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Outdoor Child Photography with Natural Light (2024 Guide)

Portrait photo of a child on a playground

Child photography is a great way of preserving childhood memories that you and your family will cherish for years to come. 

10 Tips for Taking Stunning Portraits of Your Kids Outdoors

1. Pay Attention to the Direction of the Sunlight

The direction of the sunlight has a huge impact on how your child will look in the photo.

When I shoot portrait photos, I like to position my child so that the light comes across my child’s face at a 45-degree angle from the nose. This adds subtle shadows on one part of my child’s face and increases the three-dimensionality of the photo.

I don’t recommend taking portrait photos with a direct front light. This is when the sunlight comes from over the photographer’s shoulder and illuminates your subject’s face evenly resulting in a lack of depth in your photo. Moreover, it can also result in eye squinting.

Another great technique for outdoor child photography is to use sunlight as a backlight. Simply position your child so that the sun is behind your child’s shoulder or head.

Portrait of a 3 years old child taken with a backlight technique

When shooting portraits with a backlighting technique, make sure to expose your photo for the background rather than your subject and adjust the exposure of your subject in post-production. This way you won’t end up with a blown-out background and highlights in your portrait photos.

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.2. Look for an Interesting Background or a Backdrop

Portrait photography isn’t only about the subject in a photo. The background and environment in which the photo is taken also play an important role in the portrait photo.

When taking natural light portraits of your children, look for backgrounds that are uncluttered, low in contrast, and preferably darker than your kid’s face. 

It will help to focus the attention of the viewer on the face of your child rather than on the background.

Also, when taking portrait photos of your child, try to find a background or a backdrop with a complementary color to your child’s clothes. To find a complementary color, you can use a simple color wheel tool.

3. Get to the Same Perspective Level As a Child

If you’ll take a photo of a child from an adult’s eye level, the photo will feel distant and unintimate. 

In order to capture a more personal and emotionally connected photo of a child, you need to lower your perspective to the child’s eye level.

Photo of a child sitting on a bench

This will make your photo look more natural and it will be a lot easier for the viewer to connect with the child in the photo.

Overall, by taking a photo from a child’s perspective level you will get a much more authentic and engaging photo.

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4. Incorporate Storytelling in Your Photos

Storytelling is a powerful way for you to capture the essence of childhood and create meaningful, lasting photos of your child.

Storytelling through photography can take many different forms. 

For example, you can walk to the nearest flower shop and purchase a small flower that your child will give to their mother. This small action can create an incredibly meaningful image that will tell a powerful story about the bond between your child and the parent.

Additional examples of storytelling in child portrait photography are:

  • Capture the child playing a favorite game or sport
  • Create themed photo shoots, such as a day at the beach or in the woods
  • Capture candid moments of playing with your kids

Ultimately, storytelling through photography can be a great way to capture the innocence, joy, and beauty of childhood in a meaningful way.

5. Set Your Camera to Burst Mode and Be Patient

Burst mode (or continuous shooting mode) allows you to capture multiple photos per second which increases the chances of getting the perfect shot.

I highly advise you to set your camera to burst mode when photographing children.

Children move around and do a lot of different facial expressions that you can easily miss if your camera won’t be set to burst mode.

Remember to be patient and take your time to capture the perfect shot of your child. Don’t be afraid to take lots of photos – you can always delete the ones you don’t like later.

6. Include a Catchlight in the Eyes of Your Child

Catchlights (also known as eye lights) are the reflections of the light source in the eyes of a person in a photo. They bring life and add dimension to the portrait photo.

child portrait photography 1

A portrait photo without catchlights in the eyes of a person can appear lifeless and uninteresting.

To create catchlights, position your child facing the natural light source (e.g. sky) and adjust the position of your camera to see the light source in the eyes of your child.

You can also use reflectors when shooting outdoor child photography to create catchlights in the eyes of your child.

Play Video about Catchlight in eyes portrait photography

7. Use a Telephoto Lens to Capture Candid and Emotion Rich Portraits

A telephoto lens is a long-focus lens that captures a distant object and gives an enlarged image.

They allow you to shoot close-up and candid portraits from a distance. This is especially handy when you are shooting kids’ portraits. Because it allows you to take photos from a distance without getting noticed and without capturing the attention of your child.

Prior to switching to my Fujifilm x100v with a fixed 35mm lens, I used to take portrait photos with my Sony A7III and Sony 85mm f/1.8 fixed lens. An 85mm focal length in my opinion is ideal for taking beautiful portrait photos of children.

Play Video about Youtube thumbnail of a video about best focal length for child portrait photography

8. Avoid Clothings With Too Many Distracting Elements

When it comes to outdoor child photography, I try to avoid dressing my child in clothing with too many distracting elements, such as cartoon characters, illustrations, and t-shirts with a lot of text.

It doesn’t mean that you need to dress your child in gray, black, or white clothing. No, you should definitely use colorful clothing to add vibrance to your photos. Just try to choose clothes that will draw attention to your child’s face, instead of a t-shirt.

9. Capture Movement and Fun Activities

My favorite photos of my son were taken when he was actively participating in activities like playing with kids in a playground, riding his scooter, building sandcastles on the beach, etc.

Photo of a child in a sea throwing a small ball into the sea

Movement and action will add dynamics and interest to your child’s portrait photos.

To get great shots of active kids you will need a fast shutter speed and good timing. I recommend using a shutter speed of 1/500 or faster when photographing children in motion.

Continue reading to learn more about recommended camera settings for shooting outdoor child portrait photography.

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10. Keep It Fun and Quick

Kids tend to get bored with photo shoots very quickly, so you need to work very quickly to capture the perfect shot.

