Zoe Berkovic, one of the country’s busiest and best child photographers lets us in on her tips and secrets.
“Physical play is a great way to energize kids, release any tension, and get some cool action.” Exposure: 1/500 sec at f/3.2, ISO 400.
“It’s funny that people who don’t have much experience photographing kids imagine that it’s the hardest kind of portraiture there is,” says Zoe Berkovic, a New York-based fashion and advertising photographer who specializes in working with children. “For me, that’s not true, though. If you like the company of children and you enjoy connecting with them, it can be a blast.”
Her subjects haven’t yet developed “the protective walls that adults sometimes build up around themselves. I see them as fully realized people with a genuine range of emotions and vast inner landscapes. Once they sense that I get that, kids are easy to work with,” she explains.
Photo sessions with kids need to feel breezy and natural because, if the kids are too hyped up, they’re likely to burn out before you’re finished shooting. To keep the mood relaxed, you’ve got to stay relaxed too. “If you are, the kids will sense it. Let them be themselves while you try connecting with them using a gentle tone, eye contact, and, most of all, respect. They will respond in kind,” says the photographer.
If you’re sensitive to what the children around you are experiencing and feeling, it will help you recognize, respond to, and capture the behaviors they’re likely to produce for you.
But keep your shoot active. You want to keep the kids connected and engaged with what’s happening around them. Providing some form of entertainment can help. “When things start to slow down, I pull out my Elmo and Mickey Mouse impersonations. Or I pretend to cry hysterically or laugh like a maniac,” Berkovic says. “These types of practiced routines are often enough to hold kids’ interest, at least for a while.”
Using fun props such as scooters and costumes can hold your subject’s and viewer’s interest. Exposure: 1/1600 sec at f/2.8, ISO 400.
On the Set
Choose locations that are calm, quiet, and familiar. “If you have it, a place that offers lots of space for the child to move around in will up your chances of having a happy, calm subject,” the photographer advises.
“Shoot where the light is good and the background can help you tell a story or set a consistent tone, without distraction. I like shooting at a location that takes my subjects away from everyday life—one that transports them somewhere more magical than their everyday reality,” she adds. It’s a good way to keep boredom or distraction at bay.
Berkovic also prefers spaces that have white walls. “It lets me use just one strobe to the side of the kids and opposite that wall,” she notes. The wall will act as a white reflector to fill in shadows. You can also use it to create shadows that add interest and depth, and to give kids something to lean on, which can introduce colorful body language.
A kid-friendly wardrobe adds fun to the set (1/250 sec at f/3.2, ISO 400). Berkovic used a Nikon D700 and 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR Nikkor lens.
Always fit the shoot to the child. As part of a photo session’s preplanning stage, Berkovic tries to devise a shoot that will suit the personality of the individual child. “For ad work, I like to be involved in casting the kids because I know which would be a good fit for a particular job. Some have great dispositions and others tend to be moody. I love both personalities, but both types usually won’t work for every job. I’m sensitive to what’s required, and try to match the child to the project. It sets me up for success,” she says.
If you want to photograph your own children, the good news is that no one knows them better than you do. Don’t let the photo session play against type, and select appropriately child-specific locations, times of day, clothing, poses, props, and direction.
While the shoot is underway, observe your subjects and try to get on their wavelength. Every child is different. The same child can change mood across any given day—or minute! “The trick is paying attention and realizing when your subjects are close to burning out and releasing them or giving them breaks before they reach that point. Most kids four years and up can last, with breaks, for four hours or more,” says Berkovic.
Posing kids against everyday back-grounds adds realism. Exposure: 1/800 sec at f/3.2, ISO 1250.
Don’t go into a shoot with too many preconceptions or expectations, and keep your goals to a minimum. Berkovic limits hers to this: “I want these kids to show me authenticity and soul. To find those qualities, I gently direct them, all the time being open to spontaneously generated opportunities and the unexpected. Witnessing and enjoying these unexpected moments are actually what makes my job fun and rewarding,” she says.
Planning is essential. “Have everything in place in advance so that you’re ready to capture these moments as soon as the session starts. Have games set up and conversational topics ready. If possible, have a child wrangler who is known, trusted, and who can entertain the child while you’re concentrating on other things,” says the photographer.
When kids get cranky, Berkovic doesn’t see their mood as a problem, but as an opportunity. “I’m not opposed to kids feeling emotions other than happiness. I can play around with expressions, because my goal isn’t to get smiley portraits. I let the kids be themselves and don’t make them feel that any behavior they show me is ‘wrong,’” she insists. Giving children the liberty to be themselves pays off for her in the long run.
When grumpy behavior threatens to derail a shoot, though, “I step back and let the child wrangler work his or her magic. And if that fails, I sometimes have backup kids on set, especially for toddlers and babies,” she says. As a parent, you won’t have “backup” kids, but your subject may have older, more willing siblings, and at such moments you should be prepared to turn the focus on them.
Add an available light source to interior shoots to make the scene feel more natural. Exposure: 1/250 sec at f/2.8, ISO 1250.
Nuts and Bolts
As for camera gear, Berkovic shoots with DSLRs from both Canon and Nikon, and she relies on pro-level models for all the usual reasons—speed, durability, image quality, ability to work well in both available light and strobe-lit settings. Her favorite lens is Nikon’s 24–70mm f/2.8G Nikkor AF ED VR, which she likes for its shake control and focal length. At 24mm, it lets her include a lot of background detail, while at its 70mm long end, she can zoom in for a tight crop on a face or figure. “I’m less interested in the gear than I am in the lighting and the story I want to tell,” she says.
