Six tips for photographing older children and teenagers

Photographing older children and teenagers can be very tricky.

As a mum of one teenager and one almost-teenager, I know that it’s sometimes ridiculously hard to get big kids to cooperate and pose for portraits. Perhaps if you’re a parent to older children you’ll share my pain?!

Photographing camera-shy teens

As they grow up, teenagers can become more reluctant to pose for a camera, and I know this from my own experience of trying to photograph my own son, Tom.

Being a professional photographer, I obviously don’t find the photography side challenging. But I do struggle to get Tom, who’s 13, to even be in front of my camera. He literally hides when I reach for it and only lets me photograph him if I bribe him with money!  

So, you can imagine how thrilled I was recently when he allowed me to take this portrait.

I love it because I’m delighted with how it worked out. But also because it is such a rarity that he relaxes in front of the camera for long enough (mind you, he did only give me five minutes to take it!).

Photographer’s daughter

Thankfully my daughter, Lizzie, is far more cooperative than Tom usually is. I’m often dragging her out to location shoot after location shoot, and she is becoming a bit of pro model these days after all these years of practice!

Professional child and family photographer | Dorset

Of course, as a child and family photographer, I have years of experience photographing children of all ages.

So I thought I’d share some tips today on photographing older children and teenagers, as well as share some examples of portraits I have taken recently.

My top tips for photographing older children and teenagers

  1. Work quickly

When photographing children of any age, it’s crucial to act quickly since they soon get distracted or bored. But this is particularly important with teenagers. As Tom did, they will likely only give you a few minutes to take the shot, so make those minutes count!

  1. Treat them as adults

Older kids want to feel they are not being patronised or spoken to like a child. So, when photographing teenagers, communication is key. Get the conversation flowing and do everything you can to make them feel comfortable. You’ll get the best photos of them when they are feeling relaxed and at ease.

Pro tip: One thing you can do, whether you’re using a smartphone camera or a DSLR, is say that you are taking some ‘test’ shots initially. They’ll feel less inhibited if they think you aren’t really trying to photograph them properly. And these early pictures, before they potentially clam up in front of the camera, could be some of the best you end up taking!

  1. Direct them, but don’t ‘pose’ them

Probably what most people dislike about being photographed is that they don’t know how to sit or stand, how to pose or what to do with their hands. Teenagers may feel particularly conspicuous in front of the camera.

Since the best portraits are usually natural shots which show the subject’s personality, don’t overly ‘pose’ your teenager. Allow him or her to act normally and then photograph them simply being themselves, with a little bit of direction if needed.

  1. Make it fun

No-one wants to be photographed if they are bored or feel awkward. So, make the few precious minutes you have to photograph your older child as fun as possible. Talk to them, ask them questions about things they like to do, what their plans are for the weekend, what hobbies they have, their favourite movie, food or X-box game. Anything that will get them more engaged will result in better quality, more natural photos.

  1. Embrace their individuality

Forget trying to dress them in formal clothes or something that they don’t want to wear. Photographing older children and teenagers will usually only be successful if you allow them to call the shots.

Let them wear what they want and style their hair in the way they want (even if you would prefer they wore something else or combed their hair away from their face).

  1. Don’t force them to smile

Similarly, don’t force them to smile. Their natural expression and individual style are what you will want to capture in your photos since then you’ll be capturing a portrait that reflects who they really are.

What are your experiences of photographing older children and teenagers?

Do your children love being photographed or are they camera-shy? Let me know what challenges you’ve experienced when taking photos of your big kids or teenagers in the comments below. 

Karen x

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