Keep your child entertained during the photo shoot to help them be more relaxed and show their real emotions and expressions.

If you are taking photos of a toddler, I recommend you take a colorful toy that produces some sort of sound when you shake it. It will help you grab the attention of your child during the photo shoot and allow you to take better portrait photos of your child.

Photo of a child playing with a tractor toy

Best Time of The Day to Take Natural Light Portraits of Your Child

The best time of the day for outdoor child photography is when the sun is low in the sky – during sunrise and during sunset (golden hour).

During this time, the sun produces diffused and soft light which is perfect for natural light portrait photography.

However, if you want to take photos of your child during the daytime, the sun will be up in the sky creating harsh and unflattering shadows in your portrait photos.

Here are a few tips to help you take better outdoor child portraits during midday:

  • Try to find an open shade to prevent harsh shadows on your child’s face. You can find shaded areas near tall buildings, under trees, under open bridges, etc.
  • Cloudy days are perfect for child portrait photography. This is because the harsh sunlight is diffused by the clouds in the sky, producing a very diffused and very soft light.
  • Get a collapsable reflector. Reflectors are used to fill in the shadows by bouncing the light on your subject’s face.
Photo of a child on a staircase next to vibrant flowers

Best Camera Settings for Child Portrait Photography With Natural Light

I recommend using the following camera settings for child portrait photography:

  • Aperture – For child portrait photography, I recommend using a wide aperture (e.g. low F number, such as f/2.0). A wide aperture will make the background of your images blurry, thus creating a background separation and emphasizing your child’s face in the photo.
  • ISO – I recommend keeping ISO as low as possible (e.g. ISO 100) to preserve the best photo quality. When you are shooting outdoors during the daytime, simply set your ISO to 100 and don’t change it throughout your photo session.
  • Shutter Speed – For child portrait photography I recommend adjusting your exposure only with Shutter Speed, keeping your Aperture and ISO values constant. I recommend setting your shutter speed at around 400 – 500 to prevent motion blur in your photos and be able to capture your kid’s movement. However, your shutter speed will also depend on the lighting conditions of your environment. If your photo is underexposed (dark), you would need to decrease your shutter speed. If, however, your photo is overexposed (too bright), you would need to increase your shutter speed.

Note: The above camera settings should be used only as a reference and not as strict rules. Feel free to play around with your camera settings to find the ones that work best for you.

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8 Location Ideas for Outdoor Child Portrait Photography

  • A skate park featuring colorful ramps
  • A botanic garden or greenhouse
  • A local farm – exploring an outdoor environment with animals and plants
  • A forest with a creek or river running through it
  • A sunflower field or lavender farm
  • A local lake, pond, or waterfall that provides scenic views
  • Underneath the canopy of trees with their shadows on the ground
  • Near ice cream shops for adding color to your photo composition
Pinterest mood board with child portrait photography photo ideas
Handpicked Pinterest board with child portrait photography ideas

I have also handpicked beautiful child portrait photography examples and created a Pinterest board to help you get inspiration for your next portrait photo shoot. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Portrait Photography

A photo of a child playing with the sand

1. What are the best camera settings for outdoor child portraits?

When shooting child portraits, I recommend using the following camera settings:

  • Aperture: f/1.4 – f/4.0.
  • ISO: If you shoot in bright conditions, set your ISO to 100.
  • Shutter Speed: I recommend setting your shutter speed to around 400 – 500.

For a more in-depth answer, please click scroll up to the section “Best Camera Settings for Child Portrait Photography With Natural Light”.

2. What ISO is the best choice for outdoors in bright sun?

When shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, you should set your camera ISO to 100 and adjust your exposure using Aperture and Shutter speed settings.

3. What is the best focal length for taking portraits of children?

I would recommend using an 85mm lens for taking beautiful portraits of children. Here’s the list of recommended 85mm lenses for different digital camera makers:

4. What shutter speed to use for moving kids?

When shooting moving kids, set your camera shutter speed to 400 – 500 to avoid motion blur and to be able to freeze your child’s movement.

5. How do you make a photo shoot fun for kids?

To make a photo shoot fun for kids, get them to do some sort of activity, such as ride a bicycle, run around the playground, ride a scooter, play with Lego, etc.

6. How do I get a 2-year-old to look at the camera?

To make get a 2-year-old child to look at the camera, take a colorful toy that produces sound and use it to attract the child’s attention. Alternatively, you can also have someone else make funny noises or call the child’s name to draw focus on you and your camera.

Outdoor Child Photography With Natural Light: Conclusion

In this blog post, I shared 10 easy-to-follow tips that will help you take better outdoor child portrait photos.

I also shared the recommended camera settings for taking beautiful child photography and provided 8 interesting locations for taking beautiful child portraits.

I hope that you found this blog post useful and that it will help you capture better memories of your child’s childhood.

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P.S. If you’ve liked this post, I recommend you to sign up for the OHMYCAMERA newsletter to get insightful articles about photography, post-production, and marketing for photographers.

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Aleksandrs Karevs

Aleksandrs Karevs

Hi, my name is Aleksandrs and I am a full-stack digital marketer passionate about digital photography. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V. Read full story here.

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Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Aleksandrs Karevs OHMYCAMERA Founder & Author

ARTICLE BY

Hi, my name is Aleksandr and I am a full-stack digital marketer from Riga, Latvia. In 2018 I became obsessed with photography and decided to create this blog to share my knowledge about both photography and marketing. In my free time, I enjoy taking photos with my everyday companion – FUJIFILM X100V.

Discover Why 2,367 Photographers Love This Free eBook!

Simply enter your email below to receive a FREE eBook filled with actionable tips for immediate photography improvements. 

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