How to Photograph Children During Your Travels

by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström Apr 8, 2008

Being sensitive to how you approach and interact with local people is crucial to photographing children.

It’s widely known that photographing natives is the most challenging part of travel photography. And while getting an adult to relax can be daunting, trying to capture their child in a memorable travel photograph can be the most difficult of all.

Here are a few pointers to help make it easier:

Befriend their guardians.

Babies are the most challenging to photograph especially when safely in the arms of a parent or guardian. Situations like this demand you seek permission from their guardian either verbally or through body language.

While hunting for handmade jewelry in Catalina, I was instantly reeled into a stall by deep, dark, and mesmerizing eyes of this Nicaraguan baby with her mother.

Approaching with a huge, nonthreatening grin, I started out with a few quick shots of her mother, and then finally asked for the baby shot I wanted with my camera raised in question.

If no common language is spoken between you and the guardian, body language and gestures go a long way in communicating that you don’t intend to harm them or violate their privacy. Once permission has been granted, you can get up close and personal for some great travel shots.

Shift focus from one to many.

Even the most rambunctious and spirited kids get intimidated when cornered by an adult.

On a recent trip back home to Nigeria, I was ecstatic to reunite with one of my favorite neighborhood kids, Ali.

Although he knew me well, my constant attention made him uncomfortable. By including his friends in the shot, while still focusing on him, I was able to get a more relaxed Ali in subsequent pictures.

Shifting focus away from one child to many while “focusing” on your main subject can improve the atmosphere of your travel portrait.

Keep your distance.

Observing kids in their own world usually gives you the most candid, natural shots. By giving them adequate space, you will seem less threatening.

While strolling through narrow side streets in St. Georges, Bermuda, a young girl with flaming red hair carrying a red haired doll appeared around the corner. She was a fiery contrast to the mellow pastels of our surroundings.

Intrigued, I wish I could have stopped her for a picture, but I knew better. You should always keep distance when taking photographs of children who are alone. Do not linger around the child more than a minute. Children are usually taught not to talk to strangers so respect and enforce that lesson by refraining from small talk with isolated children.

Shoot at eye level.

Eye contact with a child takes you one step closer to connecting with them regardless of culture.

While working with kids in the remote village of Krang Yaw, Cambodia, I must have taken over 500 pictures. Weeding through, the most engaging shots I found were ones when I was eye level with the child.

Kids are naturally intimidated by large, overbearing shadows. Kneeling, sitting, or playing closer to their line of vision instantly relaxes them.

Entertain them.

Kids are kids the world over and love to be entertained. From goofy displays to showing them their snapshots in your viewfinder, connecting with children results in some of the most memorable travel photographs.

With a confident disposition and wisdom in her eyes well beyond her mere seven years, Amina was a child I met in the village of Awoyaya on the Lekki Peninsula in Lagos, Nigeria.

She wasn’t easily impressed.

But by spending time playing and laughing down at her level instead of towering over her, she gradually morphed back into a child and rewarded me with the most beautiful, scrunched-up-nose smile.

Be sensitive to cultural norms.

Sometimes you just can’t photograph children. In regions where sex trafficking and child abuse are being fought on a national level, natives are particular sensitive to strangers hanging around their children.

In 2000, a Japanese tourist was killed by a mob in a Guatemalan market for photographing children.

While such cases are extremely rare, it requires you to learn about the local culture and its attitudes towards children and their interaction with strangers.

Additional resources

While these tips cover more organic, travel photography experiences, Kodak provides a great resource on Photographing Children.

Community Connection

In addition to Lola Akinmade, other Matador photographers with a special gift for taking pictures of people include Ryan Libre, (whose podcast: Studies in Travel Photography you can check out here on the notebook), Beija-flor and AsianInsights.

Enjoy their pictures, and if you’re interested in sharing your work in a supportive, creative community, please join them.

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