Berkovic fell into professional child photography about a decade ago. “I was coming off a failed business, picked up a point-and-shoot camera, and decided to give photography a try,” says Berkovic. “I took every book on photography out of the library, soaked up all the information I could online, and then hit the ground running. I haven’t stopped since.”
She started with family photography, at first finding her clients among her own circle. She also cultivated relationships with teachers and mentors from whom she learned the basics of lighting, composition, editing, working with color, best business practices, pricing, casting techniques, and wardrobe styling. She needed solid knowledge of all these to succeed in the field.
“Having a child interact with a natural environment is an easy way to imply a story line,” says Berkovic. Exposure: 1/1250 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200.
Although she hadn’t planned it, her business has changed. “I noticed over time that I loved images that told stories and conveyed emotions. I was attracted to a wide variety of locations, compositions, lighting setups, and moods that weren’t always appropriate for typical family portraits,” Berkovic says. This prompted her to leap to advertising, kids’ fashion, and child-focused editorial photography.
Interested in attempting a portrait session with your own children? Many pros believe that photographing your kids is often the hardest kind of child portraiture. For one thing, kids can be reluctant subjects for their parents. If this sounds like your situation, fighting it probably won’t get you great pictures. Instead, learn the strategies and techniques of child photography by working with other people’s children—with their parents’ express permission, of course.
Berkovic herself loves the work and invites anyone who’s interested to give it a go. “If you’re like me, you will love the spontaneity of working with kids and the many unexpected pleasures they will surprise you with along the way. This job is definitely not easy, but it sure is fun!”
Camera tilt adds a graphic charge (1/125 sec at f/3.2, ISO 1600)
To nab a relaxed expression, says Berkovic, you must be relaxed yourself. Nikon D4S and 24–70mm f/2.8E ED VR Nikkor lens; exposure 1/250 sec at f/3.5, ISO 400.
An animal can draw out real emotions (1/80 sec at f/3.5, ISO 800)
THANKS TO ZOE BERKOVIC FOR THE GREAT ARTICLE THAT WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED IN POPULAR PHOTOGRAPHY. YOUR ARTICLE WAS FANTASTIC.
Entertainment & learning for the photographer
I LIKE TO POST A NEW “TIPS ON HOW TO TAKE GREAT WINTER PHOTOS” EVERY WINTER. I SHOULD JUST RE-POST THE SAME ONE OVER AND OVER, BUT, THAT’S NOT VERY FUN, PLUS I THINK I LEARN MORE EACH YEAR. I ALSO LOOK BACK AT SOME OF THE THINGS I HAVE LEARNED OVER THE YEARS IN TAKING WINTER PHOTOS.
LET’S START OFF WITH THE NUMBER ONE PROBLEM I HAVE HAD AND PROBABLY EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER HAS HAD ABOUT TAKING WINTER PHOTOS:
1- YOUR LIGHT METER IN your camera is not calibrated for white ! Let me explain a little bit. If you go to a real camera store, you will find something called an 18% grey card. Why? Because your light meter is calibrated to that color. Period. The great camera companies of the world have decided that if you mixed all the colors in a normal scene and mixed them together, you would get: 18% grey. So, when you take a picture of a beautiful white snow scene, your photo will come out grey, or in some cases, kind of a blue tint because of the reflections of the sky. So, if you want your snow to turn out to be white, like your eye sees it, you have to fool your light meter, or overide it. So, you need to overexpose at least +.03EV to +1EV to get your snow to come out white. When I worked in the camera store, we told people to over expose +1.5EV to get the snow to turn out white. I think that would depend on how much snow to other color you have in your photo. So, in my personal opinion, try +1EV overexposure and you will be more happy most of the time. If your camera does not have an overexposure compensation switch, then you might be in trouble. Now, I have seen cameras with a setting for : sand or snow. Do that one. That will work.
2- If your camera has a white balance adjustment, then learn to use that. Sometimes with the reflective colors around you, the camera may have a hard time doing this automatically. Really, try to learn how to do this manually. You will be glad you did.
3- Remember you are taking pictures in a harsh environment. What will be the one thing that could fail in the cold?
I often think that I have never had trouble with batteries going dead while taking pictures of landscape photos before. You will in this kind of cold. So, take an extra set of batteries with you. That should be common practice anyway, plus, if you want to use them right away, keep them in your pockets, where they will be warm and ready to use.
4- Be careful as you take off your lens cap on and off. If you are out taking pictures in the snow and wet weather, you could get water on the lens cap, and thus transfer the water onto your lens.
Sometimes it’s the last thing on your mind, if you are shooting things fast. So, be careful of that accident that could happen.
5- One last thing, and I had this happen to me, is watch out for condensation. So, you may be in your nice warm car. Then you get out to take a photo, get the camera equipment cold, and then bring your camera equipment back into the warm car, and then back out into the cold to take another picture, and….. oh, oh, your lens is all fogged from condensation on the lens. Because you had the camera get warm and now you keep taking it back and forth into the cold. So, watch out for that problem.
Winter can often produce some of the most beautiful photos. But, it is extreme weather you are up against. So, be aware of the above precautions and you will have some great photos.