I completely look forward to every opportunity I can get to photograph studies of children - babies, toddlers, five-year-olds - anyone. Maybe it's the fact that I don't have children of my own; I never have a problem finding willing volunteers however, as several of my friends have had happy arrivals in their families over the past year, and the fact that they think of me when they feel like capturing a special moment, thoroughly flatters me. Setting out to share some of the most important lessons that I've learned photographing babies, there's one that I would especially like to get off my chest right away. Somehow, people who set out to be good as a children photographer go a good long way before they realize that children don't respond to you or your camera when you tower above them. How would you feel if your photographer stood on stilts - you'd just feel far removed from him, wouldn't you? As far as children are concerned, you are way up there for no reason, and you need to come down to their level. Sitting, squatting, crawling, crouching, lying down and even rolling are the operative words. Great images happen only when a child is comfortable enough with you to be engaged in what you are aiming for.
Let's start with the best ideas on getting pictures of infants. It's kind of hard taking pictures of three-month-old babies; as thoroughly cute as they are in their little smocks, the fact that they just lie there completely unable to understand what you're trying to do, makes it a real challenge. When I'm called in to take portraits of little babies doing what they do best - giggling and gurgling at nothing, my best bet usually is to lie down 6 feet from them, and study them through the viewfinder. Coming in too close, you block out the child's field of vision, and the child has nothing left to giggle at (unless it's at you). I find that a baby or any other subject for that matter, is as attractive as she gets to have control over herself. I tend to focus on the one part that infants are really in control of - their eyes. Sometimes, if you lie down really low and the child lifts her head up a little bit to look down at the blinking lights on the camera, those effects can be really amazing. And oh - make sure you don't forget to turn the flash off when you're doing that.
You'll find the most shades of feeling, joy and emotion playing across the child's face when she's doing something she enjoys. That's the principle I use when I photograph a somewhat older child - between 3 to 5 years. I ask my friends, the child's parents, to come along with me on a trip to the park, or to the petting zoo so that I can find the most playful and precious expressions when she's having fun with her guard down. The camera loves a child's face when she's fingerpainting too - the way children put on a delicate look when they are handling gooey paint is just what I need to make it a Kodak moment. I find that the most fleeting expressions are the ones that are worth catching the most. And for this, every children photographer needs the burst mode turned on on the camera - something that can fire off 10 shots all in a burst would be invaluable in capturing a fleeting expression.
Try using a different focal length with your camera for the best effects. I love the 18mm wide-angle lenses that can capture a lot of the background, and give a picture some atmosphere. Of course it will be expensive to buy a couple of lenses, but who said it wasn't worth it? Just because you wish to be professional in the way you go about being a children photographer, doesn't mean you shouldn't have fun. Bringing fun to the enterprise is what puts life into pictures. If you want to photograph children well, you need to take on the spirit of the child yourself - experiment, think fresh and let the moment come to you.