Some kids hate having their pictures taken and run away as soon as they see a camera. Others love nothing better than pulling faces. Neither result in natural portraits.
The best shots of children (your own or other people’s) are often taken when they are distracted or before they have time to think about how they’ll react.
Be quick and crafty. And if you can’t ask permission of their parents beforehand, be sure to ask permission to keep the picture afterwards, and offer to share a copy.
Get really close to your subject with a wide-angle lens or the widest part of a compact zoom (ideally 28mm or below). Doing so can accentuate strong features. But be wary of tilting the lens though: wide-angle lenses can cause unflattering distortion.
If you and the person you’re photographing have the time and the inclination, get personal with your portraits. Get them to feel a particular way – happy, angry, sad, pensive... The mood will show in their eyes, and the facial expression will be filled with presence. Ask them to close their eyes and imagine a situation associated with the mood you want, and take your shot as soon as they open their eyes.
Movement of either the subject or the camera itself can add drama to a shot. I asked this frevo dancer from Pernambuco in Brazil to dance for me, and then froze her with a fast shutter speed and fill-in flash.
You can use a similar technique at night – moving the camera while photographing on a slow shutter speed and using flash. The flash freezes the subject and the camera motion creates a swirl of colour behind – brilliant in clubs and bars.
Many portrait photographers plan their shoots around context rather than people. Consider doing the same. Where are you photographing your subject? What are they doing? Where are they going? Where have they come from?
By paying attention to these apparently secondary matters you will give your pictures a sense of place, time and narrative depth.
Alex Robinson is an award-winning travel photographer who has taken shots for Wanderlust, New York Times, Vanity Fair and Marie Claire among many others. He runs photo tours in South America and Asia and workshops in London. www.alexrobinsonphotography.co.uk
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