The 9 psychological secrets of creating great portraits of children

10th May 2013
When I first started out I used to see a lot of tears and tantrums – and that was just the parents…!!

As time went past I quickly realised I’d need to become an expert in child psychology if I was going to create the very finest portraits of children.



So, I started studying and today I’m going to reveal to you the secret techniques I use for ensuring I get priceless photos of children time after time.



Why am I telling you this? Well, many of these ideas will help you engineer your child’s behaviour in other situations too. If you’ve ever had your children screaming in the supermarket then you’ll want to read this!

Before I reveal my first technique, I want to say one thing. Always let the photographer give the instructions to your children. There are a few reasons why:

  • It’s much easier for a photographer to build rapport with a child if they are speaking one-to-one.
  • Having lots of people give your child instructions is a quick way to turn their smile into a scowl. They get confused, stressed and overwhelmed. The session should be fun and that means allowing your child to let their hair down and do what they want. We’ll get those magical photos that way.
  • If you’re speaking with your child then they’ll be looking at you rather than at the camera. Of course sometimes wonderful photos come from you interacting with your children, but a good photographer will engineer that interaction so that it looks and feels natural.


Child Photography Secret 1: Feed their imagination and ego – yes ego!
Even fun stuff like jumping and twirling gets pretty dull for a child if it’s one instruction after another. They’ll soon get bored.

However, when I say “Hey, can you jump like a frog?” it instantly becomes more fun, because you’re adding imagination. Also, you’re challenging them and kids LOVE a challenge. It’s that old reverse psychology of ‘I bet you can’t….’

Try betting your child tonight that they can’t get their pyjamas on in less than one minute and see what happens. They can’t resist it!

This trick even works with seemingly boring things. I asked this child how long he could start at the camera without blinking. I got lots of wonderful, wide eyed photos and a few near the end where he started to chuckle as his eyes began to dry out!



Child Photography Secret 2: Kids like the word like
If you asked a little girl to kiss their baby brother they might not do it. But if you asked them to kiss him LIKE a princess would you’ll get a much better result. It focuses their mind and gives them a frame of reference to work with.

Child Photography Secret 3: Show, don’t tell
Never ask anyone to do anything you’re not prepared to do yourself, that’s what I say! Children instantly understand when you show them what to do rather than just telling them. The fact that I normally look daft doing the thing just makes it more entertaining for them than just having someone order them about.



Child Photography Secret 4: Don’t give them the chance to say no
Ask a child a closed question and they’ll seize the opportunity to say no. Which of the following sentences do you think will get the best result:

“Would you like to go jump in those leaves?”

“Look, there’s a big pile of leaves over there – let’s go and jump in them!”

Option two reveals something new and exciting for them, but option one just sounds like you’re giving them another instruction.

Child Photography Secret 5: Let them think it’s their idea
If you can make something sound like their idea, then so much the better. Let’s take that pile of leaves as our inspiration again. If you said, look at that huge pile of leaves, what shall we do with them? 99 times out of 100 they’ll tell you what they want to do and then go do it. There’s almost no other response, other than ‘I don’t want to do anything and that rarely happens. Kids love to be asked what they want to do, you just coax them in the direction you want them to do, without sounding too transparent.

Child Photography Secret 6: No means NOOOOOOO!
If a child tells me they don’t want to do something in the session – I’ll never push it. It only ends in scowls at best and tears at worst. I’ll move onto something else and then maybe come back to the previous idea later. I’ll then repackage the idea so they’re more likely to say yes next time.

Child Photography Secret 7: Children don’t like being left out
If a child doesn’t want to be part of the family portrait then let them go off and do their thing. Say this in a really nice tone of voice and don’t make it sound like a punishment. Just sound free and easy about the whole thing. Pretty soon they’ll want to come back and join in because they can’t care being left out. Again, this doesn’t work if they’re told “Well you won’t be in the photograph if you don’t join in.” This kind of angle just makes them miserable and dig their heels in. If it genuinely sounds like it’s no problem that they’re not in the photo then they’ll quickly come to their own conclusion that they’d like to be involved. What did I say in secret 5? Let them think it’s their idea!

Child Photography Secret 8: Whispers and secrets
Children love to be whispered little secrets and ideas. Not everything has to be loud and enthusiastic. For example, when I whisper “What could you do to show mummy how much you love her?” she’s far more likely to be in a calm responsive mode than if I just said “Do you want to give mum a kiss?” That’ll get a NOOOOOOO!!!!!

Child Photography Secret 9: The special power of ‘special’
The word ‘special’ seems to work like magic. For example “We’re going to do a really special photo with you and granny – can you give granny a cuddle and smile like a princess?”

OK, so that’s just some of my box of tricks I use to ensure that every session results in beautiful child portraits that will touch your heart. You’ve devoted your life to your children and having treasured photographs to capture their spirit, personalities and their relationship with you is what I’m all about. I dearly love what I do and I’m constantly looking for new ways to provide the very highest level of service and professionalism – whilst also being a silly big kid at heart too!

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