Taking portraits of children can be a challenging endeavor! It is almost as if children know someone is trying to photograph them and purposely fight against it. In some ways the best thing we can do is stop trying to force a portrait and “let kids be kids.” Usually if we do this, the photograph will have more impact.
Sally Mann, a fine art photographer who uses a large format 8 X 10 film view camera and sometimes even larger, would photograph her children as they played and explored at the families’ summer cabin. She would try to capture every reality of a child faces; sadness, happiness, pain, anger. She would allow the children to do their thing, occasionally pausing them to capture the moment. A great resource to find out more about Mann is artsy.net, we love their site.
Loretta Lux, originally a painter born in Dresden, East Germany, transitioned into a fine art photographer and creates surreal composite portraits of children using digital techniques. Her process involves photographing the children, typically those of her friends, against a neutral backdrop. She then extracts the children from the original photograph and drops them into other backgrounds to create her unique looking portraits. When asked why she uses children for her photographs she stated: “They have no reservations. They are the most honest models” (Sayre, 2008).
Fine art photographer Julie Blackmon, creates sometimes digitally manipulated and composited photographs, that depict modern families. She says about her work “As an artist and as a mother, I believe life’s most poignant moments come from the ability to fuse fantasy and reality: to see the mythic amidst the chaos.” Her photographs capture those chaotic but beautiful moments that could describe any of our lives.
So how do we make these photographs of chlidren unique and creative? Photographer Sam Abell’s father put it best when he said to his son “The unusual wins out over the usual.”
Here are some tips and tricks to consider when photographing children in addition to “letting kids be kids.”
1. Find a unique angle, below or above your subject. This unique viewpoint will make for a more interesting photograph. Stand on a chair, step, balcony etc.
2. Try to find good light! Get up early, or shoot in the evening, find an interesting wash of light coming in from a window etc. The more interesting and dynamic the light the more interesting the portrait.
3. Go explore with your kids! Going out and exploring the neighborhood with your kids will create a memorable experience and the chance for some great photographs!
4. Use your imagination! Remember what is was like to be a kid and try to photograph your own children with that in mind. That childlike wonder holds some great inspiration!
5. Have fun and keep it candid. Shoot those candid moments, they often make the most interesting portraits anyway. When shooting candid, every so often you might call to your child to pause or pose but keeping in mainly candid will keep your children from fighting you.
6. A portrait does not always have to show a face or whole body. Sometimes an image of the feet or hands makes for a more interesting image.
Keep these tips in mind for shooting portraits of kids and you should come up with some really unique results.