We’ll spend this month stepping through various tips and techniques when it comes to photographing casual portraits of children. Let’s start out by stepping through gear and technical setting choices, with a few examples of why certain photographs can be better captured with different lenses, varying technical settings and interactive approaches.

The cameras I use most often are the Nikon D850, D5/D4S and D750. Although I have a few other cameras, too (yes, it’s a problem), I find that the majority of my images are shot with these cameras.
In terms of lenses, I am primarily shooting with the 24-70mm f2.8, the 105mm 1.4 and the 70-200mm f2.8. I will occasionally shoot with the 35mm 1.4 lens, as well.

This image was shot with the D5 and 70-200mm f2.8 lens, at 1/640 sec, f2.8, ISO 500, using center-weighted metering.
I had initially been photographing this lovely little girl with the 24-70mm f2.8 lens, but I found that she was a little self-conscious, and it was showing up in her expression, resulting in a bit of a strained smile. I wanted her to feel more at ease. I have found that one relatively simple way to combat self-consciousness in my subjects is to simply step back and shoot with a longer focal length – basically, “give them some space”. So I switched to the 70-200mm f2.8 lens and shot from a farther distance away. This also allowed her more room to race around, which also contributed to a more playful expression. I made sure to keep my shutter speed above 1/500 sec because she was moving around so much.
I took this photograph in relatively small grassy area, a side yard. By shooting at a shallow depth of field and tilting the camera a bit, I was able to create a more interesting composition, positioning her face in the upper right thirds of the frame, something I would not have achieved if I had shot this scene with a straight horizon line.
The lighting on this image was simply fill light reflected back from the silver side of a 42” reflector, positioned just out of frame.

This image was shot with the D850 and 105mm 1.4 lens, at 1/640 sec, f2.2, ISO 1000 and matrix/evaluative metering, with the fill light from the white side of a 42” reflector.
I shot this photograph in a local park, looking for a vibrant background and shifting the “normal” shot of a subject sitting on a bench to a differently angled pose, where she was leaning back on the arm of the bench and I shot from the other end of it, shooting at about a 45 degree angle, tilted down and focused on her eyes.
Because it was later in the day, and the light was dropping, I boosted my ISO to 1000 in order to brighten up the scene.
A few extra touches that turned this casual shot into more of a portrait:

  • I crossed her legs and framed the image just below the knees, for more of a “V” at the bottom, which helped to bring more curve to the pose
  • I gave her something to hold that contributed to the image – in this case, bringing that vibrant color forward, suggesting that she hold a flower
  • I reminded her to soften herhands/fingers, which added a delicacy to her pose
  • I remained playful while interacting, suggesting silly ways to alter the pose versus just instructing her to follow steps, which allowed me to capture a more lighthearted, genuine expression, versus a “cheese” smile.

This image was shot with the Nikon D4S and 24-70mm f2.8 lens, at 1/500 sec, f3.5, and ISO 500, center-weighted Metering
I shot this colorful image on this little guy’s front porch. I created a center-composed shot by changing my angle to the subject (shooting to the left of him instead of straight on) and adjusting the chairs behind him to line up in the background, instead of just face each other. I also took a minute to remove some clutter from the background, something I do often. As a general rule, I look at everything that is included in my frame to determine if it all needs to be there before I click the shutter. Quite often, the answer is no – and I remove excess clutter in order to better showcase my subject. In this case, I removed a blanket and a couple of comic books, and I pulled some color through my re-positioning the blue pillow.
He was distractedly playing with his feet, so I started talking to his toes, and he thought that was hilarious. (Ah, kids are an easy audience). As I continued a conversation with his toes, I moved closer to him and shot at a 55mm focal length, very similar to what would be captured by a 50mm lens. Because I was consistently varying my angle and distance to subject to try different looks and feels, however, I preferred shooting with the versatile 24-70mm for this shot.The only lighting for this was natural light, the diffused sunlight just off of the porch.
To give you a good idea of how I will “create a pose” with kids while interacting with them, here’s a quick clip of it in action. This is in my studio, but it’s the same technique I’ll use anywhere. I basically set up the look (physically pose them or adjust the background or change my settings or shift the lighting) while interacting with them in whatever way they are most interested in interacting with me. I work to keep them engaged and ready so that when the shot is taken, the expression is already there – or at least I am not starting from scratch. In this case, it was a 3 year-old boy, so the talk was mostly nonsensical (albeit a bit gross for me there at the end!), but he stayed engaged while I posed him, so it worked.

These are just a few examples of how gear, technical settings, posing, composition and interactive techniques all come into play when it comes to shooting casual portraits around the house or at a local park. Feel free to ask any questions in the forum, and I will do my best to answer with something helpful 😉