How to Take Natural Photos of Children

March 17, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 46 Comments | |
How to Take Natural Photos of Children Image

People often say they like my pictures because they are so "natural" and "candid".  However, there is actually a lot more to them that that!  Natural and candid pictures can often result in an image which the client doesn't actually like of themselves - there is an art to making your pictures "look" natural and candid, but still keeping them professional and flattering.

Obviously it depends on your subject.  It is much easier to get successful candid shots of little children, as they tend to do their own thing and not look to you for direction, which means they can be playing and totally unaware of you as you shoot gorgeous pictures of them.  The pictures should usually look gorgeous because most under 5's just have to stand there to look cute - it's difficult to take a bad candid picture of a cute child who is playing happily!

However, once you start to introduce adults to a picture, candid shots can look very unflattering.  Most adults are very self conscious about themselves and will look to you for direction and reassurance.  You need to create shots which look candid, but have actually been very well thought through.  

In the beach shot, where the mum is running with her four children, this feels very natural and candid, but has been carefully set up to create this mood.  If I just followed her around with her children shooting candidly, this shot would never have been achieved, because more than likely one of the children would have run in front of another, and obscured their face, and it is unlikely the mum would have been running around the beach without being asked to!  So for this shot, I asked the mum to hold hands with all the children, deliberately placing the youngest between her and the oldest for support.  I then asked them all to stand in a row on the other side of the pool of water, and then told them to run towards me when I shouted "1,2, 3 Go!"

By starting them off in a line, holding hands I am ensuring that don't run in front of each other, and spoil the shot.  I have also made sure they are all wearing complementary clothes which don't detract from the soft, neutral background.  I have chosen the background deliberately because it has nothing distracting in it, and I am shooting into the sun so the children aren't squinting.  So, although this shot looks candid, a great deal of thought has gone into making it like this.  Having decided on the background, lighting, clothes and positioning, I can then then shoot "candidly" as they run towards me, several times!

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

In the shot of the boy on the beach, he is playing happily with the sand, while I shoot. But I have asked him to play so that the sun is behind him, resulting in flattering images without the sun making him squint.

I have also spent a lot of time prior to shooting, developing a relationship with the people so that we are all having a great time together. They feel relaxed and are having fun, because we've got to know each other over coffee, and I've been playing with the children on the beach. Otherwise they may feel silly and not want to do what I am asking them.

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

In the shot of the little girl in the white dress, I have been able to take lots of natural shots while she plays, but I have asked her to play in the "right" light and in an environment where I can contain her for 5 minutes before she gets bored!  We are in a shed, making a "cake" from bits of wood and leaves.  I have asked her to stir up the "cake" with a piece of wood while her mum keeps finding bits and pieces to add to her cake.  This keeps the child in one place, and totally absorbed in doing something, so she does not think she is being photographed, while I can wander around shooting her from different angles as she plays.  Again I have chosen clothes which she would look cute in whatever she was doing, and the background is out of focus and therefore unobtrusive.

So the more you can organise your shot beforehand, the more flattering your "candid" shots can be!

How to Take Natural Photos of Children

If you want to take truly natural shots, then you will need to be well out of sight of your subject, and in this case you cannot offer any direction, so will need to set the scene where the background and light will suit every shot, and then just see what happens.  I took these photos many years ago of my daughter playing on a beach, whilst I was hiding behind a rock!  Simply because being my own child, she just refused to be photographed!


Annabel Williams' reputation as both a world class photographer and an outstanding tutor is recognised across the globe. Her warm enthusiasm, coupled with an incredibly intuitive approach, is and always has been the driving force behind her very personal and unique style of innovative yet contemporary award winning portraiture.

She brings to her work an imagination and insight which is rare among even the finest professionals, all of which has contributed to her outstanding performance in her genre and it is these qualities which command Annabel so much respect from her peers.

No stranger to both TV and the press, Annabel is also the author of several books on her subject. Her passionate viewpoint engages everyone in a highly enthusiastic exchange of ideas and creativity.

Alongside her business partner Catherine Connor, Annabel also runs Contemporary Photographic Training (CPT) – a dedicated training centre in the Lake District, which runs a comprehensive range of workshops and seminars from ‘getting started’ right through to the prestigious ‘Bespoke Programme’ for aspiring professionals.

All images in this article © Annabel Williams

Entry Tags

how to, candid, kids, children, natural

Your Comments

46 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Joao Urbano

I appreciated very much the tutorial. Simple words, easy to understand and with very wise suggestions. Thanks, Annabel. I will try to follow your suggestions on a near future.
Kudos for Photoblog initiative.
Kind regards,
Joao Urbano

12:47 pm - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

#2 Edward

Great article. Kids are an absolute nightmare at the best of times so there is some great advice in this article which I’ll certainly be putting to good use!

