There are two kinds of kids in this world, those who like to be photographed and those who don't. Whichever kind your toddler boy, preschooler, grade schooler or teenager might happen to be, the challenges of photographing him are going to be somewhat different than the challenges of photographing a girl.
That's not meant to be a statement that has any gender bias in it, although I realize that it can be perceived that way. All kids are individuals and you can't really lump photography techniques into "this works for boys" and "this works for girls." Now having said that, it is a fact of our society that boys and girls are often raised a little differently and therefore present different challenges when you're taking pictures of them. But again, it's hard to generalize because what works for one boy or girl might not work for another. So this article is just meant to address some of those common issues that may arise when photographing boys, and how you could potentially cope with them. It won't work for everyone, but it might help in certain situations.
The first thing you should ascertain is just how comfortable your subject is with the camera. Some boys ham it up every time a camera is pointed at them, while others may prefer that you take a photograph of their outstretched hand rather than their face. But what it all comes down to is making sure that your subject is comfortable in front of the camera, but not too comfortable. A kid who's too comfortable in front of the camera is going to default to that cheesy, silly grin that he's been practicing most of his life, and that's not really what you want, either.
Again I don't want to generalize, but it seems like teenage girls are a little more comfortable in front of the camera than teenage boys are (it might have something to do with all those selfies). So if you've got a subject who tends to stiffen up when you point the camera at him, that's an indication that he falls into the other category. A subject who isn't comfortable in front of the camera needs a photographer who can make him feel at ease, and that's always the trick.
There's definitely going to be a difference between the way you pose a girl and the way you pose a boy. Generally speaking, boys like to look masculine in photographs, and girls like to look feminine. So you should choose poses that reflect this, although micro-managing a pose usually isn't a good idea either. Start by having your subject sit. People often feel more relaxed sitting then they do standing, especially when a camera is pointed at them. You can have your subject sit in a chair or on the ground with his back against the wall. And once he's in position, don't just start taking pictures, try to have a conversation with him. If you can get him to talk about his favorite subject, he's likely going to open up and start to relax a little bit, and that will make the pose look more natural.
Remember if your subject is sitting, you still need to make sure you're shooting from eye level. If you're standing and your subject is sitting, then you can end up with a photograph that makes him look diminutive, and no boy likes that—girls don't like it much, either.
Once he starts to relax, you can move into some standing poses. Most of the time, people don't really know what to do with their hands while they're posing, so one thing you could have a boy do is put his hand in his pocket. This looks a lot more masculine than a hand on the hip, which is what you might do for a girl. Have him shift his weight to his back leg and tip his head towards the lower shoulder to create a long, c-shape. Again, it's helpful to keep the conversation going so your subject doesn't feel too much like he's being posed.
Sometimes if you give your subject a prop something he loves, such as a football, his puppy or a video game controller—that can help him feel more relaxed, too. Giving him something to do with his hands avoids the problem of him wondering what to do with them, and it is also a great way to spark conversation—just ask him to tell you about the football, the puppy or the game controller, and that will open him up to talking to you and relaxing into the shoot.
Another popular pose for boys is leaning against something solid like a wall or a tree. Have him stand square on one foot and place his other food, and then ask him to put the other foot against the vertical surface. Again, if you ask him to tip his head slightly towards the lower shoulder, you'll get a nice c-shape, which is a very pleasing way to pose a person. The key is to keep the shoulders from looking too square because that can make him look stiff and can also make his shoulders look disproportionately large.
If you're still having some trouble with your subject looking stiff, you could abandon the posing altogether and just stick with candid photographs. Of course this depends on who your subject is and how well you know him, but if it's a family member or a friend you should be able to arrange to meet him in a place of his choosing. Some activities such as sporting events are ideal—for portraits, you'll want to focus on photographs of before the event when you can catch him in the preparation stages, before all the action starts. Just make sure you choose an activity where he's going to be in his element. Another idea might be music practice, hiking, or some other activity that interests him.
Group events like picnics or play dates are great for younger kids—often they get so wrapped up in the event that they forget there's someone following them around with a camera. When you are taking candid photos, the trick is to remain as discreet as possible. I won't go so far as to say you should be hiding in the bushes because almost no one appreciates that, but try to hang back a little use a longer lens. You might even consider using a less obtrusive camera then your DSLR—a micro 4/3rds camera would be ideal, since it's small and doesn't draw a lot of attention to you.
Remember the rules
Portrait rules don't change, whether you're photographing girls or boys. Always make sure that the eye is the sharpest part of the photograph—if you wanted to be sure, put your camera in single point auto focus mode, which lets you move your focus point around in your viewfinder using the joystick on the back of your camera. Place the focus point directly over your subject's eye, press halfway down on the shutter button to focus and then take the picture. This is virtually a guaranteed way to make sure that the eye stays nice and sharp.
For the most part, you will want to be shooting with a wideish aperture—f/5.6 is usually pretty standard for a portrait. That's enough for you to get a sharp subject but plenty of blur on the background, which can help bring your subject forward, out of his environment. Remember that distance between subject and camera and distance between subject and background all have something to do with how much blur you'll get on the background. A subject who is standing too close to something may end up looking like he's blending in with it. Move your subject forward a little bit and you'll decrease the depth of field and create an image that has an obvious subject and an obvious background.
If you're not shooting candid photos, try to stick with portrait length lenses, usually somewhere between 50mm and 125mm. These lenses produce the least amount of distortion in your subject's face. If you use a wider angle lens you may exaggerate your subject's features. At wide angles, noses and foreheads can look disproportionately large, which is a look no portrait subject truly appreciates. A lens longer then 125mm or so will also create some distortion—some people call it the "pancake" effect, because it can make the subject's face look wider and flatter but the features smaller.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether you're photographing a boy or a girl, you can still make it fun for everybody. Just remember not to have high expectations, and that the expectations you have should diminish with every year younger your subject is. For toddlers and preschoolers, you should mostly just let them take the lead. Give them props and engage them in conversation but don't expect them to manage their poses in exactly the way you would with a teenager. Older kids are easier, but even older kids have limited tolerance for all that posing. Stick with a few nice posed photos and then let them take the lead from there. I think you'll find that the more comfortable your subject is, the better your photos will be, and the more you let your subject have some control over the situation, the more comfortable he'll be. Most of all enjoy yourself and remember that boyhood it doesn't last forever, so capture it now while you still can.
- Posing boys
- Choose masculine poses
- Start with sitting
- Have a conversation to help him relax
- Shoot from eye level
- Try some standing poses
- Get some candid shots when he's in his element
- Remember the rules
- Focus on his eye
- Use a wider aperture
- Use a portrait lens (50mm to 125mm)
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