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Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Lesson 20 of 20

6 Tips To Capture Children's Portraits

Tamara Lackey

Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Tamara Lackey

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Lesson Info

20. 6 Tips To Capture Children's Portraits

Lesson Info

6 Tips To Capture Children's Portraits

Let's get to you being able to leave here and go out and shoot because I know this has been a lot in terms of the intensity in everything we've covered and where you go from now. And as much as I've covered in this one day workshop, I didn't cover about 50 other things cause you can only say it all so quickly. So what I want to do is just kind of leave this with some overview and some ideas of things to consider. When you go out and shoot, here's six good tips that I think if you can kind of think of this when you go through things it'll give you a really good idea of what you want to do from here. Number one, this is just such a big deal, for so many reasons when it comes to relationships, business, photo shoots, conversations with clients. Make sure you're managing unmet expectations. Now I can put in there manage expectations, but that's not what I'm talking about. Manage expectations is like, let me tell you what's going to happen, great. What I want to do is make sure I'm not runn...

ing in to you having such a different idea of what's going to happen here that we have friction, that we're competing, that you're disappointed, that I'm upset about something. I don't want that. I want to manage any possibilities of this expectations not being met. I don't want you to feel like I didn't hit the mark. And so what I want to do, I've been very fortunate, I've had amazing relationships with my clients. They've become friends and I've seen them time and time and time again and this is partially it. Is I'm making sure that we're going ahead and setting expectations correctly. I set it right up front. Here's my portrait agreement, we're going to book a shoot. I want to make sure you know everything that's about to happen. Then I'm going to write it all out on a one pager so that it's not overwhelming. I want you to read it, I want you to sign it, and we now know what's going to happen. I do it again on the shoot. Hey, we're about to do a photo shoot. This is how I work. This is how I achieve the expressions that you like. These are the images that you said you liked at my gallery and this is how I do it. Are you cool with that? You good? Okay, do you have any questions? Let me answer them for you. We all feel good. Alright let's go in this together as a collaboration versus having any sort of situation where you're like, that's not what I thought this was going to be. Where are you doing the shoot? Makes a big difference and I ask a lot of different questions when I am talking clients about deciding where a shoot should be. Sometimes it's really easy. Like, we want to do the photo shoot at our grandparents house because they're getting older and we all grew up in that house and that just means a lot to me. Done, we will do the shoot there. There's other times they're like, I don't know I feel like my house is a mess and I don't really want to go to the studio, do you have any ideas of places we can go? Yeah! We can go to an urban environment, we can go to a park, we can go to x, y, z I have locations listed that I like to go to. I like trying out new places. And so I have those conversations, but what I'm thinking about is I don't want to be in a situation that the location is making my shoot harder to do. A perfect example would be if I'm in my studio this the shoot that we just did I'm in a contained space, the lighting is just so, they're jumping around and now they want to keep jumping they're going to jump over here and they're going to jump over here and that is really hard. I can't actually get what I want when they're all over the place and I can't respond because we're in a really closed space. I don't even have a small studio, but it's certainly not like a big open field if that's what they want. I'm going to be in a big open field, cause I'll get a lot more expressiveness and I know that. Conversely, that's what the word that I was looking for earlier. Conversely if I am in a big open field and I'm with a toddler who's potty training and there's nowhere to go and the parents are kind of upset cause now they've backpedaled all of their efforts by making him pee behind a tree or pee his pants I'm going to suggest we go out to big open field. The look changes too. I shared this on here on this program a couple of years ago and I'm using it again because it's so illustrative. This was an image this was in the studio in a park, in a urban environment. They all look pretty different! Same model pretty much relatively the same sort of lighting and exposure, a little bit more controlled in the studio than the other places. Fun expressions, but they all look really different. Which do you choose? Well all those things we talked about is there something that rises to the top? How are you with lighting? How comfortable do you feel with the lighting on location versus a controlled lighting situation in the studio? There are a lot of photographers who tell me they much rather do lifestyle shooting and natural light shooting and never have to work with studio lights and there are a lot of photographers who say I love working with studio lights only, I know what I'm going to get when I go outside it's crazy I'm outta control I don't feel like I can do it. You have to figure out which one you more align to. I'm not saying you don't learn the other aspects cause I think that's great but you need to be able to have you're comfort zone and not be so stressed out about not being able to do the lighting that you can't have this exchange. This is authentic portraits. If I want to have an authentic portrait shot I have to be so tuned in to my subjects and I'm stressing about lighting takes so much away. That goes into it as well. Don't forget Catch Light and Fill Light. With all the mentor sessions and review I do I am looking at my subjects the subjects of my clients and I'm like ugh there's so much here right but it's kind of really flat on the face. The eyes aren't lit up, there's really no dimension to this image whatsoever. They're front lit. They're kind of up against the background and they're faces are kind of in shadow. I did a tutorial recently that posted and it was all about Fill Light and using either off camera flash, reflector, or strobe and all the ways you can do it quickly and easily and one of the first comments was somebody saying or you can just put them in the shade. I applied tone there was no tone to the message, but that's how I heard it. Or you can just put them in the shade. And then I said okay just out of curiosity and I clicked through this person's website and I'm like, looks like you just put them in the shade. No fill light, very flat portraits, no light in the eyes. That may be working for you that's not what I want to produce. I'm going to put a little more effort in, I'm going to have fill like because I know I'm going to have more life to my shots. The expressions will look more authentic cause you can better see them. These two images left to right. The only difference in this exact same shot is I removed the Catch Lights in Photoshop here to show you the difference in feel. To me those are very very different shots. She's got gorgeous eyes no matter what and I get to see them in both. There's no color or toning difference, though it kind of looks like it. It's kind of weird. And the Catch Lights are just bringing, to me there's a lot more spirit, more life - she's in there. I'm not super worried about the Catch Light type. People ask that a lot, like well what about do you have the big Catch Lights, the little tiny are they to the right or to the left. I just want to see some pop. That's what I want. Here's another thing when I'm thinking about Catch Light. The image on the left is more in a fill. Do you see by the way, the image on the right and the image on the left so I actually like the expression a little bit better on