Portraits - Natural Child Portraits

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Autumn - © Ashley Beolens -

Autumn - © Ashley Beolens -

When it comes to capturing an image of your child (or someone else?s for them) in my opinion there is no better way than to try to get them in a natural setting. Don?t get me wrong, I think there are some excellent posed studio images of kids, but my preference is with naturalistic images, capturing the personality of a child doing what they enjoy brings so much to a photo; it makes the image for me. I am not going to list places or activities for you to try but, hopefully give some useful tips on how to get the best out of whichever situation you decide is best for your portrait session.


As with any portrait it is important to get to know the subject a bit, so if it isn?t your child, then watching them play and interact will tell you lots about their personality and help you gauge what sort of environment they could be photographed in or which activity would bring out the best in them. Talk to the parents (obviously if it is your own child you would likely already know enough), talk to the child, find out what they like, and what they dislike etc. And as always try to assess what would make them feel comfortable while being photographed and uncomfortable pose will make an ugly portrait.


When you think you know the child well enough then choosing the location should come easily, very often with kids it?s at their local park, on the beach or in their garden, but don?t limit yourselves; my kids love nature so out in the woods or by a lake suits their personalities as well. Picking the activity will often help in the location decision, if the child loves the swings at a park, your choice is made, but try to think away from clich? I once took my boys conker collecting and got some excellent photos of them jumping on the shells to try to get to the brown treat inside and kicking through the autumnal leaf litter in their search, these now proudly sit on our walls.


So once locations and activities are decided you need to assess light. In many situations natural sun light will be all you need, but often this is too strong or not enough (individual circumstances will dictate what you need, but follows are some basic tips on what to use etc).

Beach Fun - Ashley Beolens.

Beach Fun İAshley Beolens.


If the sun is strong and high in the sky it will usually be the case that you need to use some form of fill light on faces in order to be able to see the details you would want in a child?s portrait, there are plenty of options here, the cheapest (although not always the easiest) solution would be some form of reflector angled to reflect the sun?s rays back up onto the face of the subject, while this is often great for naturalistic lighting it is limited to a number of factors, such as the brightness of the reflected light (it may not always be strong enough to eliminate shadow) and your own ability to direct the light while taking the image, solo workers will often not be able to position the reflector where needed (especially if it needs to be held) and be behind the camera. If this is the case then flash (usually speed lights when outside, but with generators it is possible to use studio lighting outside, although this may be a bit odd in the local park) will become your friend.


The built in flash of most cameras will work, but the light is not easily controllable and can often be too harsh for this kind of work, so a dedicated flash system is a useful tool in any photographers? arsenal. These units can be used on the cameras hot shoe or with remote/infra red or wired connections can be moved off the camera and positioned in any position required. Set as fill flash it will only help light the shadowy areas and not over expose the already well lit areas.


In certain circumstances flash will be used in more artistic ways, to stop the action of your subject, or often to stop part of the action, in low lighting conditions (or situations where you can get a slow shutter speed) setting the flash sync to front or rear curtain can give the impression of movement in the photograph. An example you have your subject child on a park swing, the shutter speed is set to 1 second (and on a tripod for stability) you set your flash to rear curtain sync, and take some photos of the child in full swing, you should have movement of the swing in most of the image but with a frozen end to the photo thus creating the impression of the swinging movement. This movement can really bring life to an otherwise static image. Similar can be achieved without flash by, for example setting a slow (ish) shutter speed and sitting with your child on a round-a-bout or similar, you will then capture a static image of the child but with movement surrounding them, these two examples can be altered in many ways to suit your style, but it is often worth thinking about adding movement to child portraits as we know most children are balls of activity.

My parting comments are to enjoy taking the portraits, and enjoy the company of the children you are photographing, the fun you have will come across in the final portrait and what really matters is that you (or your clients) like the image.