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Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Lesson 5 of 20

Drawing Out The Shy Child

Tamara Lackey

Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Tamara Lackey

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Lesson Info

5. Drawing Out The Shy Child

Lesson Info

Drawing Out The Shy Child

Let's talk about the shy child. I mentioned earlier, a little bit of a quiz. WHat's the difference between the one who just wants to warm up and the shy child? Do you guys remember? I'm quizzing you. I love (laughs) everyone, to the notes. What did she say? Who wants to be brave and raise their hand? What's the difference between the one who just needs to warm up and the shy child? I'm asking you 'cause I really want you to get this. It makes a huge difference, yeah. That's why I wrote it down. (laughs) That's why I wrote it down. They will respond to you and they show interest. Yep, exactly, so good. Do we have a gold star to give her or something? Yes, yes, because what the one who just needs to warm up is telling me is I'll get there. I'm just gonna be cautious about this so you be cautious too so you don't scare me off and that's one of their elements by the way. This is actually important. The one who just needs to warm up, things can go terribly wrong if you don't respect...

that. I had that absolutely. Let me tell you about a colossal failure I had once at a shoot. I had just been shooting for a little while, I hadn't quite realized my methodology like I'm sharing with you today and this kid came in and seemed shy but also like he looked interested and I thought it'd be really funny within a minute of meeting him to act like a tiger so I jumped down. I put my thing out and I clawed and I roared at him 'cause I thought that was funny. It wasn't funny, he melted down, he was in tears. I was like oh no, can I please take that back? And I never really got him for the rest of the shoot. He was always looking at me like maybe I was going to claw his eyes out at any minute and we've all done that, right? Like made the wrong move and been like (sucks breath) that went differently in my head. I've done that and I've learned from it. The best thing about failure is if you're paying attention, you're learning and you do not repeat that mistake, you get better. So the shy child, however, right out of the gate, you see it. They come in and you see it. THey're really cautious, they're very reserved. This is a snap. If this were a final image, I would do the finishing but a snap, real quick, that's the kind of look. THey're not just taking you in, they're kind of fearful. THey're really pulling back. What do you do with a very shy child? First and foremost, you read their energy and you immediately respond in kind. The one who's dynamic I'm yeah, let's do this! Let's jump here, let's go. The shy child I'm like, I'm so glad you could come here. Come in, let's sit down, did you want anything to drink? You know it's really, really slow. I am already expecting. I'm not gonna take any rejection personally here. I am already expecting that they are going to reject me. They don't wanna be here, they don't wanna look at me. THey're not sure why I'm pointing this big black box at them, I am expecting that and if I go in expecting that 'cause right away, I'm reading that. I'm not gonna be discouraged. I'm gonna be like this is just gonna take time. It's gonna go really slowly, I'm gonna get some quiet shots here and there. Maybe I'll get some smiles or some hints of a smile, but I don't think by the end of the shoot with an exceptionally shy child, I'm gonna get them uproariously laughing and I don't necessarily do that but what I can get is really sweet smiles. I can get those microseconds of where they just change their expression for a little bit and that's what shutter speed's all about. I'm taking a shutter speed that's very fast with a shy child, on purpose, I'm setting my technical settings accordingly. I know that if I get the expression I want, it's going to be a microsecond and I have to be ready for it. So in a normal setting, in a normal situation, I might be at one five hundredth of a second for that shot. If I know I'm barely gonna get an image and I'm gonna get it rapidly, I wanna be at one fifteen hundredth or sixteen hundredth of a second and I'm gonna change all my settings accordingly to get that and if that sounds like a light thing, how many times have you gotten a shot that you just tried to get really fast and, aw, it was blurry. Yeah, that's not uncommon at all. It's like, oh, it happened so fast. (groans) I know that all of this is gonna happen so fast. So I need to be prepared to have a very fast shutter speed, grab it really fast. So this would be a great example of a shy child. Beautiful child, sweet, not like running away from me but as I'm working to get her attention, and specifically in this scenario I'm pretty sure this was in a workshop setting so there's someone, there was a couple people near me so every time you multiply the amount of people who are part of the shooting process, the shy child gets more and more reserved. So whenever possible, when I'm photographing a shy child, I try to be the only one in the room. Maybe with a parent if they feel more secure with the parent there. I will not photography a shy child and have two assistants and a friend over here and so and so 'cause I'm basically reducing my chances of ever getting this child to slowly interact with me but in this case, I'm getting a little bit of attention. Looking up, pretty much out of camera and actually I think completely out of camera and I'm thinking I just need a second. I just need a second for a little sweet look and so the difference between this. Look at the face and the eyes and this is like okay that's funny. Have you seen that look? Like I'm not gonna give you a whole smile but I'll give you a couple teeth. And then once you get them there, you have to