I love shooting babies. Just look at them all quietly curled up, with their perfect petal pink cheeks and cherubic little mouths. Kids? Totally different story. Now, I adore my four year old nephew, but he ain’t easy to shoot. He does the scrunched up, squinty eyed “cheese!” face thing, he nearly always ends up with some sort of smeared mess on his face and he’s always jumping around like crazy. So, as he’s gotten older, I’ve developed some basic approaches that I’m going to share and I hope they help if you have kids in your life that you’d like to take better pictures of.
1. Go with the mess
For ages, I tried to get Ethan’s face clean when taking his picture. Then I realized, what’s the point? Aren’t toddlers meant to be messy? Looking back, which photo of me as a kid do I cherish more – the shot of me all clean and scrubbed, with my lace socks and doily-collar dress? Or the shot of me with a happy face covered in chocolate and a slice of ham on my head? It’s option two, every time. So go with the mess and the smudges, your shots will look much more natural (one exception: runny of gunked up noses. These never look good).
2. Face the light
When Ethan was a baby, I used to just pick him up and plonk him down in the middle of the loveliest light around. Nowadays, he’s well able to run away. So I find the best thing to do is to take pictures outside or set up his toys near a big window so the light streaming in is constant and more or less similar in most places. I usually use my 50mm 1.4 lens, which lets in lots of light and means that I don’t need a flash and get lovely shallow depth of field – handy for blurring out a messy background of toys!
3. Engage them
As a curious baby, my one year old nephew Noah is happy to just stare into the glass of my lens. I can look up from behind the camera and make a silly face, resulting in a giggle and cute shot. Four-year-old Ethan has absolutely no time for this at all; the camera has long lost its appeal. My fave shots of him now are of him looking engaged and interested, doing his favorite things – this could be block-building, reading, or playing with his toys. I’ll snap a few frames, then once or twice just call his name and hit the shutter right as he looks up for a natural, scrunch-free shot. This has the added bonus of placing him in context – looking back, I’ll remember not only what he looked like, but also how much he loved his Super Mario figurine or that Oliver Jeffers book.
(Bonus tip: If you really want them looking at the camera, you can play the “What’s in my lens” game. Basically, tell them there’s a fairy/ superhero/whatever you can dream up hiding in the lens of the camera. Can they see it? While the toddler curiously stares into the lens, you can fire off some shots. Bingo! That’s how I got the shots at the top of this post.)