How to Photograph Reluctant Children

I've spent a great deal of time trying to photograph reluctant children - and not just my own.

For several years, I ran my own small photo business taking family portraits. I actually started out just taking pictures of pets, but then I moved on to children.

Eventually parents wanted in as well, so rather than just "pet" or "child" photography, I engaged in "family" photography.

Even though my focus changed over time, the attitude of most of the kids that I photographed did not. One disclaimer: I'm talking about young kids here, less than 10 years old.

If you want to find out how to photograph reluctant teenagers, you're going to have to look somewhere else - I don't have any wisdom to share about that.

Back to the younger kids - faced with a child who will absolutely, positively, NOT participate in a photo, how do you get a decent shot?

There are several different strategies that I have employed, but there are two that are essential: planning and perseverance.

Planning and Perseverance

When I say the word "planning" I don't mean that you have to figure out everything about a shot before you take it - but it's essential to have some of the basic elements ready to go.

First and foremost: before you put a child in place for a photo, have your camera settings dialed in for the shot.

I will often take a photo of a location with no one in it first so that I can make sure that my camera settings are all adjusted correctly.

The point here is that once you have a reluctant child in front of the camera the LAST thing you want to do is start fiddling around with your camera - you should be ready to start firing away.

Which brings us to our second point about photographing reluctant children: perseverance.

If you have a child who's not going to look at the camera, who's going to run in the opposite direction, who's going to stick out his or her tounge - in short, who's going to do everything possible to make the photo look bad - you can't just fire three shots and be done with it.

Wait the kid out. Talk to him or her. Engage the child as much as possible. Dance if you have to. Ask them to tell you the color of the (invisible) monkey hiding right behind you.

The entire time, keep taking shots. NEVER remove your eye from the viewfinder, because you may only have a split second when the child looks your way with an expression that's actually decent.

Don't Be Modest

Once you've got your camera settings and the kids in place and you're taking one photo after the other, it's time to throw out what you know about the decent way to act in public.

Simply put, it's time to start acting like a total fool.

When taking pictures of kids - especially little ones - I've resorted to hooting like an owl, whistling like a bird, and playing peek-a-boo from behind the camera.

All kids are different - a silly noise that makes one child howl with laughter will elicit a blank stare from another.

You just have to keep working through every silly noise, dance move or game that pops until your head until you find the ONE that will get the reluctant kid to look at you and smile.

Again, you better be ready to take a series of shots the moment it happens - a smiling child rarely looks straight at the camera for long.


Here's an example of this technique put into practice with my own kids during a recent family vacation to Yosemite National Park.

First, I found a location that I really liked - the light falling on the rocks was just perfect. With neither kid present, I adjusted my camera settings to ensure that the exposure was correct.

I made sure that I had a good aperture setting for enough depth of field and a fast shutter speed to eliminate motion blur.

With my camera settings selected, I placed my daughter on the rock - she was not at all pleased with the situation as you can plainly tell.

reluctant child

Next, I added my son and took a few shots while the both of them looked in just about every direction except at me.

reluctant child

Finally, I told them to watch out behind me to make sure that no squirrels were going to pounce on me with my back turned. This comment not only got them to look my way, it also elicited a smile.

reluctant child


  • Grab your camera and your favorite reluctant child
  • Find a spot with decent light, and take a photo without the child first
  • Adjust your camera settings to get the exposure right, and make sure that shutter speed is fast enough to prevent motion blur
  • Place the reluctant child in position
  • Rather than the traditional "say cheese" find something to talk about that the kid will find interesting and/or funny
  • Keeping your eye to the viewfinder and snap a photo every time the child looks your way - if the kid starts laughing, even better
  • If conversation isn't providing the type of engagement you're hoping for, start acting silly until you find some gesture/noise/words that make the child giggle

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