Michael Crouser was born in Minneapolis in 1962 and graduated from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota.
He began taking photographs at the age of fourteen and has been at it ever since. Recently, Crouser produced two books of his black and white photography (Los Toros and Dog Run) using Kodak Tri-X Professional Film.
He lives in Brooklyn and Minneapolis.
Tips for Photographing Children
Let the child be themselves
Put the child in an atmosphere that is comfortable and familiar to them, and let them be themselves.
Is there anything harder than trying to make a good picture of a child who doesn’t want to be there? Think about those nightmare “Santa’s lap” pictures, or those of a child in a new outfit that they hate. I wish I had a nickel for every kid I was photographing who decided they were bored, and simply walked away!
This young man could not have been more proud than to pose in his Spidey muscles with his Spidey friend. It was his choice, and good one!
In the second image, the girl on the swing is a Alaskan Native dancer on a break from performing and happy to sit for the camera in her Yup’ik headress and traditional kuspak top.
Photograph the older sibling first
Shoot the older kid first, the young one will often follow. Even if the end goal is a portrait of the younger child, if they are shy, and see their idolized older sibling participating, and having fun they will often soften to the idea of having their picture taken.
This little cowboy wasn’t so keen on the idea of sitting up on the fence rail, until he saw his big brother standing on one of the posts (see his boots to the left). Suddenly it seemed like a great idea!
Although soft light often means less light, it is worth the potential difficulties for the flattering effect. Like with most subjects, harsh sunlight can be difficult to work with. Squinting and unfortunate shadows become something to deal with.
Look for shade, or use bounced or diffused light for shots outside. When shooting inside try to find alternatives to a direct flash. Look at the websites of modern wedding photographers, you will see a complete absence of flash evidence.
The same applies to attractive and more natural-looking photography for children. Experiment with some combination of higher ISOs on your digital camera, a tripod and slower shutter speeds if the child is relatively stationary. If there’s going to be fidgeting, try bouncing the flash off the ceiling or a wall, or using one of the many diffusers and flash bouncers on the market today.
Don’t say “cheeeeeeese!”
I think there is a misconception that a child (or anyone for that matter) needs to smile to make a pleasing photo. Thus, kids learn at an early age to work up a phony smile whenever the cameras come out. While natural smiles can make a great image, I feel that a neutral expression in any kind of portrait can make a beautiful picture that shows a true likeness of the subject.
This Red Sox fan under the Manhattan Bridge simply did not want to smile that day (perhaps the Yankees won?), and that was okay with me. To me, the picture is much more effective with this expression than it would be with a smile, and his parents love it.
Interaction for a smile
If you feel a smile is possible and important to your photo, I find that what might work with babies (ie: “Boo!” and silly faces) does not usually with kids over 6. This age group seems to prefer a bit of interaction.
I photographed this group of children for an advertising assignment, and I was encouraging them to tease me, rather than me playing to them. They loved it. I believe that in this picture one of the kids decided to call me “chubby”, and I pretended to be devastated….this all sent the group into giggle hysterics (actually I was devastated!).
PS: The, um, Bronx Cheer works on all kids of all ages…why is that?
Composition can be just as important as the other elements of a good kid photo. Sometimes we get fixated on getting as close to a person as we can to make a nice photo of their face. I try to look for interesting compositions in any kind of picture. Shapes and their pleasing arrangement can go a long way toward making a dynamic photo of a child, or of anything else.
Here we have two different examples of using a window as an important element in a picture of a child. In the first picture, this little boy was throwing hats out the window of his house, and paused in his task long enough to give me a look. I think the elements of the siding and the space inside the window are part of what make this image what it is. In the other example, the girl is outside the window, but nonetheless it holds an important place in the formation of the photo’s composition, which I feel to be key to this photo.