the image on the left than I do on the one on the right but this one I've got light coming in her eyes are lit it's kind of bright and it kind of pops more. This one it's just flat. It's almost a little gray if you think about it. There's no difference between these two images other than she turned with fill light this way and then turned away from the light this way. So in this all of the light is coming right at her even in the way the highlights are popping and everything the highlights in her hair. On this one she's turned around and you can kind of see it go flat you can see her eyes go more flat you can see the grayish shadowing you can see the color tone changing simply because how I'm lighting it. And I want you to look at this image on the right in a little bit because I'm going to show you how a little adjustment, a small adjustment can make a big difference. This is another point I want you to take out from here. Sometimes jumping in, doing something for two seconds and jumping out makes the entire shot better and saves you so much time in post. Remember these little girls on the couch? The little girls on the couch what did I do with the one girls hair twice at least if not three times? I put water on my hands, I wet down her hair, I took it out of her face, and then I shot. Otherwise the static, the hairs going across the face, that would have been a problem the whole shoot and then later I would have pulled those images into Photoshop and have been like I've got to get rid of all this hair. I don't want to do that. So this image on the left and the image on the right the only difference between these two images is essentially glass glare. What did I do to get rid of that glass glare. A lot of people will say, well get them to take off their glasses. No, I just have to change their angle towards me or my angle towards them. Cause every time you're taking a shot and there's light on the glasses and it's interfering with the shot, this is actually shot outside this is light coming in a bit of a pop of fill and you see this glass glare from the actual reflection of what's in front of her that's pretty common so this shot is like that. The image over here I simply either said, I can't remember for this exactly, but I either said to her in her glasses to go a little bit like this or I said stay exactly as you are and I went like this. If I changed my angle to my subject the reflection that I'm seeing will shift because I'm looking at it from a different perspective and that's where I'm shooting from. So little changes can really help. Number five respond to your subject and direct when necessary. You're not just thinking about the energy the subject is putting out, but you're also thinking how can I shape it? On these live shoots we just did do you feel like it's not authentic if I'm directing the energy? Or do you feel like I'm just helping them get there because that's who they are anyway? To me I'm thinking that I'm directing when necessary but I'm letting them run the show in terms of the energy they're bringing. I'm just going to reel it in a little bit, expand upon it a little bit, whatever it takes. So this is a image I took on a stage, actually, at a show and she just kind of brought that. That's the look. I liked it. But now I'm like I want to try something a little different and the image on the left was her, what she gave me. She gave me a smile it's pretty natural, but I felt like it was just a little stiff, right? It's a nice shot. She looks good. Pretty face, a little stiff. And I wanted her to get here so all I did was just say alright now breath out long as you can, just breathe breathe breathe breathe breathe breathe breathe breathe out. And at the end she was like (breathe out) and I was like that's it, you did it! And that's the shot we get. So I was like come back. It's a little shift but to me I see a bit difference between that and that in terms of the light in her eyes the comfort level I mean not actually spike lights, but the actual spirit in her eyes. Her comfort level everything. If I'm turning these images around I'm going to make sure I fix all the little things but just from the angle of where does she look more naturally relaxed? What feels more authentic? That's the difference to me. And then she goes the whole way and gets really comfortable (laughs). There's like 150 or 200 people behind her. Know what to keep out. Know what to keep out across the board. What you don't show in an image is as significant as what you do. It really is that important to think about. Like what is in my frame? Where do I want you to look? What is distracting you from looking there? How do I cut it out? If anything is in an image that is not actually contributing to the image I think of it as taking away from the expressiveness of my subject. So I'll say that again, whatever is in an image that is not contributing to the image I automatically think of it as actually taking away from my subject. Taking away from the expressiveness taking away from the thing that I most want you to see when you look at my image. So a shot like this. I'm framing something else, a lot of things are going on. The reflector is over there I'm backing up and just out of nowhere I see her doing this with her brother I was like whoa oh my god that is so cute. So I click it, but also what's going on here, these bright competing colors, there's someone in the background there's someone in the background I've got a reflector in the shot. I'm going to take this photograph but I'm going to very quickly and mindfully know that none of this stuff is contributing to this. I can take out all of the colors, the problems, the issues, the background, the noise and just go right to what I think matters the most. Sometimes its really subtle. I've got this beautiful little girl in our studio. We're taking a fun picture, but if I'm looking at this I loved her pink boots, but in this shot right now if I'm looking at this shot she's so pretty but this is just distracting me. It's a distracting element. I simply say stay right there just kick your boots to the other side take the shot again and now it's all about her. Hardly anything has changed but this little shift. The same child this shot or this shot? It's the same shot. One's just cropped in tighter and ones not. Are there elements to this image that I need in here or is it a little more interesting to go in tighter on a shot that might be more compelling for me? And when I do closeups I think that a lot. So this is a closeup but if I go a lot closer and I make this a black and white and I make her eyes really pop, that's going to be way more powerful to me than that image. And then lastly I want to leave you with the idea that as you're going into your next shoot, which hopefully you're doing soon with all this fresh in your mind. When you're considering the idea of taking authentic portraiture what are you bring to it? If you are expecting your clients to show up and give you everything they've got and be real and be honest and be straight foward and that's from the little tiny baby to the oldest clients you have, if you're asking that of them, how are you modeling it for them? How are you showing up in a way that invites that from them? And when I sit there and think about striving for authenticity what I mean is not just in terms of what you're capturing but also what you personally are bringing to the table. When I'm walking into a shoot, yes I'm prepping, I'm charging batteries, I'm thinking about my settings, I'm thinking about my lighting. All the things that are going to run through head before I step into a portrait shoot are running through my head, but lastly I'm stopping for a minute, I'm taking a break between everything that happened here and everything that I'm about to walk into and I'm centreing myself. I'm realizing that if I can't step into this being completely here with them responding to everything they're doing, connecting with them in this sort of way I'm not being authentic with them I'm not going to get it back from them. And that's what I mean when I think about striving to be authentic. I really hope you guys will do that as well. Thank you so much for your time and your effort and your focus.

