How to photograph children in the most creative and unique way this holiday season. / by Zack Smith Photography

 Emelie Thomson photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in New Orleans, 2018

Emelie Thomson photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in New Orleans, 2018

If you know me, I have never been one to photograph many kids, babies, or even teens. But after having a child of my own I have really enjoyed documenting my daughter’s personality through her experiences at learning and loving life. Parents often ask me, “how can I photograph my kids in a more creative and fun way”?


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I don’t think there is an easy answer to photographing kids as they are all different and require a different approach to getting them to be their best selves when the camera is up and ready. I made this blog post to help you with photographing your kids in time for the upcoming holidays. I hope this will help you capture their natural beauty and adventurous spirit at the house and at your next family gathering!

 Liam Rhein photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018

Liam Rhein photographed at Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018

 Maggie Rhein photographed in Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018.

Maggie Rhein photographed in Zack Smith Photography Studio in 2018.

Before you capture a photo, capture a child’s heart

One common mistake people make when photographing kids is trying too hard to make things happen as planned. For instance, trying to make them smile when they don’t want to, or trying to direct the shoot too much. I feel it just doesn’t work that way for kids. Instead, aim for fun times; and good photos will just happen. Speak to them in their language and spark their imagination at all times keeping them interested in the process. Most professional photographers swear by one simple thumb rule; Before you capture kids’ photos, capture their heart. PERIOD. This might mean asking some questions about their day, what foods they like, or even if they like cameras (see?) before you even touch the camera, or starting a conversation about their hobbies. The idea is to make them feel at ease before you get started. That way, you have a better chance of getting their attention during the shoot. Preparation for photographing children should start weeks in advance. But what should you be doing during that phase? Here are some tips and ideas.

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Choosing the right location for your child’s photoshoot

When choosing a location for your kids or teens’ portrait session, consider a few questions. Maybe you have a favorite spot in mind or a location that speaks to you on an emotional level. That’s great, but what about consulting with the parents to find out if there is a place that they kid has a connection to where they feel comfortable and even playful? Try photographing at their favorite park or playground with the caveat that after the shoot they get playtime?

How is the lighting condition? – Just choosing a brightly-lit location is not enough. You need a place with enough open shades, so you can avoid shooting in the direct sun. As we know already direct sunlight creates harsh shadows – not good for children portraits unless you are shooting in full sun as a side light or diffusing it with a 5 in 1 reflector. Alternatively, shoot in the magic hour, which is an hour or so after the sunrise or an hour before the sunset.

 Poet and Cecil at the cypress tree. Notice how the tree motif is a pleasing background for this portrait.

Poet and Cecil at the cypress tree. Notice how the tree motif is a pleasing background for this portrait.

Ask yourself, does the location offer visual variety? Choosing the right background will help make your kid portraits look more vivid and lively. Choose a location that offers enough visual variety. For instance, try going to an area near you where there are brightly colored houses, manicured fences with ivy and oak trees to accompany the composition to direct the viewer’s eyes towards the subject, while also adding more depth to your photo.

 Having kids “go on an adventure” sparks their imagination and creativity and you just point and click!

Having kids “go on an adventure” sparks their imagination and creativity and you just point and click!

Choosing what to wear to the photoshoot is important!

Before you can decide what to wear, you need to know what not to wear. There is no set rule, but I like to tell parents to avoid busy prints and patterns as they do not translate well on camera. Bright colors are great but make sure you avoid harsh colors like neon, black, deep red and deep green as they could reflect onto your kids’ skin to make them look unnatural. It is also a good idea to avoid distracting logos and slogan shirts. If you’re photographing kids in natural light, avoid white shirts as they make it more difficult to set exposure if you are using auto.

Point being: the focus should be on your kids rather than on their outfits. If you’re still not sure what to wear, here are some good examples.

·      Light blue overalls with matching headbands  

·      Seersuckers in pastel colors for your teens

·      Double denim for your teen boys

·      Basic neutrals or soft floral dresses for babies

Another important thing is that your kids’ outfits should be comfortable to wear and easy to maintain. Never let them wear hard-to-pull-on tights on a photo shoot. You cannot expect a happy mood from someone in physical discomfort, right?