2:04 pm - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#3 Mandeno Moments

Annabel: thanks for your thought-provoking article. What was the reason for having a sloping horizon in the first photo?

If you could give me a critique of some candid/unposed photos of children that I’ve taken I would be most grateful:

9:32 pm - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

#4 newtothis

Thank you for this article. I am just getting into photography and need a lot of help and this has helped. Thank you.

3:16 am - Thursday, March 19, 2009

#5 neilson

wow im beginning to love photography im inspired.thanks a lot

4:36 am - Thursday, March 19, 2009

#6 Annabel Williams

Great to hear such positive feedback - thank you!  If you need any further help either email me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (but don’t expect an instant reply - will get back to you as soon as I can!), or come on a course.  My main aim in life is to simplify all the technical jargon that has traditionally been involved with photography and create a network of like minded photographers!  Keep it simple, and you will get so much more out of the people you photograph - there are so many easy and simple techniques you can use!  Keep up the good work, and I am sorry that I can’t critique your photos, due to everyone asking the same thing - and lack of time - however, I can always find time when you come on a course, because then I am working with you all day, and that’s what it’s all about!  Good luck!

11:40 am - Friday, March 20, 2009

#7 Annabel Williams

oh..and forgot to say - about the horizon line - I take pictures how I want, and of what I see, and what I like - I am not the slightest bit interested in rules or anyone suggesting a horizon line has to be straight - the sea and sky make a beautiful background; I love pictures on a slight angle because it makes them look more dynamic - I am always interested in getting the expressions on the faces and the interaction of people, far more than worrying about “rules”!  Ignore rules and photography becomes much more interesting and fun!  Hope this helps!

1:16 pm - Friday, March 20, 2009

#8 R S

Thank you for such a useful advice on this sort of photography. Most of us would think a candid looking snapshot has got to be candid. And the result is almost always unpredictable and not to one’s liking.

7:03 pm - Friday, March 20, 2009

#9 Mandeno Moments

Annabel: thanks for your response. Silly me should have realised that you’re too busy to critique photos - sorry about that.

I actually thought that the sloping horizon worked well in this case because it added movement to the photos (as diagonals do).

I recently experimented with adding a slant to a photo that was straight when shot:

Then yesterday I deliberately captured a sloping shot:

IMHO it’s good to give the viewer something unexpected.

I’m in New Zealand so going to the UK for a course would be a tad beyond my budget :)

12:30 am - Saturday, March 21, 2009

#10 Nuno Figueiredo

Great picture no doubt, lot’s of think ahead on preparation, this is unquestionably a must. But I can not complete appreciate the moment as long as my brain tells me that the sea should remain flat. You are right about neutral background, and it should be, until I realize the water horizon. From that moment I could not see anything else…Maybe that is why I’m still just a beginner!

11:08 am - Thursday, March 26, 2009

#11 deny desi ariyanto

1,2,3 THANK’s for sharing

1:18 am - Saturday, April 11, 2009

#12 Tanu

This looks really fun

5:50 pm - Sunday, April 26, 2009

#13 Mei Teng

Anabel, thanks for your tips. I enjoyed this post and the photos are great. I photographed some children at a colouring competition recently. Here are some photos

8:05 am - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

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7:01 am - Sunday, July 5, 2009

#15 Amit

very nice tutorial..children are always been the favorite subject for a get the most sweetest shot when they are in their own world or when they are sleeping!!

12:35 pm - Friday, January 8, 2010

#16 Jenny

I love the handstand photo, it seems to just capture what being a child is all about.

I agree that when adults can be really difficult to capture naturally. My mother is the worst, she looks gorgeous right until she is aware of the camera and then her whole face changes and looks very unnatural.

People are too self aware a lot of the time but you seem to get gorgeous photos time and time again.
DrawnByGeorgina, Portraits from Photographs

11:25 pm - Friday, September 3, 2010

#17 Robert

If you are taking a facial picture, have the subject look down and then pick their head up and look at the camera. This is a very natural action and offers a very natural expression. If you look at NFL football (Monday Night Football) will notice that when they show the players picture they have them do this technique.

3:05 pm - Monday, September 20, 2010

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Great tips!

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its really   to show originality of real humen being in this photographs.finally i have to say is really good

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#22 Yvonne Chakraborty

These beautiful shot are all taken outdoors, when working indoors, distractions are also key - toys, books, downtime watching tv, and giving little ones something to hold onto if they are about to walk or still a bit wobbly are all useful.  Creating reasons for spontaneous laughter is also a surefire way to capture images that will be treasured. And as always with children, taking plenty of time to allow them to relax and forget that you are holding a camera will help achieve relaxed natural images.

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