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Taking Great Children’s Portraits: Bring on the Fun


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Taking Great Children’s Portraits: Bring on the Fun

Photographic trends vary widely from photo journalistic to highly stylized to formal. I am by nature an observer and therefore tend to embrace the photo journalistic style of children’s portraits.  That being said, I am also in business and very few clients are willing to pay me to just sit around and observe them, waiting for a moment to happen.

There is a delicate balance between the journalistic photographer and more posed style.  We must work quickly to set a visually pleasing scene and then draw out the personality of a child.  It’s a game of cat and mouse where you start the game and then step back to watch it play out.

Often, I will show up at a clients house to find children dressed in such beautiful clothing that I wish I had brought along a formal backdrop and elegant lighting setup.  However, knowing that most clients have hired me for something a little more fun, my approach is usually to ask the children to show me their room or their playroom.  While they introduce me to favorite toys, I try to evaluate the lighting and decide whether or not to set up a few flashes in the corners to bounce off the ceiling.  Once the lighting is in place and I feel like the children are comfortable with me, I send mom off to get me a glass of water.  The children are unaware that I have discussed this with mom ahead of time as an opportunity for me to create a little mischief.

Once mom has left the room, the fun starts, I often ask the children if they are allowed to jump on the bed or have pillow fights.  Sometimes it takes a bit of coaxing, but once a suitable mischievous game has been started, I can sit back and document.  Only occasionally offering a bit of direction.   And always in a playful manner – “I bet you can’t jump right in the middle” or something along those lines.  A series of bed jumping images looks fantastic as a series on one of the MCP Photoshop Storyboard Template Actions.   bed-jumping1 Taking Great Children's Portraits: Bring on the Fun Guest Bloggers Photography Tips Photoshop Actions This storyboard was created with the Tell A Storyboard – 10×20 – actions.

Not every family is the same, and I think that’s a critical piece of the Photojournalistic style.  It’s important that images tell the story of an that particular family.  I have a family with 2 boys, that patiently suffer through a few formal portraits for me every year because afterwards they get to put on their football jerseys and show off.  The football pictures are always so much better than the formal images, in large part because the boys are having fun doing something they enjoy.

I don’t do a lot of heavy artistic processing to my images, but it’s important to make an image look it’s best and it’s pretty rare that an image doesn’t see a little brightening, sharpening and color enhancement.  (On the images below I used Peek-a-Boo and Touch of Color from the Complete Workflow action set, as well as Magic Blog it Board)

PTFMblog1 Taking Great Children's Portraits: Bring on the Fun Guest Bloggers Photography Tips Photoshop Actions

Mary Phillips, a busy Texas mom and owner of Saturday Morning Photography, has developed a website “The Photographic Life: Photo Tips for Moms” to help other busy moms to take better photos, no matter what type of camera equipment they have.


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  1. Karen Cupcake on December 16, 2010 at 10:17 am

    I shoot a lot in the studio and its much harder to get journalistic there.. I hate it when mom says ” No props” b/c how are you going to get a two year old to be natural or even GO ON THE PAPER with no incentive! I like to toss a bunch of interesting things on the center and let them go figure it out. I love “setting up the scene” and seeing what happens!! And yes… its even BETTER If mom will step out of the room! :O)

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