Class Description

Each child is unique and needs different techniques to draw out the most authentic portrait. Acclaimed family photographer, Tamara Lackey, talks through how to quickly identify the characteristics of a child and the posing techniques and direction that can lead to a fun session with great results. She’ll cover:

  • The 6 basic personalities that children may show up to a photo shoot with
  • How to draw out a shy child in front of the camera
  • Tips for photographing the children who don’t want to be there
  • Gear and accessory considerations for family shoots
  • How to build to a natural pose

Have the confidence and the technique to capture an authentic child portrait in every session no matter client or their mood!



Tamara Lackey brings amazing energy to her teaching and shooting style. She shared a ton of tips and tricks for capturing the true character and personality of each child in both individual and group portraits. I have always found it to be particularly difficult to capture portraits of multiple children that are composed to be both visually interesting and true to their unique story. I learned so much about directing and communicating effectively with child subjects, and how to use my gear and other tools to streamline the process and keep it all fun for the family. No matter how much you think you know about photographing children, this class is an asset that you will not regret! Thank you Tamara Lackey!

Heidi Mikulecky

I love Tamara's tips for working with common personality types found in children. I also love that class allows you to be "fly on the wall" during her photo shoots. It's so helpful for me to see how other photographers engage their subjects (especially children). Tamara brings a ton of energy, excitement and playfulness to her shoots. It opened my eyes to how fun (and how exhausting) a photo shoot can be when you give it your all. Great class!

Sara NAomi

This was an amazing class. Photoshop has been a huge learning curve for me during the past year and it was so helpful to see the quick and easy way you used levels to bring down brightness/hotspots. I will definitely be using it to improve the "ear" on the portrait that you critiqued. Thank you soooooooooo very much Tamara and CL for providing such great content!