Let's Play! Children's Photography With Tamara Lackey (Part 1)

Noted children's photographer Tamara Lackey hosted a creativeLive workshop giving us all of her tips on how to photograph children successfully.

In Part 1, she describes the most common personality types of children and how she interacts with each type to build a connection and get great photos.

When Tamara Lackey first started out, she focused on building her skills and taking quality pictures first before marketing for clients.

In general, her main tips are:
  1. Master technical settings
  2. Master post-processing
  3. Slow down, interact with people, and engage with children and parents
[Photo by Tamara Lackey]

Working With Kids

"Kids are also trying to figure you out."
If you're nervous or uncomfortable, kids know that and it's off-putting to them. Don't be intimidated or show fear!

If you're interacting with the child and the child finds it interesting, you'll still be able to take good pictures.

"Respond to WHO they are, regardless of the type of expression you want."
Meet kids' energy levels. If they're bouncing off the walls, don't bring them down with a mellow attitude. If they're shy and mellow, don't scare them with high energy.

Physically come down to their level by kneeling to create a connection and get them to trust you.

"Babies and Young Toddlers: Complete and Utter Fearlessness"
Babies and young toddlers are not lens aware; they'll keep doing whatever they're doing.

Older kids are lens aware and are likely to give you the self-conscious "cheese smile."

Most kids fall into one of these categories during the photo shoot:
    [Photo by Tamara Lackey]
  • The Super Star
    • you get high energy shots
  • The Shy One
    • introspective shots
    • must spend time getting them to warm up to you
    • shoot farther away with a long lens
    • give them space
  • The Interactive One
    • keep the dialog going to keep the connection
    • they are very malleable and will do what you tell them
    • Tamara keeps the camera away from her face a lot with these types of kids
    • break up the intensity with games
    • you'll get a lot of great candids
  • The One Who Just Needs to Warm Up
    • Tamara finds that most children are in this category
    • They start out shy and then warm up
  • The Too Cool For School One
    • This personality type is showing up younger and younger
    • These kids are actually very self-conscious
    • Acknowledge that they feel forced into the photo shoot
    • Countdowns - let them know how soon it will be over
    • Typically by the end, they've warmed up
  • The Spirited One; Sick, Tired, Trantrum-y
    • more intense, energetic, perceptive, sensitive, more easily irritated
    • very attuned to their feelings
    • very immediate reactions
    • be empathetic
    • give them whatever they want when they want it during the photo shoot
    • In general, feel what they're feeling to build a connection

At the beginning of every shoot, Tamara spends time getting to know the child and getting him/her comfortable before taking any photos.

She will also give casual instructions on posing and will explain everything every time she moves into a new situation. Ideally you find out the children's personalities beforehand so you know what they like or don't like during the shoot.

Tamara does not use a set pose list, she just goes with what the child wants. When the child starts to disengage, get Mom involved in the photos to get some smiles.

The photographer's personality comes into play when interacting with the kids. Do what is natural and the photos will become your own style.

[Photo by Tamara Lackey]

Equipment specifics

  • Tamara shoots everything manual and JPEG format (because she finds that her work flows faster with JPEG).
  • She uses a higher f-stop so if she moves the camera away from her face to keep the connection with the child she can still get the child in focus.
  • A higher f-stop is also important when shooting multiple kids or families on different planes.
  • She also uses a wide angle lens (24mm or 35mm) to get more things captured in focus.
  • Minimum speed is never below 100 because child is always moving.
  • Tamara will occasionally use on-camera flash but will always use the reflector.
  • In a dark environment, she's using the silver reflector and 3200 ISO.

In Part 2, Tamara talks about photographing families and lighting. Coming next week!

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