HOW TO: Photograph children in winter

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There are lots of opportunities for great photos of children in the cold winter weather, and with a little preparation, you can make sure your photos are more than just “snap shots”.

Plan

To get the most out of your shoot:

  1. Make sure the children are wrapped up warm! Put plenty of layers underneath. There’s nothing worse than blue noses and chattering teeth on a photo!
  2. Make sure they are fed before the photo shoot; hungry kids do not perform well for pictures (and nor do photographers!).
  3. Pack up a picnic, with a flask of hot chocolate, and snacks the kids like to eat – saying “let’s take some pictures, then we’ll have a treat” – works every time!
  4. Take a change of clothes – so when they fall over in the snow, or get soaked in a puddle, they can get changed and continue with the shoot.
  5. Think about your colours and backgrounds, just like in any photo shoot – brightly coloured jackets, scarves and hats look great in photos.
  6. Choose a location somewhere near a (warm!) cafe so you can take a break.
  7. Remember to take a hairbrush so you can sort the kid’s hair out if you take off their hats.

Clothes

Select clothes which are brightly coloured – they’ll make the pictures look “warmer”. Woolly hats look so cute in pictures, and keep the children warm too.

Think about their hair - position the hat so that their hair frames their face. Hats also help to draw your attention to the eyes, and hoods with fur trims look great too (bottom right, above).

Think about their hair – position the hat so that their hair frames their face. Hats also help to draw your attention to the eyes, and hoods with fur trims look great too (bottom right, above).

Once you've done a few shots with a woolly hat, take it off and do some without, particularly when a child has such gorgeous hair like this. If it's a very young child, and they won't take it off - ask them if you can wear the hat and put it on yourself - this will usually result in them laughing at you, and you'll get a great shot! If they have a teddy, ask them to put it on teddy.

Once you’ve done a few shots with a woolly hat, take it off and do some without, particularly when a child has such gorgeous hair like this. If it’s a very young child, and they won’t take it off – ask them if you can wear the hat and put it on yourself – this will usually result in them laughing at you, and you’ll get a great shot! If they have a teddy, ask them to put it on teddy.

Snow

Snow can be amazing for pictures – because it acts as a natural reflector, surrounding the subject with flattering light, which will bounce up into their faces – that’s why pictures taken on skiing holidays always look so good!

Tip: Start with the child wearing their jacket, and then once they are playing and having fun, they won’t mind taking it off. If you ask them to take it off first, they will often feel cold, but they’ll forget all about the cold if they are focussed on doing something else.

Try turning your camera at an angle to make the pictures look more interesting. Ask the girls to twirl around in a skirt - because they're having fun they will not notice the camera so much, and it will add movement to the picture.

Try turning your camera at an angle to make the pictures look more interesting. Ask the girls to twirl around in a skirt – because they’re having fun they will not notice the camera so much, and it will add movement to the picture.

Rain

Many people think it’s impossible to take good pictures in the rain – but if you get prepared, you can get some great shots. Put the kids in wellies or boots and let them splash in puddles. Give them bright umbrellas and ask them to twirl around while you take lots of shots. Ask an adult to hold a large white umbrella over the child and it will act as a huge white softbox, creating beautiful light on their face.

Don’t worry about the rain – so long as you keep the child under an umbrella or in a doorway/garage etc. they will stay dry, even if you look like a drowned rat!

Tip: If you want to try some twirling shots and are worried about getting them in focus – set up your camera as I showed you in:Set up your camera the easy way… then all you have to do is make sure the red square is over their face when you press the shutter, and most shots should be in focus – don’t expect every shot to work when a child is twirling round with a brolly – some of them will be blurred due to the movement, and sometimes you will just get the brolly, but just keep shooting and asking them to twirl again – so you have plenty of shots to choose from.

Left: Try asking the child to spin around with the umbrella for a natural shot (best in those few minutes between each rain shower) - or try placing the child in the doorway of a garage or carport - concrete floors look great as a background as you can see above, and the children stay dry. Top Right: Clear brollies look really good as you can see more of the child. Bottom Right: Patterned brollies can also make a good background whilst keeping the child dry.

Left: Try asking the child to spin around with the umbrella for a natural shot (best in those few minutes between each rain shower) – or try placing the child in the doorway of a garage or carport – concrete floors look great as a background as you can see above, and the children stay dry. Top Right: Clear brollies look really good as you can see more of the child. Bottom Right: Patterned brollies can also make a good background whilst keeping the child dry.

NOTE: The 3 pictures above are actually taken in summer rain. When it rains in the UK in winter it can get very dark, which means you will often find your shutter speed is too slow to allow the children to run around and twirl umbrellas. If your shutter speed goes under 125 any moving shots are more likely to be blurred, so you may need to concentrate on keeping the child still, and holding your camera steady. Make sure you are shooting on F4 (or 2.8 if you have that kind of lens), and change your ISO to 800* to allow a higher shutter speed. Sometimes a slightly blurred shot of someone moving can actually look quite arty though!

* You can put your ISO up much higher on some cameras, but the higher it goes the more grain (noise) you will have in your picture (nothing wrong with that if you want a grainy look, but I’m just warning you!).

Families

If you can try and involve the parents in your shoot, young children are likely to be more cooperative. If it’s your own child, keep swopping the camera with your partner or a grandparent, so you all get involved.

To get the best out of young children, they need games to play and to see everything as something fun to do – so you have to set up the situation so that having their photos taken becomes secondary. This way you can record what they do and your pictures will look very natural.

For this shoot we wrapped up warm, went for a walk, and made it all up as we went along!

In most of these shots Stewart and Julie are running, which makes Harriet laugh, and I can use my zoom lens to capture lots of different pictures.

In most of these shots Stewart and Julie are running, which makes Harriet laugh, and I can use my zoom lens to capture lots of different pictures.

Tip: To achieve the shot bottom right, ask the child to hold Mummy and Daddy’s hands and tell her they are going to swing her – then say, “Are you ready? Are you ready?” and while she is anticipating the swing, you should get a great expression. If you just let her swing, it will be difficult to get an expression like this. And if you just ask her to stand and hold their hands, it may not work either. Sometimes I get a great swinging shot too, but inevitably the best shot is while you are making them wait for the moment! (Don’t wait too long or they will get frustrated!)

For wider shots taking in the scenery, you can place the child between the parents, but for closer shots try putting her on Dad’s shoulders which will keep all their heads closer together (see above).

Make everything a game!

Make everything a game!

I have positioned Stewart and Julie about 15 feet apart and asked Stewart to stand very close to me. I have then asked Harriet to “run to Daddy”, so she appears to be looking directly at me (above left).

I’ve then repeated the shot by asking Julie to stand next to me and asking Harriet to “run to Mummy” – and for the shot on the right I have just asked her to run between them, while I stand at the side, to create variety. Harriet of course loves the game, and obliges happily!

Tip: When you ask a young child to run like this, make sure the ground is soft! There’s nothing worse than her landing flat on her face in the excitement: bruises = end of photo shoot!

It always helps if you let the child get involved – Harriet wanted to hold the reflector, so we pretended to take a shot of Mummy and Daddy so she could help (above top centre)!

I hope this gives you lots of ideas for shooting in cold weather – think ahead, wrap up warm and have fun!

Annabel x


For more ideas on getting the best out of children see: