I have always loved adding children’s editorial content to my own fashion portfolio because of the impact it makes. Not only is it fun and creative, I get an incredible response on social media, with clients, and even with fashion designers looking for new creative ideas.
When I started thinking about writing an article about it, I realized I think hard about the elements I am using to make sure it true to the sweetness of kids, my personal voice as an artist, and of course, that it’s interesting to look at. I hope this gives you some tools or inspiration to start shooting your own fashion images of kids, and in the mean time, it helps you build your fashion portfolio.
Family portraits have always been a great entry point into the photography industry. We have heard a million times about the mommy-tographer who bought their first camera when they had a baby and embarked on trying to make it a profitable journey. I always find this to be a charming story because it means that the love for image creation has come out of the mother’s love for the light and shape of their child. What could be better?
On the flip side, I hear from mentees and friends that once they become an established family portrait photographer they can’t get away from kids photography to try out their dream of building a fashion portfolio. I’m always careful to point out that kids can be great fashion subjects too, and I think it’s important to try to build your first professional fashion portfolio with whom you already know and have access to.
This isn’t a compromise or a plan B. A beautiful editorial featuring a child could be a cornerstone of your fashion portfolio. Photographers of all stripes wotk with kids, men, women, young old, for the simple reason that it’s good business, I’ll tackle that later.
If you do a little digging into my background you’ll find that I have done fashion photography alongside kids commercial photography for my entire career, so I’ve never considered them incompatible. There are, however, some special considerations when you are trying to elevate a typical children’s portrait to something on the level of editorial photography.
Address the “Why” of having a child as your subject in a fashion image. Begin by rethinking the purpose of the shoot. In family photography, the purpose is a memory, whereas in kids fashion photography, the purpose is storytelling. You must begin with an editorial concept.
The two main ways I find useful to start is to think in terms of theme or backstory. If you choose a theme it could be a color palette or certain trends like nautical, party clothes, polka dots, or forest animal prints. A backstory is even more open-ended, but I like to think of each image as part of the model’s life. It’s fun to create a beginning, middle, and end. This is especially fun with kids because dynamism and change come naturally to them.
Expand what you think kids can wear on camera. Fancy wardrobe isn’t necessarily the way to go. The more important thing is that the clothes match the story you are trying to tell. If you like the idea of a fun bright story about a kid obsessed with making art, then the clothes need to go along with that. Maybe you paint a wall yellow as a backdrop and all of the wardrobe is primary colors.
I did a kids editorial recently where the story was about a little girl running away to have an adventure, so my stylist went looking for things that were reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn or other adventurous kids. She pulled clothes with suspenders and practical fabrics. And to add another element of playfulness, she chose some clothes that felt “borrowed” from adults, like a kid packing a pretend suitcase.
Find a great setting. This does not need to be a big fancy studio, but I think it’s important for it to NOT be somewhere you might normally take a kids portrait. I would avoid parks and fields for example. Try painting a wall a vibrant color, layering paper rolls of various colors, go to a vintage house, or a peacock farm. Wherever your imagination can go!
A great editorial typically has a few outfits that play into the same theme. I typically try to make my editorial stories 7-10 images when finished.
A family portrait is often very constrained, so editorial kids portraiture is a chance to express much more. Have kids jump and pretend they are in a photo booth and dance. Don’t be afraid to encourage them to interpret the story themselves. My favorite trick is to have them stand wide-legged and lift one foot up at a time like a teeter-totter. The rocking motion is great on camera and it gets the kids wiggling in all kinds of interesting ways.
Keep kids looking like kids. You can do something crazy but it needs to stay playful. Avoid anything sexualized or mature. My favorite makeup artist Kat Hinkle said, “If you’re going to try something creative with hair and makeup with kids, this is a good time to focus more on the hair.”
While I often have a hair and makeup artist for basic grooming and shine, a fabulous thing about kids fashion photography is that you can opt-out of professional styling if it doesn’t work for you. The time, money, and energy normally needed in fashion makeup artistry isn’t really necessary with kids.
These can be your kids! Because I’m sure they’re great. Using kid models for your fashion portfolio doesn’t have to be so narrowly defined like fashion models. There’s no height, size, or look that’s particularly good for a kids editorial. It’s so much more about the personality the kid brings out. