Speed Guide: Making Portraits With Kids!

It’s that dreaded time of year (or perhaps, that dreaded time every 5 years!)… Your family has grown–or grown up–and you need to refresh your childrens’ photos.

The decision to commit to taking professional photos of their kids isn’t one that’s taken lightly by many parents.  It requires a burst of effort for the planning, clean clothes, and fresh haircuts to put the wheels on that bus, and get it rolling smoothly down the street to execution!

But parents, I assure you, it’s worth it!  While my family completely appreciates the humor of the annual school picture, that shot with my kidlin in front of the “choose your own adventure” green-screen background (you know she chose the Camelot Castle!!!!!) is not exactly Holiday Card fodder.  My family’s goal?  Something that shows her and her personality.  Something that tells her story.  I think many parents long for the same…

Fun, cute, striking, and expressive.  I firmly believe that with the help of the right photographer, great portraits of your child can be a real thing!  Keep on reading below for some tips on how you, too, can survive Making Portraits With Kids!

The Clothes Make the KidYoung Girl Portrait-3

For most parents, kids will see making pictures something that they are doing for YOU.  Children below the age of 17 (18, 19, or 20 even maybe!) don’t seem to be motivated by the fact that by taking these great photos, they’ll have something awesome to look back on in their adulthood.  I know this.  I’ve tried 😉

So, the balancing point then comes in on flexing on the stuff that they can then see as something for “them”.  One of the easiest things is clothes.  I know…  That’s a tough one to let go of–it could go just fine, or, could go oooooooh soooooo badly!

Self-selected clothes are that first key to showing their personality, so if you’re worried about what they might pick, agree on some “boundaries”… Nothing with holes in the knees/stains/paint/pictures of Bob the Builder, etc. One dressy outfit + one fun casual outfit. Combining stripes and flowers is ok, but no polka dots.  You get the idea:-)  Build a framework for choices that makes sense for your little (or not so little!) one, and then, appreciate what they pick 😉

If you have committed to a full family photo, have no fear!  This can still work… Unless you are having a very formal, in-studio type photo made, the classic “matching outfit” trend has largely faded.  So, keep any themes for your session, for example a color family, pattern, or style (like country western) in mind as you set your boundaries for what the kids can choose from.

It seems small, but that little bit of control and personal comfort can sometimes make a big difference!

It’s More Fun With a Friend!Young Girl Portrait-4

Sitting idle.  Especially sitting idle while being asked to smile.  Not a strong skillset for most kids!

One way to work around this is to allow your child to pick out a few “fun things” or fuzzy friends that they’d like to bring along to be in the pictures with them.  If you notice here, the girl in this session is holding her tiara (well, she’s actually a princess being whisked away!).  The images at the opening of the post?  She’s holding hands with her favorite teddy bear!  Cute, fun, and purposeful.   It gave her something she could play and interact with, which ultimately makes taking photos more relaxing, more easy going.  We’re playing.  Not working.  Idle kid no more.

This one is especially powerful for your kidlin to show and tell their personal story.  And, unbeknownst to them, for you as a parent, their choice provides a really cool time capsule into that period of their lives.  So, it’s not just for them, it’s also for us!   But shhhhh–this is our secret 😉

Again, the “bring a friend” concept is another one that for some families, an agreed framework on what’s acceptable might be needed.  I can photograph many things. A preteen playing PlayStation is rarely compelling 😉

Note:  this definitely works with older children too, especially those that tend to be shy.  Having something to interact with helps to give the feeling that there is focus on something besides just them.

Think outside the box for older kids–the “friend” could be a hat, a scarf, a ball, an umbrella, a pair of sunglasses, etc.  Feel free to ask your photographer if they have any chairs, stools, or other “props” that might be appealing as well.

Last but not least, perhaps consider actually arranging with your photographer for your kidlin to bring a friend!  A real one (meaning one that is actually a real person!)    Check out the images below from a session I did with two BFFs (best friends forever) and one of their brothers, where the two families split the session  and the kids ran and played, and I swirled about capturing all the fun of them all together, and, apart.  It. Was. Fabulous.   I highly recommend it!

If your kids have that type of friend, you can make magic 😀

Expressive Has Many MeaningsYoung Girl Portrait-1

And admittedly, we as parents really want that expressive moment to be a big radiant smile for the camera.  But, kids aren’t always happy, so to allow and embrace their full range of self in the images, you can again get that full sense of who they are at this moment in time.

As a photographer, I actually love being able to capture an unexpected emotion in a child’s portrait session.  There’s something magical about that moment they stop playing, and swinging, and running and are still. Even if for a second, even with a bit of frustration, like in the image above.  Their eyes light with a depth that is impossible to read or understand.  It’s beautiful.

Love the Perfectly Wonderful ImperfectionsYoung Girl Portrait-5

Kids move.  Fast.  Kids get disheveled. Kids don’t listen.

So, the adventure of taking a child’s portrait takes a certain type of photographer.  One who is willing brave grass stains to crawl on the ground.  Climb up a tree.  Run through the tall grass.  Who recognizes that kid’s pictures aren’t always “technically perfect”, but that sometimes, that fact is exactly what makes them perfect. And, who knows that often, the best way to capture the best images of your kidlin is to largely allow them to direct themselves.  He wants to run?  Go for it!  She wants to spin?  Awesome!  The little guy won’t sit still?  Tickle him, Mom!

In those moments of spontaneity and play, you’ll get that real emotion flashing through.  The joyous smile that every parent secretly prayed for. And then you’ll get the picture that captures the moment that makes you grin every time you look at it.

Allowing your child to approach the photo session more like a bit of play time (where I just so happen to be toting around a very large camera!) makes it way more like something fun and much less like work 🙂

As a final thought on this one… Parents, I know from my own experiences that it can sometimes be hard to not direct our kids, especially in a situation like a photo session!  You want them to sit up straight.  Smile nice.  Don’t punch your sister.  But, trust your photographer–if you watch closely, you’ll see that they are likely practiced in the art of making “suggestions” that don’t sound directive. Rest assured, it’s a talent they have only with children other than their own!  This too, I know with certainty 😉

And Remember…Young Girl Portrait-2

When it all comes together, you will have been able to get exactly what you were hoping for.  In that instance, give your photographer a hug.  And a Shout Stain Stick.  She probably needs them both 😉

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