December 2, 2015


So first, why it’s different. Well, from our experience, shooting kids is not the same as shooting adults. Grown ups will just do whatever you say. It’s easy. With kids? Not so much. A different approach is required.

And that brings us to the caveat. Here’s what we’ve learned about posing with families. The only way to make it stress free is with your own attitude to the shoot. This is the deal. Photographing kids almost never goes the way you expect. The parents will tell you they have the smiliest baby in the world, and the little munchkin ends up being super cranky during the session. Or you’re dealing with dramatically different age groups all at once, and there’s the one kid who just isn’t into it. Or you have this awesome idea for a game, and you’re positive they’re going to love it. But they hate it. That’s what shooting kids can be like.

Straight up, you have to be flexible and ready to roll with it. Otherwise it’s going to be pretty stressful!

But wait. Don’t start running away just yet. Taking photos of families is actually insanely awesome. Honest. It just takes a few simple ideas, and a willingness to practice extreme patience, and stress free posing of families can be yours!!

“Posing” Is Overrated

When it comes to photographing kids and families, I think there needs to be a different type of “posing” involved. See, there’s the traditional idea of “posing”, which involves micromanaging the details of your subject’s stance. So getting them to move their head slightly to the left, chin up, front foot forward, weight on the back foot, shoulders at an angle, that kind of stuff. Don’t get me wrong, knowing all that business can help you create incredibly flattering images of people. But go ahead and try to tell a one year old to do all that. Hint: they won’t.

So the approach to posing families needs to take into account the different age levels you’ll be dealing with. Some subjects won’t be able to talk. Some won’t be able to stand. And some will think that sitting with their hands on their lap is the most boring idea in the world. Besides, what happens when you try to get kids into stiff poses? They look stiff. They feel uncomfortable and awkward. And they hate having their photos taken.

Kids Should Love Photo Sessions

Novel concept eh? But really—shouldn’t we, as photographers, be aiming for this goal? Why do photo sessions have to be painful? Couldn’t they be fun for kids? Couldn’t kids actually look forward to them? And wouldn’t that a) make it easier for the photographer and b) make it easier for the parents and c) result in much more fantastic, happy, meaningful images?

Think back to family photos as a kid. It usually involved dressing up in lame clothes, sitting really still in some weird pose with your hand on your sibling’s shoulder, and looking at a camera and trying to act happy. Tell me what in that scenario is there to feel happy about? Nothing. So why should kids look happy if they don’t feel happy? Seriously. Now don’t fear. There are some tips to creating situations that are both fun, and result in flattering images, and we’re going to chat about those. But take a second and think about what you’re actually trying to capture when you photograph a family. Is it something that just looks good? Or is it a moment that actually feels good for the people in the photo? One of those is far more valuable than the other.

Heads Are the Key

The biggest idea I use when posing families is pretty simple. I try to get their heads close to the same level. Family sessions for us are largely about capturing relationships and interaction and it’s pretty tough to capture that when everyone is far away from each other. So basically you’re looking for a lot of sitting down stuff. Even if the kids are dramatically different heights, sitting down brings everyone closer. It can be as simple as just sitting on the ground. Look for nice colours, textures, and clean backgrounds. Steps and benches work great too. There are tons of options!

Within sitting you can have kids on laps, between or beside mom and dad. Everyone can sit, or the parents can sit while the kids stand. Mega variety is possible! There’s another way to get heads close, and that’s to have the parents holding the kids. This gets tough with older kids, multiple kids, and for long periods of time. So sitting is definitely more versatile, but holding kids gives great variety, and the chance for wonderful interaction.

Now, I definitely don’t do all our poses sitting down. We’ll chat more about other poses shortly. But these sitting down shots usually are the easiest to set up, and result in the best interaction and expressions from the whole family!

Age Matters

Ok, so confession. Rob and I didn’t know anything about kids before we became photographers. I couldn’t have told you the difference between a 6 month old baby and a 3 year old toddler. True story. So if you don’t have much experience with children don’t worry, you can learn. And you’re going to have to! If you already have kids you’re lucky because you have insider information! The idea here is that the age of the kiddo really matters in the type of posing you’ll be able to do. Newborns are really easy. They can’t run away! You need some patience, as they require lots of breaks for snacks and diaper changes, but basically the parents can just hold them in different ways and your posing is easy. This lasts pretty much up until walking age, and is wonderful.

Then they start walking. And running. Away from you. Things get crazy.

Start With The Essentials

Kids have short attention spans. And even shorter tolerance for boring stuff. While we love all the candid interaction shots, we do still try to snag at least one good image of everyone sitting together, looking at the camera. It’s WAYeasier to get that at the beginning of the session, whe n the kids are usually a bit more cooperative. They haven’t found out yet that they can spend time just playing and we’ll be cool with it. Once we unleash them, it’s hard to corral them back in. So get those “must-have” images out of the way as soon as possible. It will save you a ton of stress trying to get it at the end of the session when all the kids want to do is play. For us, the must-haves are a nice family shot, shots of each kid with each parent, and all the kids together. Once that stuff is out of the way, we’re free to focus on the fun and spontaneous moments that always pop up when you’re shooting families.

Variety Matters

Variety in your poses and images is great for creating albums and selling digital files. But with kids it’s even more critical because it prevents the shoot from getting too static and boring. Here are a few poses we use with kids to keep them interacting with their family, in easy to photograph situations, but still having fun! So when our subjects are sitting down we get them to snuggle in super super tight. The closer the better. And then we’ll usually throw some tickles in there. Always fun. Once the kids get bored you can stand up, and have them all hold hands in a line. This looks really cute and gets everyone away from each other a bit. Sometimes excessive closeness freaks kids out, and they need a bit more space. In this pose, to make it fun and keep ‘em engaged, kids can jump, get a swing from mom and dad, do a family-wide wave, whatever you can think of! Getting kids up onto their parents shoulders is also awesome. It keeps heads close, kids love it, and if you get the parents to stand close it can make for some awesome shots.

With younger kids, a lot of the time you kind of have to trick them into doing something that works well for your photos. And usually that involves having them get their heads nice and close to their parents. One technique we’ve found useful is to have the parents sitting, and the kiddo to stand behind them, and give them a hug around the neck. Sometimes you’ll have to qualify that it’s a *gentle* hug, and that they can’t choke their parents. But this totally works and results in some awesome photos!

Along the same lines, squishing cheeks together works really well too!

But you know what, after you’ve done all that you should have all your solid shots out of the way, and then you can honestly just let them play together. At that point you just have to watch and wait and the amazing shots will come. See, that’s what’s so seriously awesome about shooting kids. With some encouragement they will really open up and be themselves. Let them play and have fun with their parents, and they’ll show you emotion, personality, and pure happiness in a way that most adults never do in front of the camera. Kids rock.

So it really doesn’t have to be stressful shooting kids. Be patient, be flexible and make it fun. You’ll end up with some awesome portraits, lots of real moments, happy parents and happy kids!

Niccy Joubert

Professional Designer / Photographer