Pearls and Perspectives: Photographing Children


There’s something about this transitional time that makes us feel like we should be capturing moments. Very soon we’ll be in the midst of the frenzied pace of fall, and taking a moment to snap a picture of the kids enjoying the sunshine or finding time to get everyone dressed up for a family shot will seem nearly impossible. Plus, while the holidays may still seem far away, there’s no time like the present to attempt the perfect, card-ready photograph (like the above by TSG co-founder Christy Ford) that will come in handy come late November.

With visions of perfectly lit, beautifully composed, and thoughtfully framed portraits of our children already dancing in our heads, we reached out to Charlottesville-based photographer Danielle Hill, Durham-based portrait artist William Branson, and Wilmington-based photographer Anne Liles, three experts in the field, to find out their tricks of the trade and what they enjoy about the process of photographing children. Whether you’re thinking about getting behind the camera yourself or hiring a professional—which we highly recommend—you’ll enjoy and appreciate their perspective and pearls of wisdom.


How long have you been photographing children?
I’ve been photographing children and families for over 5 years. I started off shooting engagement and wedding photos for friends, and then eventually, their children. Over time, I became more serious about lifestyle photography and realized I could create a business out of it.

Any special tips that you’ve discovered?
I’ll often have one of the parents (or both) stand behind me or to the side (depending on the frame I want) and do anything to make their kids smile. Parents know their children best, so they know what tricks work! But don’t let that become a rule…sometimes the in-between expressions are my favorites. I’m able to get more artistic shots not posing my subject and just letting them run around and pick wildflowers, or chase butterflies.

What are your favorite locations?
I started my photography business in D.C. and am now based in Charlottesville, so my choice locations have changed somewhat over the past few years. I tend to gravitate towards wide open spaces with pretty backdrops. In D.C., those were of course harder to find…in Charlottesville, though, there’s no lack of beautiful fields from which to choose. For me, it’s also about the time of day and the quality of light. I try to schedule all my shoots either early in the morning or the last few hours before sunset.

What do you enjoy about working with children?
I love how spontaneous children are. They don’t let their inhibitions hold them back from expressing themselves, however they’re feeling in the moment (which isn’t always a good thing!). There’s the potential for a pure, true photograph, in which you know what you captured is truly authentic.

Have you had any particularly memorable shoots?
I love creating set designs for shoots whenever I get the chance. I was hoping for a snowy backdrop for a shoot last winter, which I didn’t think would be too hard since it had been snowing the whole week prior. Of course the day of, there was no snow… so I needed to create some. I managed to wrangle a PVC pipe and some fake snow, rigged it up and let it snow. Improvising can sometimes lead to your most unique images!

See more of Danielle Hill’s work here.


How long have you been creating portraits of children?
I opened my studio in Durham in 1972 and have been working with children ever since. Portraiture is a way of capturing the moment, of freezing a portion of someone in time. For parents, it is especially meaningful to have a keepsake of certain moments in their children’s lives; I get a lot of clients who want to preserve those moments in the form of a painted portrait.

Any special tips that you’ve discovered?
I always suggest that you get down on their level and talk directly to them. Don’t talk to them through their parents, or as though you are the adult, but as though you are on the same plane as them.

What are your favorite settings in which to photograph kids?
I build the majority of our sets in the studio specifically designed for each portrait I create. Sets are built based around a child’s personality, level of energy, and their “look”—whether they are blonde or brunette, blue or green eyed, for instance. I also work with parents to create the perfect setting. I like to personalize each portrait by bringing together my eye with parents’ ideas of how best to capture their child’s personality.

What do you enjoy about working with children?
I love how honest they are. Children have very little filter, they don’t protect their emotions or their thoughts. That is a beautiful thing to see and I love conveying that fresh honesty in my work.

Have you had any particularly memorable shoots?
My most memorable session was with a young girl who was about to begin cancer treatment at the Duke Children’s Hospital. I created a portrait of this child in the prime of her youth. She was healthy, happy, wonderful to work with. As her treatments progressed, her parents brought her back every few weeks so she could see the progress on her portrait. The portrait came to serve as a reminder of what she was capable of, an image of hope, a goal to aim for when her treatment was over. I loved working on that portrait, the deep meaning it held for her and her family stretched beyond the canvas.

See more of William Branson’s work here.


How long have you been photographing children?
I have been photographing families for over 14 years.

Any special tips that you’ve discovered?
Photographing children is all about letting them have fun; as long as they are engaged and enjoying themselves, all should go well. My key is to never discipline a small child, but to distract them. It works every time. A little backstory on this concept: I had a 2-year-old this summer who did not want to take his shoes off. We were on the beach, so shoes were fine for the beginning of the session, but as we were nearing the ocean at the end of the session we tried again to get the little guy to take his shoes off, and this kid was not going to do it. So, I asked the mother and father to pick him up—twirl him, toss him up, toss him in-between and tickle him and get his shoes off in the process—it worked like a charm. Here’s the end product:

What are your favorite locations?
My favorite location is anywhere outside, where kids are free to be themselves, to run, play, get wet and have a great time.

What do you enjoy about working with children?
I love working with kids because they light up over the silliest of things—noises, words, actions. To see them fall apart giggling makes it for me. Kids aren’t afraid to get dirty, wet or enjoy themselves. These are the moments that will be looked back on and most enjoyed!

See more of Anne Liles’s work here.