recognize that the shy child doesn't stay there. Just 'cause you worked so hard and you got it, doesn't mean you get to keep it. So you have this moment and you have to keep pulling them in and sometimes the way to do that with a shy child is to not have them look at you. Have them look over at that person, have 'em look at mom. Tell mom how beautiful they are. Pull it back in. I wanna show you some ideas of when you're photographing a child. Some of the things you're gonna come up against. So a very shy child may not actually speak to you. May not wanna connect with you in any way. May be so reserved that when you're having this interaction, you have to start with the smallest, smallest things and build your way up. I'm not going to worry at all about doing something cool with the background and cool with the lighting and edgy and this that. I just need to draw him out and I'm going to take a lot of time to do that and then when I feel like I have him a little bit more comfortable and a little less freaked out, 'cause I've had that and I'm guessing you have too. Times where you look at their face and they are like this. Right? THey're swallowing, they're looking around. They wanna be anywhere but right in front of your face right now and it's just, let me show you this, let me show you this, let me do this, let me do this. Let's not even think about picking up a camera for a good 20 minutes, half an hour. Let's just get this going, let's break this wall down and once you're there you can say, okay, let's try some cool different things. Let's show some confidence. That's what I wanna go for with a very shy child. I am going for photographs. I don't need them to laugh hysterically. I just wanna show them a part of themselves that does not often come across in photographs, because I think that's where it starts. The child is able to shape a different impression of themselves by being able to see that. I will get phone calls from parents who say, yeah, we're gonna do the shoot, it's gonna be terrible. We honestly don't have any pictures except for the back of their head as they're crying and running away. Can you do something? So not only am I gonna go in really, really slowly and in a very reserved fashion, I'm gonna distract them and I'm gonna work to a point where I can get a whole different look of them. That's what I'm going for, not the massive laughter. Because this very shy child can come around slowly but in kind of just a different way. Here's a great example, I love this photograph. It's one of my favorite photographs I've taken because I remember the experience, and sometimes when you remember the experience of working really hard for a shot, it's a better shot to you and so in this experience, she's up against a window. We've got a big reflector up on her face and she is really reserved. I am just getting her looking at me for a second. Again, shooting at a fast shutter speed and as we're slowly warming her up, I back up and on purpose, I move the camera away from my face. I framed the shot, got my settings, I'm holding steady and what I mean hold the camera away from my face. I do that so often, that's one of my favorite ways to shoot. Just hold the camera away and get the attention here because when I have the shy child in a place where they are making eye contact with me, as soon as I do this, I lose it. I just break the very tenuous hold I have on this child's attention. So I'm gonna set the frame. So I still get the shot which means I'm gonna shoot it at like an F4 or an F5.6. I'm not gonna shoot an F1.8 or F1. and hold the camera away from my body 'cause that child would be out of focus. I will shoot at a bit more of an extended field of focus that I normally like to shoot. 'Cause I usually am drawn to more shallow depth of field. I will hold the camera away from my body and I will have an exchange with them where I'm getting some sort of expression and they feel safer giving that expression to me than the giant black box and so I end up getting something like that. Which is just, aw, so endearing to me. It's so endearing to get that look and it's because I'm still with the child. I can say or do something that I get a little bit of a smile from, but I'm still able to click the shot. Let's talk about another technique with a shy child. In this case, I had a child who was far less interested in me as they were kind of the outside and looking other places and I slowly was able to get her to look at me and I was going for something, again, trying to get a bit of a smile and here's a great example. I had her on the table. I'm shooting from underneath the table. These are straight out of the camera, no lighting whatsoever and this is from the Posing Playbook so you can see the format of that but she's up there crawling in but I'm still not getting the expression I want so what I start doing is not popping out like crazy. I'm really slowly trying to move up, move down. Moe up, move down. 'Cause I don't want to be the tiger who terrifies her and I'm able to get a shot like this. Where I have a pop of fill light, I get the moment I want, I have the catch light I want. I'm playfully interacting but I'm not crazy. I'm not being overwhelmingly shooting out energy and I get the shot I want. Other times with a shier child, they're not the shy child but you can still use that method. So if I have a child who is sweet and playful and can interact with me but I'm trying to get something a little bolder from them, I'm going to use this same technique, this shy child technique. I've got a sweet child, she's very cute but I can get this. And that's what I want, I can get this. Cute shot, sweet, fine. Now let's do something a little more dramatic.

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!

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Tamara Lackey Posing Book Discount

Nations Photo Lab Discount

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



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!