When photographing children, it’s worth taking time to set your camera up properly. Kids move quickly, so using a slightly faster shutter speed than normal is a good idea. Aim for around 1/200th of a second and faster, so that you can make sure you freeze the action. Combine this with an aperture of around f5.6, which will allow plenty of light into your lens and give you a nice shallow depth of field. Set your focus mode on automatic, so that the camera will change from still to moving subjects as required, and set a single AF-point so that you always know where the camera is focusing. Try and keep your ISO as low as possible.
If you’re shooting outside, then natural light can work very well with children. Some parents may want an indoor shoot with more formal studio lighting, and for this, I find that a clean white background works best. For more information on lighting, check out this article.
Take your time
The biggest tip I can give you for photographing children is not to rush. You need to be patient with children – they don’t perform on cue! Start by actually talking to them, or engaging with them if they’re younger. Children don’t always have the patience levels of adults so let them get used to the camera. Taking time also means you might need to take some breaks – I tend not to photograph kids for longer than half an hour before taking some time out.
Let kids be kids
Asking a child to stand still and smile rarely leads to a great shot (think of your school photographs!). Instead, let kids play and move around and provide them with toys or props to interact with. You’ll get plenty of more natural shots this way, and it will help the child to forget that you’re pointing a camera at them!
Keep the camera to your eye
Children move quickly and don’t tend to stay in one place for all that long. And their expressions change all the time. If you put the camera down, I can almost guarantee that you’ll miss a great shot! Keep the camera to your eye and track the kids as they move around, so that you’re always ready to capture a great shot.
On the level
Looming over a child with a great big DSLR isn’t going to inspire their confidence. The best way to get great shots of kids is to get down to their level. Sit or kneel on the floor, or lie full-length if necessary! This puts you on their level and helps to get even better shots.
Act like Kids!
I think one of the reasons I get good shots of kids is because I’m not afraid to act like kids! Pull funny faces, goof around with them and don’t worry about losing a little dignity along the way. Children don’t judge, but they love it when an adult isn’t afraid to play with them and join in their games.
Don’t say cheese
Tell a child to smile or, worse, say ‘cheese’ and you’re pretty much guaranteed a big fake grin. Kids tend to freeze up and pull a rigid rictus grin if they’re told to pose. It’s also a good idea to prime Mum and Dad not to intervene in trying to get their kids to behave and pose dutifully. You want shots that show the children in a natural environment and behaving in their own fashion, rather than posing awkwardly for the camera.