A good child photograph should look as though the camera had caught the subject unawares. Seen in this way the child looks natural and makes the best photograph. This result cannot be achieved by forcing the youngster to pose, or it will look stiff and self-conscious. Children have a will of their own; they can be made to pose naturally, but it must be done by kindness and understanding.
A successful child photographer must be so practised in the technical side of his work that he can forget about it and bring all his understanding and diplomacy to managing his subject. If he is preoccupied with technicalities he is bound to miss opportunities. He must also be able to deal tactfully with the child's mother. Small children usually feel safer when the mother is near; around the age of two they tend to cling to her, and she may even have to be included in the picture. But with older children, there are times when a fussy mother can be an embarrassment to both the photographer and his subject. No child can look natural if it is being constantly tidied and told to sit up straight and smile. The photographer must persuade the mother to wait in another room if he hopes to turn out good pictures.
Being photographed is often an upsetting experience for the child. Often it has been put jnto clean clothes, given an extra wash, and had its hair freshly brushed before being brought along to the studio where its surroundings are completely unfamiliar. Under such circumstances it is practically impossible to get a natural likeness. At home, the child gets over all the fuss more easily and the photographer has a better chance to get it into the right mood to be photographed.
Things are much easier if the youngster can be taken when it is busy out of doors. Children playing in the open, or watching a Punch and Judy show, or the animals at the Zoo, very soon forget all about the camera. And once the child can be made to stay in one spot and forget the camera, most of the difficulties vanish. Generally the answer is to get it interested in some activity like playing with a toy, reading a book, winding a musical box, or blowing soap bubbles.
The experienced child photographer wins the co-operation of his subject by treating it as an equal. He sets out first of all to make friends with the child, even explaining the camera to it, letting it look through the finder, or help to rig up the lamps if it is old enough.
A suitable background is essential to a good child photograph. It should offer a contrast to the subject by being lighter or darker, and it should not be fussy. Indoors, a plain wall or a window will do, and it should have some light on it- black backgrounds are only for special effects. Out of doors, the sky, a hedge, or part of the house can make a good setting. In most cases the subject should be well away from the background so that it can be rendered sharp while the background is thrown out of focus.
Generally the viewpoint is chosen as close as possible so that the subject fills the whole of the negative area. There are exceptions, as when the child is seen as part of the landscape, or when it is running about, but mostly the expression is the important thing, not the surroundings.
The camera is best used on the same level as the child; children always look more interesting when they are seen on their own level. The photographer can get down on to the floor where the child spends so much of its time, or he can put the child on the table or in a high chair, or even on top of a wall. Such positions also make it more difficult for the child to wander out of range.
There is no reason why the camera should look down simply because it is fitted with an eye-level viewfinder unless, for example, the child is lying in bed.
With child photographs, the simpler the lighting, the better. Indoors, good basic lighting is given by a main light shining at about forty-five degrees and from slightly above the camera, with a second light farther away directed to soften the shadows and put highlights in the eyes. The lamps are then altered according to the position the child takes up. If there is any daylight, it may be used to advantage to replace the fill-in lamp. There may even be enough light coming through the window to make extra lights unnecessary and low sunlight coming through the window may be used with only a reflector for the shadows. Sometimes a light hanging above the child will accentuate the hair, and it is often the only way of making fair hair look really fair.
The background, however, may call for a lamp to itself.
For softly lit child studies, where only one light source (flash or photoflood) is available, the bounce light technique is ideal. This means directing the light at a suitable reflector such as a nearby wall or ceiling and using the reflected light to illuminate the subject. Such reflected light is, of course, weaker than direct light and calls for more exposure. With flash, use one and a half times to double the normal guide number for direct light. Remember also to count the distance as the path from the flash to the reflecting surface plus from the latter to the subject. For colour photography, the reflecting surfaces should be white or a neutral light grey.
Out of doors, weak, diffused sunshine is the most suitable lighting. In direct sunshine, a reflector should be used. This may be a sheet of plywood or card covered with silver paper, a white cloth, or even a newspaper. With backlighting there is no tendency for the child to screw up its eyes, and it can tolerate the soft reflected light more easily than direct sun.
Generally light coming from the direction of the camera is unsuitable; side or backlighting gives much better modelling.
Flashlight is particularly suitable for photographing children who cannot stand strong lights, and for action photographs indoors. It can also be used instead of a reflector out of doors. The general principles of lighting apply. It is better to have the flash at some distance from the camera in order to get modelling. In a medium sized room, with bright walls, there will be sufficient reflection to prevent heavy shadows.
A reflector or a second, preferably weaker flash can be used to advantage. The background should be either lit separately or it should be near enough to the child to get some light on it. You have to watch windows, mirrors and pictures which might reflect in the background. It is possible to get reasonable results with a box camera (on a tripod) and open flash.