How to photograph ‘camera shy’ children

For Photographers

Confession time. I am not great behind a camera. I’m shy, overly critical of myself and awkward. A bit ironic as a photographer you could say right?! But the way I feel behind a camera hugely shaped the way I shoot sessions and the way that I get my clients to interact with the camera (or not!). Children can have just the same hang ups or fears, and meeting with a stranger who doesn’t have an iPhone but two massive cameras and a set of lenses can be a daunting process at first.

I’ve put together my top tips for photographing shy children and uncooperative teenagers here to help other photographers who may struggle with this element of their family photography, but I’ve included some useful tips for parents who want to take better and more natural documentary shots of your children too.

Peterborough children's photography
  1. Set the tone from the beginning.

Even before the session you should be beginning to make a relationship by finding out a little about the children. I send a questionnaire which allows parents to tell me their names and a little about them which can help me build trust and familiarity from the beginning. 

Remember that if a young child has travelled to a session then they may have slept in the car, they absolutely won’t want you at 100mph on the first greeting so approach gently, speak softly, remember their personal space, get down at their level and if your cautious approach isn’t an instant hit don’t worry, carry on chatting with the parents and given them time and space.

Pick your locations and timings carefully to make sure they are quiet and secluded, not only will this be helpful for shy children and help them come out of their shell, but it will also help shy and reserved parents too!

Parent tip: 

If you want to set out to take a photo of your children on a day out don’t say…

‘Mummy wants a photo of you stand here!’

Change it to…

‘Oo, why don’t you skip/stomp like a dinosaur over to that tree and back for me’

For older children, ‘could you just stand there so I can show how big the mountain is behind you so we can remember it’. Move the focus off the child so they feel less awkward, make the photo about the adventure where possible and not the child who may feel awkward. Move closer for a less ‘environmental shot’ and more of a portrait if you can but always remember the next point…

Family photography Peterborough

2. Never force a photo

Before I give any tips about actually photographing children I’m going to say this never force a child to have their photo taken. And please never make them feel naughty for refusing. 

I like to keep my photoshoots relaxed, fun and pressure free. It’s important to point out that for this to happen I generally need relaxed and pressure free parents too! So photographers it’s part of your role to inform parents how the session will work, how you work, remind them of the beauty of natural interaction from children. Reassure them that smiles directly at the camera are not necessary the pinnacle of a session. I personally think there is a real beauty in a natural authentic portrait of a child with their natural expression…I like to call it their soulful eyes! Those ones that really seem to study you

Here’s the thing, if you scare this child be being too enthusiastic and pushing for photographs or you make the teenager feel awkward by pushing them past their limits, how do you think they will react to you next year for their family photo update?! You’re just setting the tone for further camera hatred and making it harder for the next session!

Parent tip:

Read your child’s mood, if you know a photo isn’t a good idea right then don’t force it. They will get harder and harder to photograph. You may get away with detail shots of what they are up to or a shot of them walking away in the waves though. Those are equally beautiful and valid memories too for documenting so mix and match it up. Never shout or get angry with them for not cooperating, keep the mood light and fun or abandon the idea entirely.

uk family photographer

3. Make it a game, keep up the interaction

As much as possible, make the photoshoot fun! You are in control of that happening and families will sometimes look to you for permission almost to let their hair down and relax. So literally ‘TELL THEM’ that they can. Yep it’s that simple. Tell them that you want them to have fun, to play with their children as they would do at home, get the giggles from them exactly as they would do normally and grant them the power to be themselves. Many people are still used to formal and traditional photoshoots with lots of posing and they will need your guidance to photograph them in a family lifestyle way. 

I firmly believe that when I’m in my reclining armchair flicking through the photo album I will want to see:

The way I adored my children and the way I looked at them will show that.

The love my children had for my when they were small.

The respect the hopefully have for me when they are grown.

The bond my husband and I share (one of equal adoration and irritation…we’re not alone right?!)

The way my children play together, laughed together and loved each other.


How well they could look at a camera and sit still.

I think my children will want to see:

The bond and joy in my face at I looked at them.

The way their siblings adored them (and yes at times got angry with them!).

Authentic and genuine memories.

How content they looked in their parent’s arms, or how small.

For this reason I only dedicate a little of a session to posing and looking directly at a camera but instead encourage natural play, looking at each other and actions such as walking hand in hand or tickling, chasing blowing bubbles etc!

Parent tip:

You know their interests better than anyone. Include their interests in game where they climb that rock like spiderman, chances are they will laugh at themselves while doing it and give you a wonderful natural smile! For little ones crawl towards them and go to tickle them and run few steps back to keep repeating the process for a natural set of giggles and keep going with your camera in hand – just remember to keep that shutter speed high for all the movement!!

Beach photography Norfolk

4. Allow for pauses

I always schedule my family photoshoots in with plenty of time around them, that way I’m always happy to offer families a pause to provide children (and Dad’s!!) with snacks or feed their baby. Fed and watered children are way happier!!

Sometimes I will use a snack break to photograph Mum and Dad on their own! Not only does this provide a photo opportunity for them when the last photo may have been their wedding photo, it also shows the children that it’s not so bad! It may even create a little FOMO and you sometimes get a chance for a family photo here as they run up to give Mum and Dad a cuddle for fear of missing out on the action!

Parent tip:

You can create a little FOMO with siblings by turning your camera and attention to the other child, it’s sometimes funny how suddenly the other child wants to have a photo!

Children portrait photographer Peterborough

5. Use longer lenses

For really shy children you may need to distance yourself more than usual. 

I most often use my 50mm or 85mm for family sessions and taken some environmental shots with my 20mm. Don’t be afraid to start distant and move forward gradually. After all little people deserve respect of their boundaries too!!

This can be helpful for self conscious teenagers too. Give them space physically but try to break the barriers conversationally by removing them from ear shot of the parents if necessary and chatting to them about their thoughts and interests. If you have the trust of the family, taking them just a little distance out of earshot but in the parent’s line of sight can just reduce the awkwardness and make them feel less ‘on show’.

Parent tip:

If children really hate photos, go ninja mode! Use the screen on your phone to be sneaky or take shots of them while they are engrossed in something!

family photographer Peterborough East of England

To book a one to one training session with me as a parent or photographer then get in touch with me here.

To check out more of my family photography information, see pricing and book then click here.

I mostly cover Peterborough and surrounding areas in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire but often travel further afield if you have particular locations in mind.


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