Photographing Children Around the World

by Jim Zuckerman

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© Jim Zuckerman
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Sometimes, a small amount of money is expected as a gratuity. Over the past thirty years, so many tourists have snapped pictures of local people and then given small gifts or money in exchange that it has become the norm. I have never minded paying for wonderful photographs, but I make sure in advance that any remuneration includes the signing of a model release by a parent. Often, I will photograph children selling souvenirs, and the deal I make is that I will pay their asking price (which is always inflated at least 100% of the value of the item) if I can take pictures. This usually works, since they want to make a sale.

Effective Lighting
There are only two types of natural light that should be used for shooting children, or for that matter any person, when outdoors: diffused and low angled sunlight. Diffused light occurs when a cloud cover disperses sunlight similar to what a softbox does to a flash head in the studio. It is soft and shadowless, and your subject can be placed anywhere where the background is complementary to the composition. However, if the sun is high in the sky, harsh shadows and contrasty light will invariably degrade the image. The eye sockets go dark, the nose and forehead will be light, and the child looks hard under the garish illumination.

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© Jim Zuckerman
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In tropical countries near the Equator, the discrepancy between sunlight and shadow can be an unbelievable four f/stops, so here especially you must be careful to avoid direct sunlight.

Under these circumstances, ask the child (through an interpreter or with hand gestures) if he or she will move into the shade of a tree or building. This takes care of the problem. If you have a diffusion panel, it can be held above the child to soften the sunlight, enabling you to shoot in the open. The only problem is that large, unfamiliar objects might frighten small children and dissuade them from posing naturally. It's important to remember that from their point of view, we are strange looking people with mysterious looking gadgets. Kids in tribal villages in remote parts of the world are entertained by our antics, but if we aren't sensitive to their unworldliness, it is easy to make them feel uncomfortable or fearful.

The second type of natural light that can be used effectively is low angled sunlight. Early morning and late afternoon light, when the sun is close to the horizon, provides flattering, golden illumination that can be effective for either front, back or side lighting.


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© Jim Zuckerman
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If the sun is too high above the horizon, the child will squint when looking toward the sun, so I will often ask him or her to face away from the bright light. With a ninety degree turn, I get side lighting. With a one hundred and eighty degree turn, the child's back is toward the sun and I take advantage of back lighting where the hair is brilliantly illuminated. I always expose for the skin tone such that the meter is not influenced by the highlights on the hair or the bright sky.

Lens Choice
I use medium telephotos for most of my portraits of children. In the 6x7cm format, my two lenses of choice are the 250mm and 350mm lenses, comparable in the 35mm format to approximately 135mm and 150mm respectively. These lenses aren't so long that depth of field becomes a problem (where the eyes are in focus but the tip of the nose is soft), and the background is rendered out of focus enough so most of the attention is directed to the portrait.


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© Jim Zuckerman
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Whenever possible, I use a tripod. Even though this inhibits my movements somewhat, it ensures that the images are sharp even at slower shutter speeds.

Once in a while I use a wide angle lens for portraits of children. It's a unique approach and gives a very different kind of stylistic look. If I sense that the child being photographed feels comfortable with me, I will move in very close and take a full frame portrait with one of the wide angles. In these instances, it's important to be aware of the background, because wide angles have a great deal of depth of field and the elements behind my young subject are definable and therefore must contribute to the composition. By contrast, a telephoto will simply render the background out of focus.


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About Author / Instructor / Photographer, Jim Zuckerman
Photography Instructor: Jim ZuckermanFew people are able to spend most of their time pursuing their passion in life. I'm one of them, and I feel blessed to have had a love affair with photography since I began taking pictures.

In 1970, I decided to abort my intended career as a doctor in favor of photography and have never regretted it. Photography has enriched my life more than I can tell you. My career has taken me to over 60 countries, and I've seen and photographed wondrous things.

I specialize in wildlife and nature, international travel, and digital effects. In addition, I also shoot nudes, photo- and electron microscopy, children, and other subjects that stimulate my visual or emotional sensibilities.

For 25 years, I shot a medium format camera, specifically the Mamiya RZ 67, for its superior quality. When I would lecture, Id project the large, glass mounted transparencies, and it was really an incredible experience to see the brilliant color saturation and resolution of these slides. However, I went digital in 2004 because the technology finally equaled or surpassed medium format. I now shoot the Canon 1Ds Mark II digital camera with a variety of lenses.

I am the author of 12 books on photography. My work is sold in 30 countries around the world, and my images have appeared on scores of magazine and book covers, calendars, posters, national ads, trade ads, brochures, and corporate promotions.

For many years I've led photography tours to exotic places. These include Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Burma, Greece, The Czech Republic and Slovakia, Spain, Morocco, and Peru.