Children are fast and full of energy. Getting them to stand at one place and photograph never works. Capturing them in a manner that shows their energy and enthusiasm works.
(A child from an urban slum, whose confident eyes and yet an insecure expression caught my attention)
Get friendly with the children
Children are innocent and they quickly make friends. Just make sure that you have the permission of their parents before talking to the children. Talk to them about their life, their day in general or what interests them the most. Let them take the lead. Be a good listener. This is even more important when it comes to children than adults.
Do not discuss about their school, class, school friends or teachers. This was told to me by a child. According to her discussing these things makes me look like stupid in her eyes. She says that lots of ‘big’ people ask her these questions to start a conversation and this does not cut ice. For those of you wondering, the kid is 5 years of age!
(Letting children do what they love can become a great prop for the photograph. This boy was very shy of the camera initially but when he picked up his flute, all his shyness was gone. He managed to look at the camera before starting to play on his flute. A moment after this photograph, he had turned away and his other hand was also on the flute. Timing the photograph is also very important when it comes to children)
Once you have established a good rapport with the child, take some sample shots. Children love to see their photographs, so show them their pictures on the preview screen. This will make them happy and ready to pose for many more photographs.
More than half the photographs might go waste while photographing children. This was a big waste in the film days, but now in the digital era, just ignore this waste. Like I mentioned earlier, children are full of energy and keep moving all around. So, blurred photographs, wrong compositions, haywire exposures etc are bound to happen.
Here are a few basic pointers –
- When there are more than one child in the photograph, focus on the eyes of the child you want the viewer to look at.
- Use AF-C (tracking autofocus mode) if the children are moving a lot, or be really good with manual focusing.
- Use a shutter speed which is high enough to take care of the camera movement. Increasing the ISO helps.
- Do not get them to pose. Let the children have their own fun time and capture the photographs in those moments of fun.
- Learn to predict the ‘decisive moment’ when the action in front of the camera will create the photograph with maximum impact.
- Do not use a head-on flash. It may add the punch to the photograph but makes the photographs bland to look at.
- Use a normal lens. Short teles may make the portraits look flattering but when it comes to children, going close really helps.
(The three friends in the above photograph stood still and posed. Though the love is visible in the eyes of the boy on the left, their smiles are not seen. The photograph below was an unposed one and conveys a deeper message)
(Three close friends enjoying their moments of togetherness)
A paediatrician friend of mine says, children are always beautiful. It does not matter which race or socio-economic status they are from. The beauty extends below their skins and reflects as their innocence, happiness and carefree attitude. A photographer’s aim should be to go below the superficial beauty and let the photographs show what is in the hearts of these children.
Some more pointers for photographing children –
- Let the photographs show what they are happy doing. The young boy in one of the photographs above was keen on showing his flute. There was a young girl whom I photographed some months back who insisted on every photograph showing her teddy bear.
- Include their surroundings where possible. This creates a link with their way of life. In the above photographs, I consciously avoided showing the surroundings. More about these photographs at the end of the article which might help you understand why there are no surroundings shown.
- Get down on your knees when photographing small children. Keeping the camera low helps. They too will respond back by acknowledging your efforts by providing excellent photo-opportunities.
- Be on the look-out for the fleeting moments that provide an element of surprise to your photograph. Be fast and capture those.
(The young boy, who turned around for a moment to look at me. He was intrigued by my camera)
About the Photographs in this article: All these photographs were clicked by me while working with Operation Eyesight Universal, a Canadian NGO fighting the avoidable blindness issue in various countries. Do visit them here – Operation Eyesight Universal (the link opens in a new tab)
All the photographs except the last one, were clicked in the slums of Kanpur, a city in northern India. The last photograph is from the island of Majuli (Majuli Island).