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Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Lesson 4 of 20

Warming Up Your Subject

Tamara Lackey

Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Tamara Lackey

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Lesson Info

4. Warming Up Your Subject

Lesson Info

Warming Up Your Subject

Let's talk about going from zero to 100, how to warm your subject up quickly. This is one of the most common types of children I photograph, the one who's just not there yet. They're just not there yet, that doesn't mean they're not gonna be there and they're not gonna be amazing, in fact, often, this is one of my favorite types of subjects to photograph 'cause I get this look right away, the one I'm working towards when it comes to the dynamic child or the superstar. So I'm getting this look right away where they're not really into it, they're not gonna really look at you much, they're gonna hide probably, they just look a little nervous. How do I know the difference between the one who just needs to warm up and the one who is shy and is going to stay shy the whole time? What I notice is their curiosity. They're here, they don't really wanna exchange much with you, they're kind of reserved, they're stepping back, they're looking other places but they are engaging with you at some leve...

l and they do respond when you ask them questions, even if they're silly weird ones like, tell me what decision you made with that shoe on your left foot. Just whatever. I get asked all the time like, what are the words you use? I'm like I just respond to what I see in front of me and then ask something like that. So when you're doing that, they will respond to you, they are curious, they'll give you a look of interest but they're doing it all from a hidden, safe place. This is a great example. That same course I told you about, we're on set at CreativeLive, this woman brings her baby in, they baby's not sure, 'cause you this at every age, the baby's not sure but you see how they're just checking you out? They're not sure but they're checking you out. They're hiding, they're staying safe, they wanna see what's going on but they're not gonna engage. You warm them up and you get to this. It's the idea of how do you get in there? How do you make that happen? Here's another great example of the child who just wants to warm up. This is not the dynamic child. The dynamic child goes right in, goes right in, is like do this, do this, do this. The one who wants to warm up might give you a similar smile than the one you had before but their whole thing is tentative. They're not showing you, look what I can do, they're more like, okay I'll do it. The idea is you have the exchanges, you give them compliments, the one who just needs to warm up responds really well to genuine compliments. It's actually hard to look at anybody and not see something about them that you like. Something about them that you can compliment them on 'cause it's beautiful, it's cool, it's interesting, it stands out. So you're just having these genuine exchanges where you're commenting on things that you do think are interesting and then you start to have a response that works. And what you notice between these two images is, this one's cut off a hair but, what you see between these two images is the one on the left, it's straight on, he doesn't know what to do, he's squinting a little bit, he's trying to give me the best expression. On the one on the left, I'm moving over, I'm changing the angle 'cause I think it's more flattering for him in general, I'm relaxing the pose a little bit, I'm having him kick his feet out and put them kind of back, I'm changing the way, you even see the way he's head tilting and looking. And in this shot, I'm almost positive I used a reflector and used it as a fan to get his hair going a little bit and he thought it was funny. And that's where you get the shot. So with the one who just needs to warm up, it doesn't mean you won't get there and you'll get to something great, it just means you're practicing caution as you move in. I love this. Caution is not the same as fear and observation is not the same as judgment. I'm not afraid of this kid and you know why I know I'm not afraid of any kid I photograph? That sounds weird right? To say you're afraid of children? I have stood side by side with people in my workshops, again and again, who are exhibiting every sign of fear. Okay, I just don't know what to do, okay I'll just get that. Give me that look, I'm not sure. Kids, like dogs, smell fear. They do, they read it off of you. If I'm in a situation where I don't know what I'm gonna do exactly, I will still act in a calm relaxed way that like, it's all good, even if inside I'm like, oh crap I have the wrong camera and I don't have the lens I want, my battery's not charged and it's getting dark. I'm still going to be responding to the subject in the way I want them to respond to me. If I am nervous and anxious and fearful, that's what I'm gonna get back, that's what I'm gonna see when I look through the viewfinder. I have to be always cognitive of what I'm putting out if I'm trying to get something out of them. The other part of that of course is observation is not the same as judgment. I'm giving you observations when I talk about these types, these personality types that I'm up against, these common challenges I'm gonna face. This is the kind of child I'm dealing with here, this is the kind of child I'm deal with here. I'm putting massive quotes around kind of child as we've covered because no one's all one thing. But observation means I'm not judging anything, there's nothing wrong that steps into my studio. There's nothing wrong in terms of who I'm photographing. I'm just observing them and responding in a way that is the most effective way I can to get an authentic portrait of them. The other thing about waiting for the child to warm up is sometimes those images where they are warming up are some of the best images you're gonna shoot. This idea of not quite sure what you want, not feeling super comfortable with their environment, you just need to catch her attention, be ready from a technical setting and get a shot that you love while they're just warming up. Here's another one. This image was shot in my studio, I'm up against the back of my studio, we're changing clothes, the child's nowhere ready to be photographed, he's very reserved, he's just keeping an eye on me, and I put the long lens on, the 70-200 2.8, just literally sitting down with my back against the wall, and I'm just clicking. And this is him giving me a tentative look waiting to warm up and when I sent over a batch of images to the publisher who published my first book, that's what they chose for the cover.

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!