Friday, November 6, 2009

{words from Willette}

What makes a good photographer a great children’s photographer?

The beauty of the digital camera revolution is that nearly anyone can become a photographer. I firmly believe that anyone can become a decent photographer with just a bit of practice. Now, becoming a great children’s photographer takes a few more skills besides knowing about aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Being a great children’s photographer involves something REALLY important…..being able to relate to children and engage their attention. If you can’t engage a child, then forget it…your photos will look forced and unnatural. I find that the biggest joy in photographing children is capturing their energy and life – and showing these emotions to the children’s parents and seeing them ooze with love for their precious, happy angels. Most of my images capture the joy of childhood…that is part of my style and part of how I interact with them. Even though I am “behind” the camera at a session, I am still TOTALLY consumed with my child subject. That is the key to capturing and engaging the child.

To start, I use a lens with a focal length that allows me to be an arm’s length away from the child (especially when they’re just wee little bits). Being this close allows me to engage physically with them: tickles, touching their toes, etc. On my full frame camera, my lens of choice is a 50mm 1.4. When I used a digital crop sensor camera, I used a 35mm 2.0 lens. I have found that the further away I am from the child…the harder it is to engage and keep their attention.

I’d LOVE to share a couple of games I play with the kiddos to keep them 100% on board. I’ll break the games up by ages just to help you understand children’s developmental stages. Please note that I am not including tips for new babies in this blog article.

6 months – one year:

I LOVE to photograph babies at this stage when they are just sitting up. Their personalities shine through, they’re super happy and smiley, and life is good. For little babies such as this, it is fun to do things like try to kiss their toes. I call this “giving them the yum yums” – I have NO idea where I got the name for this, but basically I will just lunge in, and pretend to eat their toes. Makes them smile. Another great game for this state is peek-a-boo (this will work for kiddos up to about age three as well). You can NEVER go wrong with this game. If the child is NOT digging you, have mom get RIGHT behind you and play peek-a-boo.

12 months – 2 years:

Watch out and get ready to be fast for these guys! Keep those shutter speeds up HIGH! For these moving and shakin’ kiddos, you have to be fast!

Some tricks for this age….in order to capture them still (at least for a split second), use a tricycle or a chair to set them on. You can also sit on the ground across from them and just roll a ball back and forth with them. As you’re about to roll (or gently toss to them)…say funny things or make animal sounds (while holding your camera) and click as you’re about to roll or toss. You’ll get great, adorable facial expressions.

To engage them, high fives are a wonderful thing! This is a trick they have mastered by this age. Hold the camera in one hand, and high five with the other. They’ll clap for themselves out of sheer joy over the interaction with you. Ask them about the animal sounds they know. You can even sing songs they know (and substitute silly lyrics)….wait until you see the hysterics when you try to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Square.”

If the child is slow to warm up…take a photo of them and show it to them, or take one of mom and show them. That way they will realize WHAT it is that you’re doing with that big black thing you’re holding.

3 years – 5 years

These kiddos are ready to be your friend….you just have to know how to interact with them! I highly recommend the animal sound game, but take it one step further…try to trick them. For this game, you ask the child if an animal makes a certain sound, but you change what sound the animal actually makes. Example: Hey Johnny, does the elephant go MOOOO???? Or, did you know that dogs go MEOW? The kids will crack up at how silly you are and try to correct you. You can get a good five minutes out of this game…seriously! I also LOVE to ask kids what color their eyes are (and guess some totally off the wall color, like orange). They will think you are insane and will laugh at how silly you are.

Just talk to them… ask names of characters from cartoons that they watch. I highly recommend being up on your cartoons (and you best learn the lyrics to all the hip cartoon show theme songs…you NEVER know when you’ll have to break out in song to entertain a child). When talking to a kid about his or her favorite show, you can be silly. Ask who Diego’s sidekick is (you can ask if Diego has a baby elephant as a pet…or if Dora the Explorer’s friend Boots is a dog?).

5 years – 7 years

Be prepared to interrogate these kids. Ask them EVERYTHING about their day…get the scoop from the playground, from the lunch table, ask them about their boyfriend or girlfriend….you’ll get a GREAT embarrassed smile from this question. I also love to be educated on what they are playing…video games, iPods, etc. They’ll talk to you…I promise. It is also at this age that potty humor is truly an amazing tool….TRUST me on this. If you pretend to fart or if you ask if someone just farted, watch out and be prepared for the laughs. I would clear this with mom prior to launching into a symphony of passing gas sounds. There are even some iPhone free applications for farting machines. I highly encourage you to familiarize yourself with Nintendo DS games and anything on Disney or Cartoon Network that these “older” kiddos would watch. If you don’t know, ask them. They’ll light up to have a one on one conversation with you.

Another useful trick I do is to have someone else (preferable the funnier of the parents) get RIGHT behind me (ALL up in my personal space) and mess with my hair or pretend to do things to my head. The kids will laugh. Play this up…act like a clown!!!!

7 years and up

Just do a little of above with the conversations… about cell phones with the older ones. Ask if they have one, and if they know how to text, etc. Another great ice breaker with older kiddos is talking to them about the iMixes on their iPod if they have them. Pretend like you’re totally uncool and don’t know what songs kids are listening to…OR, WOW them with your knowledge of Lady Gaga’s latest single. I have been known to do a horrible imitation of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” Dance routine for a kiddo before….thank goodness no one was recording me. If they see that you are not afraid to open up, then they, too, will open up to you.

The bottom line for you as a children’s photographer is to just have fun with it. show up to a session to work….get down on the ground on the child’s physical level…and you may even want to bring your intellect down to their level as well! Have fun!

Visit her website for more details:
You can follow Kelly on Twitter under “mommairish” for more random photography tips or on facebook under:

Kelly’s portrait website is



  1. All so true! Last weekend I had leaves sticking out of my hair and was dancing to the Black Eyed Peas on my iPhone during a session :)

  2. Fabulous tips!!!! Thank you for taking the time to share this valuable information with us :D

  3. Love Kelly's work! Also have one of the cookbooks, which I LOVE.

    (P.S. - you need to take the ".com" off the very end of the Facebook link:)

  4. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information with us. (:

  5. Great tips! I can't wait to try them out! Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Thank u so much! Lots of great tips that will make a big difference to my approach with older kids :-)