How to Take Candid Portraits of Your Kids

Have you ever seen a beautiful candid portrait of kids like the featured image above and thought, “Wow, I wish I could do that?”

Though it might seem like a task that would be fairly complicated, it’s really quite straightforward.

Sure, there’s all the technical stuff to bear in mind, like getting a well-exposed photo.

And there’s all those common photography rules of thumb to bear in mind as well, like the rule of thirds.

But, at least from how you approach candid portraits of kids, that part isn’t all that complex.

In fact, you can boil it down to three simple steps that can help you create gorgeous photos of your kids.

Shoot in Continuous Mode

Unless you have the world’s best-behaved kids, the chances are that they aren’t going to be all that interested in sitting still for a formally posed portrait.

But that’s okay because if you ask me, candid portraits of kids have so much more life and personality.

That’s not to say that formally posed shots can’t be beautiful — it’s just that I don’t think it’s a very accurate representation of what kids are like when they’re kids.

That means being rambunctious, active, running, playing, and exploring the world.

Of course, none of those activities is easily documented when you shoot one frame at a time!

So, continuous shooting mode is your best friend when it comes to photographing kids.

It allows you not only to capture “the one” great shot out of a burst, but you never know when you might create a series of shots that when presented together highlight a fun kid moment.

Another benefit of shooting in continuous mode is that you can really just sit back and observe, and allow your kids to be kids.

That means firing off bursts of shots regardless of what your kids are doing — whether they’re looking at the camera or not, or even if they’re smiling or not.

The point is that continuous mode will give you the best chance of getting those authentic shots like the one above, that end up being some of the most precious photos you might ever take of your kids.

Know What Lens to Use

Obviously, the situation you find yourself shooting in will dictate what sort of lens you might use to get candid kid photos.

On the one hand, if you’re outdoors and you want your kids to sort of forget you’re there so you can get more natural photos, a zoom lens will be helpful.

You don’t even have to get crazy with the focal length! There’s no need to run out and get a 200–500mm telephoto lens. That’s a huge expense and a huge lens that will certainly draw interest from your children.

Instead, opt for something like a 70–200mm lens, that way you have a range of focal lengths that allows you to get some nice shots from a distance.

Another benefit of using a zoom lens is that you can take tightly framed shots that focus on your kid’s facial expressions.

You can do this at either end of the zoom’s focal length spectrum — hang back and take close-ups from far away, as noted above, or get in closer and use the shorter focal length to get intimate, close-up photos as well. Either way, you can get quality photos that eliminate a lot of the clutter of the surroundings and focus solely on your child, their actions, and their facial expressions.

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On the other hand, there will be times when the surroundings benefit the shot.

When you want to include more of the environment in the photo, a wide-angle lens is a good choice.

Many photographers don’t like the idea of taking portraits with a wide-angle lens simply because they can cause distortion that accentuates areas of a person’s face and body, making them look unnatural.

However, that effect is most prominent when creating close-up shots, so as long as you avoid extreme close-ups, those distorted effects shouldn’t be an issue.

A wide-angle lens is especially useful when you want to tell a story of what your child is doing at the moment, and including his or her surroundings can help you do that.

This isn’t to say that you can’t tell a compelling story with a zoom lens; it’s just that a wide-angle shot will give a little more context to what your kid is doing.

A good idea might be to get something like a 24–70mm zoom, that way you have the benefit of taking wide-angles and you have a little bit of zoom so you can step back and watch the action unfold as well.

Leave Your Kids Alone

Probably the best thing you can do for getting candid portraits of your kids is to let them be kids.

It’s a struggle sometimes not to intervene and not to tell your kids to look at you and smile.

But the more you try to direct them, the more frustrated you’ll likely become when they don’t cooperate.

Besides, constantly interrupting whatever your child is doing won’t do you any favors when you try to get an authentic, candid photo of them.

By letting things unfold, you’re far more likely to capture a sweet moment like the images seen throughout this article.

So, let your kids run and play. Keep shooting when they laugh and when they get angry. Move around them as they engage in their activities, getting shots from all sorts of angles and points of view.

You’ll find that as you let them simply be a kid, they’ll just about forget that you’re even there, let alone that you have a camera.

And when that happens, you’ll probably find a wealth of opportunities to create better portraits that show your child’s personality, all without having to try to force them into a formally posed shot.

Recommended Reading:

Picture Perfect Practice: A Self-Training Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Taking World-Class Photographs
Portrait Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots
The Complete Portrait Manual: 200+ Tips and Techniques for Shooting Perfect Photos of People

Still haven’t uncovered all the tools, tips & tricks you need to take the stunning portrait shots you want?

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Originally published at on March 7, 2017.