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Child photography (02/08/2004)
By Tom Hirsch

When does a baby become a child? This depends, but usually it's around five to seven months when he or she begins getting around pretty well on hands and knees, and starts developing a degree of curiosity about the environment beyond the crib or playpen. From this time until about age three the child's responses are very spontaneous. Almost everything is new, and reactions to situations and the environment are the most natural.

This two-and-a-half year period can produce the best photographic results - if you let the child take the lead. By just following the child around, you will get pictures that reflect the innocence, charm and spontaneity that is characteristic of children in this age group.

You might be able to get a youngster to pose for a short period of time, but don't force it if the child doesn't want to. Besides, posed shots can take away from the spontaneity of the activity.

If you do want the child to pose, get him or her involved in the picture-taking process, such as letting the child help select the location. This will restore some of the spontaneity, and children like to feel that they are being helpful. Who knows? During the setting-up process, the child might strike a pose that you hadn't considered. Again, don't make the child pose any longer than he or she wants to. Ten minutes is about the max.

Remember that life is not all peaches and cream. The child is going to cry, show anger, amazement, concern, exuberance, joy, mischief, and might even throw an occasional tantrum. These are also events in a child's life. Record these moments too; they can make good pictures.

When photographing events in a child's life, don't look for a specific expression, or try to force an expression that you think is appropriate to the event. The child knows better than you do what an appropriate expression looks like.

Not only is it important to let the child be herself or himself, that goes for the photographer as well. Don't try to elicit an expression by trying to be a clown. This is phony, and the child knows it.

A child will feel most comfortable in surroundings with which he or she is totally familiar. The child's bedroom, playroom or backyard are good, so is a playground or park in the child's neighborhood. Let the child select the toy or activity that he or she feels most appropriate at the moment.

When a young child becomes engrossed in an activity, he or she may turn away from the camera. There's no need to continually run around so the child's face is in the viewfinder. Even taking pictures of the child's back can express the event, if the child‘s hands are visible, or his or her actions reflect what is going on. And it's quite possible that the child will turn to face the camera occasionally.

If you want the child to turn toward you, be subtle. Rather than calling the child's name, try making a brief noise with a squeaky toy, or crumple a piece of paper in your hand. A child will react more spontaneously to an unexpected noise.

Too many of us have pictures of our children in our minds rather than where they should be, in albums. If you have young children or grandchildren, have your camera ready when those opportunities arise. After all, it's the pictures we don't take that we regret. 


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