Kids at their sublime beauty with the mood highly lit for an interesting photo shoot, Jennifer McCarren makes the scene much happier through seperate bonding with the kids and the tool in her mind shoot even better photographs. Kids aren’t posed here and they are more than happy to draw the photographer’s attention and thereby resulting in some magnificient photographs. Shooting kids is never easy and let us get to listen from the photographer herself about the interesting techniques and secret approaches she practices in capturing them.

“Photography” – to draw with light.

In this article, I’ll share 3 broad topics that I find critical to the success of capturing outdoor child portraits that exude personality and touch the heart of your clients and fans.

  • Know your location and the lighting there
  • Get to know your clients prior to the sessions
  • Nailing the shot

Know your location and the lighting there

If possible, control your environment when doing outdoor child portraits. Try to schedule sessions at a location that you already know has beautiful morning or early evening light. Lighting is critical, images can be so very beautiful if you can shoot in the softer morning and evening light in a natural, earthy setting. I have several locations I use, but most frequently use several farm locations because I can access open land, old barns, interesting rustic props already on-site, beautiful forests, ponds and occasionally even the farm animals.

Children tend to be on the move and when you utilize a beautiful, open outdoor location you get to take advantage of the entire landscape, every step and expression that crosses the child’s face. And hopefully these expressions will connect with you and the camera if you’ve done your homework and met with your client prior to the session.

Get to know your clients prior to the sessions

Speak with your client prior to the session and learn about their child’s personality and what they like to do. Learn about activities they like. This can always be a fun way to make the child more comfortable, especially at the beginning of the session. Does their child like to find and smell flowers, play peek-a-boo, play with airplanes, pretend to be a super hero, etc. This conversation also contributes to wardrobe suggestions.

I always suggest a client bring more clothing changes than they need. Have them prioritize the outfits they “have-to-have” their child in and shoot those first and then let the child choose an outfit or two towards the end of the session. Also, be certain to ask the parents to schedule the session during a time when the child is at their best; ask mom and dad when the child is typically happiest. Lastly, suggest that the parents bring a snack and drink that the child will like (you can also provide this as a kind gesture to the family) and the child’s favorite lovey.

This way if the child becomes frustrated or unhappy they can take a break and have a little picnic, which allows for a great opportunity to capture some cute candids. This leads us to our final topic, nailing the shot.

Nailing the shot

All of this means nothing though, if you aren’t able to nail the shot.

Unfortunately, understanding which expressions to capture really comes from something that can’t be taught, in my opinion, but if I had to provide some pointers, one would be to follow those magical eyes. Eye contact is always desirable and making certain those catch lights are hitting the child’s eyes can make an image oh so lovely. You have to rely heavily on your intuition to see into the child’s personality in order to capture expressions which mean so very much to the ones that love them most.

Another pointer would be to rely on mom and/or dad to get their little ones to loosen up and have some fun. Having a good time during the session is critical. Let’s face it, most parents may love one or two serious images of their child, but ultimately parents love to see their child’s sweet little smile. Ok, so now that we have addressed the more personal side of nailing the shot, let’s look at the technical prospective.

Specifically, I shoot with a Nikon D700 and Df and have a variety of lenses that I love to use. In an imaginary world, I would shoot with my 85mm f1.4 at f1.4, ISO 200 and shutter speed 250-500 all the time. I just love how an image exposes at these settings, but let’s be real here.

For outdoor child portraits, I typically use f-stops of 1.4 – 2.5 for individual child portraits, and bump through to f3.5 if needed for multiple children. My camera’s ISO loves to stay around 200, but if I have to shoot higher ISO’s, where talking above 800, I suggest moving to a f 1.4 lens and if that doesn’t get it, one with a shorter focal length lens so you can move closer to your subject.

Exposure compensation is also your friend as it can allow you to trick the camera into believing there is more light available. I have shot ISO’s of 1600 with little noise and am not afraid to use them if needed. For child portraits, I typically shoot with my 85mm f 1.4 and then switch to my 70-200mm, f2.8 during the session to allow for variety.

Other lenses in my bag are my 17-55mm f2.8 and my 35mm f1.4. It is important to have a variety of focal lengths because if the child is not responding, you may need to get closer to your subject. Some additional tricks, simple yet important, are to lock your elbows and hold your breath during the shot. This will help with the sharpness of the image and control as you focus on your subjects eyes. Using back button focus if possible can also help with the sharpness of your images as it separates focus from the shutter release.

In the end, every photographer’s path is different and success is founded in your ability to connect with your subject and to capture that moment of beauty so that it can be enjoyed by others.

Hope you enjoyed this article!

About the Author

My name is Jennifer McCarren and I am the mother of two sweet and high-energy boys. My husband and boys are first and foremost the loves of my life and my inspiration. My home is filled with loving memories that touch our hearts and make us giggle and my goal is to capture your moments so you can remember.

You can find Jennifer McCarren on the Web: