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A Word About Photographing Children

As I take pictures of the world around me, I’ve found that make great subjects — always natural, never posed, just enjoying the hell out of life. But in this day and age, the child-free have to be careful about paying too much attention to a complete stranger’s kids, lest you be considered a pedophile! Fortunately, I’ve discovered a few techniques that allow me to get great little-people pics and keep the parents happy too.

Involve The Parents

Whenever I see a child doing something entertaining in public (and I feel compelled to take a photograph), I first try to locate the parents. Sometimes it’s pretty obvious who they belong to — and simply asking “Is this one yours?” breaks the ice. But when mom or dad isn’t hovering nearby, you have to sort of gently draw them over. I sit down cross-legged near the kids and watch, occasionally snapping a few pictures. Eventually, the parent will wander over and I’ll strike up a conversation — no one has told me to leave their precious darling alone, so I guess I’m friendly enough to prove that I have no ill intentions. And the fact that I’m female (and less likely to be a molester) also works in my favor — sorry fellas, I guess I’m just too goofy to seem like much of a threat! Wink

The cardinal rule is that I never launch into a full-scale assault on the child without getting mom or dad’s permission first. I compliment the parent on how cute the kid is, chat a bit about the weather or the event — then I tell them that I’m a blogger and photographer, and ask if they would mind me taking some pictures of their little one at play. I also explain that I am child-free myself — that I don’t want kids of my own, but I love taking pictures of them because they are so unencumbered. Usually, the parents are incredibly flattered that someone who they might normally label a “child-hater” finds theirs so fascinating! One or two are a bit wary at first, but as soon as I give them my card and describe our full-timing lifestyle, they warm to my crazy business model and give me carte blanche. I talk to the parents about our travels while I’m shooting. I keep my distance and don’t physically interact with their children (why would I want to?) — but if the kid engages me, I’m happy to hear about their latest boo-boo or look at the shell they just found on the beach. By the end of our time together, the parents usually love me — how ironic is that for a no-kidder?

I also ask the parent to sign a model release (I was bad about this early on, but I’m trying to get better) — I offer to send them free prints of the pictures I’m taking if they wouldn’t mind giving me permission to include these photos in a coffee table book or something down the road. That’s a nice thank you for letting me take a child’s picture, and it’s just one more proof to the parent that you’re a legitimate business person. Of course, it also helps if you’re shooting at a place where people are expecting to be photographed. That’s why I love Renaissance festivals and Halloween and other costumed gatherings — this little kid in the picture above was with his parents at Dragon*Con (and no self-respecting geek mom or dad is going to refuse a request to take a baby picture at Con!)

Getting Down On Their Level

A lot of people compliment my kid pictures by saying, “You really make me remember what it was like to be a child.” That’s what it’s all about! The whole reason I photograph little people is because I love their exuberance, their energy, their passion for life. Children’s joy is undiluted, and they know how to throw themselves 100% into having fun (something we seem to forget as we get older). But I can’t capture this in a picture without stepping inside that child’s world.

In my albeit highly-untrained opinion, I think the biggest mistake people make when taking pictures of children (and parents, I’m speaking to you here) is failing to get down on their level. Adults tend to photograph their kids from up up high and far away — from the “grown-up” perspective. Then they wonder why the child seems to be at such a distance. I’ve found that kids are more likely to share their true selves with you when you’re willing to immerse yourself in their world. Crawl around on your knees, get dirty, get silly — take off your “adult” mask and get in the middle of their play, don’t just observe from the sidelines. I promise you’ll end up with a much more meaningful snapshot!

I have to tell you, I rarely care for “posed” photographs of children. Okay, some of those old-timey black-and-white nostalgic shots are cute. But generally speaking, I prefer my kids to be free and unfettered, to do what they want. My job isn’t to tell them to stand here or do this or do that or smile — my only purpose is to capture them in the midst of a spontaneous moment. That having been said, I do believe quite strongly in the power of the phrase “show me” to encourage kids to be at their best. Children are natural show-offs, but they aren’t accustomed to being praised for their antics (usually, some grown-up is telling them to calm-down, sit still, or be quiet!) So when I say, “Show me,” they go nuts! It’s an especially effective technique when you’re trying to capture an action shot. This little girl and her brother were filling up water balloons at a 4th of July block party, then squirting them in their own faces. I didn’t suggest the activity — I merely said, “Show me who can squirt the biggest balloon.” And voila — a great  picture!

I’ve used the old, “Show me who can climb the highest,” with a bunch of kids scaling a tree trunk — “Show me who can jump the farthest,” with children leaping off of a sand dune — and “Show me how you can hang upside down,” when a kid was playing on the monkey bars. And no, none of them got hurt. Kids are like Tiggers — they bounce! I could build an entire career off of just photographing kids — say, that’s a good idea! If any of you would like me to “stalk” your children and get some memorable candid photos of them (on a playground, at a birthday party, at a theme park), give me a holler and I’ll be happy to hook up with you the next time we roll into your town!

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and

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