4 Things to Keep in Mind When Posing Kids

August 8, 2016

By Tamara Lackey

So much goes into great posing, but if you can keep these four things in mind the next time you photograph a child or family, you’ll definitely see a difference in your portraits. 

Organic Directive Posing 
I start with a specific direction in mind but then let my subjects take over, adjusting so that the poses more reflect who they naturally are and how they naturally hold themselves.

I photographed this boy in our studio, setting up four of my constant lights and staggering them around and behind him. My other images of him were brighter, with more cheerful expressions but I wanted to show this more serious side to him as well. 

I shot at a higher ISO (4000), still able to control errant noise with the Nikon D4, and I kept my shutter speed at 1/250 (he had been a pretty “jumpy” subject and I didn’t want any unintentional blur. As for the pose, I was just trying out different looks when he adjusted his hands, which along with his dress coat and shirt, made him look much older. I love how the placement of the hands can have that strong of an impact on the feel of the portrait.  

All Photos © Tamara Lackey

A great expression is everything
This may just be my personal opinion, but I put a great deal of emphasis on expression, and I think it trumps everything else going on in a shot. If I get the lighting, pose, background, framing, composition and lens choice perfectly correct but I have an average expression, I have not achieved a great portrait; I just shot a technically good frame.  

I photographed this brother and sister during a workshop I was teaching in London, and I set them up so that I could showcase symmetry in the framing and composition, complete with the leading line of the trail, but I broke symmetry in their pose by positioning one of them toward me and the other facing right. The first few takes were stiffer than I would have preferred, but the silliness of my interaction with them elicited some fantastic expressions and softened both of their poses so that they naturally leaned into each other.

Respect the ratios of head to body
When a baby is born, their head is a major part of the entire body. In fact, their head is already at about 25 percent of the size they will be when a baby reaches adult age. Compare that to the fact that their body is only about 5 percent of what it will one day be and you will better understand why managing proportion ratios can make for better portraits.

When posing little ones, it helps to pose them—and angle the lens—so that you are keeping those proportions in mind for the most flattering effect. This image works because it’s a bright little girl in a bright big girl dress, and the angle is shot in a way that shows off her natural loveliness and whimsical expression while also respecting the proportion of head to body.

Criss-Cross Applesauce
As cute as this little guy is, he’s still trying to twist out of mommy’s lap while she is trying to keep him in place by blocking him with her leg. What I asked her to do instead was position his and her legs identically, like “criss-cross applesauce,” and nuzzle his cheeks at the same time. By doing so, she limited his ability to use his legs to get away, while the soft kisses on his cheek made him reflexively smile—and I called to him at the exact same time she did her part in order to get his attention. He only stayed for a few seconds—but with photography, that’s all you need.

Want more inspiration? Check out the photo gallery!

Tamara Lackey is a photographer, author, program host of Adorama’s reDefine show, Nikon USA Ambassador, and founder of Beautiful Together (which helps improve the quality of life of children waiting for families, beautifultogether.org) and the eco-friendly Lush Albums (lushalbums.com). She is also the author of The Posing Playbook…For Kids Who Don’t Do Posing and The Family Posing Playbook, and she also pens the monthly Rf Q&A, Depth of Field: Defining Moments.