to the crazy colored plastic ones.

Eat a treat! I think photos of kiddos eating seasonal foods like ice cream, watermelon or s’mores in the summer can be so fun. And it gives them something to do.

Sing songs.  This sweet girl and I were singing and she looked at her parents and started tapping her hands on the table.

BRIBE THEM.  Because once they get a little older it works!  You can promise a trip to get donuts or a treat after you take some photos or for smaller kiddos sometimes it helps to have something on the shoot with you.  I’ve had parents bring all kids of treats!  I think mini marshmallows work well because they’re not messy 🙂
Here’s the shot we got right before we gave them the lollipops!

Say “Don’t smile!”  At a certain age this works like a charm.  If you tell them not to smile  then make a big deal when they do (“Stop, stop, stop – I told you not to!”) you can get some great genuine smiles.  Of course, it can completely backfire on you and they’ll just give you the stink eye, but it’s worth a shot!  That’s how I got this sweet scrunched nose smile from Clara…

And speaking of smiling… it’s overrated!  We say “smile” so much that kiddos just tune us out!  Take some photos of your child without a smile.  It still makes for a beautiful image and it captures another side of their personality!
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC. Charleston Children Photographer.


And speaking of overrated… so is looking at the camera!  I’ll say the same thing.  Kids hear us say “look at me!” “look at the camera!” so much they grow immune to it.  And that’s okay.  Go ahead and take photos of them anyway 🙂

Capture the tantrums, too because #reallife.  You can use them as blackmail later.
It’s hard being a model.

Get different perspectives.  Get down on their level.  I was on my stomach just like them for this shot:

Shoot from above…
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photography.

Shoot from far away…

Shoot close…
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photographer.

Shoot closer…
Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photographer.

Most of the sessions I do are outdoors. I just love natural light!  If you want to take some photographs indoors – shoot midday, shoot near windows and doors and shoot as your child plays.
For newborns, I usually put them in a basket near a window or door so the light is coming at them from the side.  If you have an abundance of natural light coming in you can place them on a bed or somewhere further away from the window.  As long as they are getting good natural light from a window or door you should be good.  You don’t want to put them in the direct sun, either.  Hot spots aren’t good!  And turn off other lights and lamps, natural light only.

I hope this has been helpful as you think about ways you can capture your kiddos’ personalities!  I think the moral of the story is to not take things too seriously and have fun with it.  The days of stuffy studio shots with everyone looking at the camera are over!  And if your child is going through a phase *ahem – 18 months old* when they refuse to look at the camera, they’ll come around 🙂

My LAST bit of advice?  Learn how to use your fancy camera on manual mode.  You are smarter than your camera and can learn how to tell your camera exactly what to do to achieve the final result you want.  You can read more about that here:



Shutter Speed

How to Find Good Light

If you live in the Charleston area I offer one-on-one photo lessons.  If you have a fancy camera and want to know how to use all of those buttons please click here to see details!  I can also help you with white balance if you’re struggling with that.  Email me at info@melissagriffinphotography to customize a lesson for you!




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