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© Maria Ferrari
Michael Crouser was born in Minneapolis in 1962 and graduated from Saint John's University in Collegeville, Minnesota.
He began taking photographs at the age of fourteen and has been at it ever since. Recently, Crouser produced two books of his black and white photography (Los Toros and Dog Run) using Kodak Tri-X Professional Film.
He lives in Brooklyn and Minneapolis.

Tips for Photographing Children

Let the child be themselves

Put the child in an atmosphere that is comfortable and familiar to them, and let them be themselves.
Is there anything harder than trying to make a good picture of a child who doesn't want to be there? Think about those nightmare "Santa's lap" pictures, or those of a child in a new outfit that they hate. I wish I had a nickel for every kid I was photographing who decided they were bored, and simply walked away!
This young man could not have been more proud than to pose in his Spidey muscles with his Spidey friend. It was his choice, and good one!
In the second image, the girl on the swing is a Alaskan Native dancer on a break from performing and happy to sit for the camera in her Yup'ik headress and traditional kuspak top.


©Michael Crouser
©Michael Crouser

Photograph the older sibling first

Shoot the older kid first, the young one will often follow. Even if the end goal is a portrait of the younger child, if they are shy, and see their idolized older sibling participating, and having fun they will often soften to the idea of having their picture taken.
This little cowboy wasn't so keen on the idea of sitting up on the fence rail, until he saw his big brother standing on one of the posts (see his boots to the left). Suddenly it seemed like a great idea!
© Michael Crouser

Soft light

Although soft light often means less light, it is worth the potential difficulties for the flattering effect. Like with most subjects, harsh sunlight can be difficult to work with. Squinting and unfortunate shadows become something to deal with.
Look for shade, or use bounced or diffused light for shots outside. When shooting inside try to find alternatives to a direct flash. Look at the websites of modern wedding photographers, you will see a complete absence of flash evidence.
The same applies to attractive and more natural-looking photography for children. Experiment with some combination of higher ISOs on your digital camera, a tripod and slower shutter speeds if the child is relatively stationary. If there's going to be fidgeting, try bouncing the flash off the ceiling or a wall, or using one of the many diffusers and flash bouncers on the market today.
© Michael Crouser

Don't say "cheeeeeeese!"

I think there is a misconception that a child (or anyone for that matter) needs to smile to make a pleasing photo. Thus, kids learn at an early age to work up a phony smile whenever the cameras come out. While natural smiles can make a great image, I feel that a neutral expression in any kind of portrait can make a beautiful picture that shows a true likeness of the subject.
This Red Sox fan under the Manhattan Bridge simply did not want to smile that day (perhaps the Yankees won?), and that was okay with me. To me, the picture is much more effective with this expression than it would be with a smile, and his parents love it.
© Michael Crouser

Interaction for a smile

If you feel a smile is possible and important to your photo, I find that what might work with babies (ie: "Boo!" and silly faces) does not usually with kids over 6. This age group seems to prefer a bit of interaction.
I photographed this group of children for an advertising assignment, and I was encouraging them to tease me, rather than me playing to them. They loved it. I believe that in this picture one of the kids decided to call me "chubby", and I pretended to be devastated....this all sent the group into giggle hysterics (actually I was devastated!).
PS: The, um, Bronx Cheer works on all kids of all ages...why is that?
© Michael Crouser


Composition can be just as important as the other elements of a good kid photo. Sometimes we get fixated on getting as close to a person as we can to make a nice photo of their face. I try to look for interesting compositions in any kind of picture. Shapes and their pleasing arrangement can go a long way toward making a dynamic photo of a child, or of anything else.


Here we have two different examples of using a window as an important element in a picture of a child. In the first picture, this little boy was throwing hats out the window of his house, and paused in his task long enough to give me a look. I think the elements of the siding and the space inside the window are part of what make this image what it is. In the other example, the girl is outside the window, but nonetheless it holds an important place in the formation of the photo's composition, which I feel to be key to this photo.


© Michael Crouser
© Michael Crouser

Let kids have fun

A kid having fun is a kid having fun! And what could be better than that? This little girl didn't have to be asked twice to stomp around in the water. She also was the one who decided when the shoot was over. She said "I'm cold now" and ran upstairs to a hot bath.
© Michael Crouser


Props....yes or no? Well, yes and no. In some portraits a small toy that a child loves can make them feel secure (or at least distracted long enough to make the picture!) but a big, big prop can dominate the picture and distract the viewer from the child being photographed.
In this case the "prop" outweighed the girl by a good ten pounds, but turned out to be a fun, and charming element of the image. Besides, I could not have separated these two if I had tried, so...shoot away!
© Michael Crouser

Unposed = Natural

If you can manage to be inconspicuous with your camera and simply watch your kids playing, you can get some amazing shots of kids just being kids. Using a larger lens can keep you out of their way, and ensure that you will not be the focus their attention, while they remain the focus of yours.
I think it's important to note here that it is even possible to make a nice picture of a child without showing their face.
© Michael Crouser

Keep the background simple

I believe in this edict for nearly any picture I try to make. I don't like a busy image, as I feel that a viewer's eye prefers less to look at. Be mindful of any extraneous visual elements that distract from what you want people to look at.


These two pictures were made of the same boy, seven years apart, and show two different versions of keeping it simple.


© Michael Crouser
© Michael Crouser
You can also listen to Michael talk about capturing Timeless Photos in hispodcast.
Visit Michael's websites:
www.dogrunbook.com www.lostorosbook.com