Don't Say Cheese
In-demand children's photographer Ana Schechter gives the scoop on how to get the most frame-worthy shots of your kids
Photographer Ana Schechter’s gorgeous photos of children have appeared in national magazines, such as Parents and American Baby, plus she’s the go-to photographer for countless in-the-know moms in New York. We got her secrets to getting your kids to behave when the flash goes off. —Melissa Schweiger
What tricks do you use to get children to cooperate in photos?
It’s best to create an environment that is more like a play date so that kids don’t feel obligated. I like to actually play along with the children, throwing baseballs, playing tag or blowing bubbles while I take photos.
What do you do if the child is having a meltdown?
I’ll just let him or her know that they can take a break while I take the sibling’s picture, and the child will soon come right back to being the center of attention again. If it’s a hunger-issue, we all sit down for a snack. I’m no fun if I am craving crackers, either. The expectation of a shoot is that it should be fluid, but there are always deviations and breaks when kids are involved.
Do you prefer a smiling child? If not, what expression is your favorite?
I love all looks of wonder. I love thoughtful, blissful, worried, content, wily, focused, curious, and a grand smile. I prefer the smile that is captured at one millisecond of a cackle.
Where are the best places to take pictures of kids?
The best place indoors is always by a large window, and the best place outdoors is always in open shade. You need to create a large area where the light looks at least “pretty good” from all angles, since kids are never sitting still. An overcast day is a dream come true in most cases! On sunny beaches I like to use parasols or shoot late in the fading afternoon light.
What kind of clothing works best when photographing kids?
I like to avoid loud patterns and big logos, but my favorite thing to do is to capture a kid’s personality by letting them dress themselves. In this case, loud checked pants layered under a skirt and with a t-shirt, bow tie and a princess wand has never looked so good. Anytime a kid (a human!) owns their appearance, they are the most confident in front of the camera. Confident subjects yield great photos!
What are some of the biggest mistakes parents make when photographing their kids?
Parents often don’t remember to look for good lighting. Most people’s on-camera flash is going to look icky. Don’t train your kid to “say cheese!” I know this habit is hard to break, but it results in a forced, sarcastic smile, especially when the kids are not in the mood and even when they are, it isn’t natural and is never the photo you’re looking for. The key is to always have the camera with you, and to always casually be snapping a photo here or there, then hopefully the kids won’t stop what they’re doing to grin like a hungry wolf whenever they see the lens. AND, they’ll stop noticing as you slyly sit on the sidelines and hopefully you’ll capture that huge natural grin your kid sports only when they think no one is looking.
What are some great props to have in photos with kids?
Hats that are too big, hula hoops, bubbles, anything they can actually take ownership of and interact with.
What setting should you use on your typical digital camera when photographing kids?
If you have no photo knowledge whatsoever, there’s no shame in using P for Program! Better to get used to having your camera with you all the time and feel OK using it than be afraid of settings you don’t know. If you do know a thing or two it’s fun to play with the manual setting to get used to a look you like.
What’s your advice for taking photos of babies that can’t yet hold their heads up? How should they be positioned for a photo?
Babies under six months can be great on their tummies, but only for a minute. They often make strained expressions that look silly on-camera. The best photos for babies under six months (and especially under three months) is to have mom hold them, facing out. Then you can have dad entertaining them directly to one side of you (while sitting in beautiful light!) and you’ll be golden. I also always love to let a baby who is swaddled fall asleep. It’s such a short time that they are so small, and it’s a wonderful way to document your nursery while it still looks as you designed it (before the toddler years and crayons on the wall alter it forever!)
Photos by Ana Schecter