Candid Photography of Children

Posted in Using Your Camera

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In today’s atmosphere where every photographer is a suspicious character, especially when it comes to doing candid street shots of kids, there are a few techniques you may find useful, though I offer no warranty.  In fact, be ready for angry glances as their guardians believe you are probably up to no good.  I would love to know what the Helen Levitt’s of the photography world would make of all this.  In certain countries, it is now illegal to photograph ANY STRANGER in the street.  So, you grew up enjoying the wonderful work of Cartier Bresson or Helen Levitt and you would like to continue in that vein.

TIP ONE: IF YOU ARE A MAN, bring a woman along with you. Besides the usual advice about cleaning up your appearance, you will save many confrontations if you are with a woman.  And from experience, I will even go so far as to say, the older the woman is, the better.  If you come across as a tourist who is showing his frail mother around town – then it will be very simple to photograph any kids that pass you.  If you are a woman – I think you have a definite edge in this area, and shouldn’t have to bring anyone along, though if you have children, your own or borrowed with you, this is a plus.

TIP TWO: LEARN TO SPIN AROUND 180 DEGREES

If you can’t find somebody to act as a foil, either as your wife or husband or offspring, then you can usually photograph kids, or anyone for that matter, if you practice spinning like a top while you take your shot.   The idea here is that you never remove the camera from your eye.  You see the kids running towards you, they have broken away from their guardians.  You can imagine this wonderful image in black and white being as good as a famous Cartier Bresson shot.  Immediately, you pre-focus with your back to the kids.  You put the camera to your eye, still with your back to the kids and then swing around, timing things so that as the kids hit their “mark” that you pre-focused on – you take your shot, but continue to spin around with the camera still to your eye.  Even this will arouse suspicion, but not enough to have anyone yell at you or ask to see the back of your digital camera.

Every once in a while, no matter how proficient you are, you will meet the parents.  I know this is a generalization, but if they are Americans, there is a good chance that they will be angry – even if you smile and tell them how wonderful their kids were.  If they are from anywhere else – and you show the images to them – they will be flattered that you thought enough of their kids to photograph them.  This holds for almost all countries except France.  So keep that in mind.

The friendliest parents are from Canada or South America (anywhere in South America).  You can take out your photography card (as I often do if things are on a friendly basis) and offer to email them the photographs.

I’ve put a few of these candid shots of children in the gallery below.  You might try and picture how they were done.

5 Comments

  1. Bruce Weber
    April 18, 2011

    I ignore them…Why try and discuss something which is still legal, like you’ve just committed a felony? Acting guilty just empowers them…I still owe you a can of compressed air for your birthday…If I buy it from B&H will you get enough money to be a piece of Bazooka bubble gum?

  2. dave
    April 18, 2011

    You. Of course you ignore them.

    You’ve seen me photograph kids have you seen me use these techniques? Not recently. We’re beyond caring. That happens after a while.

    But in the beginning, while you are apt to be yelled at in public. It’s different then.

  3. Bill Mitchell
    April 18, 2011

    Those are all good ideas for shooting strangers, whether children or adults.
    It is also helpful to shoot in areas where there a lot of people congregated and photograpy is more or less expected, such as street fairs, athletic events, carnivals, theme parks, the zoo, rock concerts, etc.
    Shooting people on the street is a very iffy proposition.
    OTOH I once followed Cartier-Bresson around London, and his technique was so quick that people would have no idea they had been photographed, even when standing right in front of him!

  4. dave
    April 18, 2011

    Bill. Yep. The parade. The street fair. It’s almost too easy. On a good day, when I’m in top form – I can achieve the HCB effect. In fact when I’m really going good, I don’t even know I took a picture. (Just kidding).

  5. peter
    April 18, 2011

    H Cartier Bresson took photos…what 50 years ago? Times are a changing, as an other icon sang what…100 years ago? Today is different, at least in Western Europe and North America where people in the street are preoccupied with ‘invasions of privacy’ ‘identity’ and ‘personal space’. Then again, in SE Asia there isn’t any issue taking pictures in the street at all.

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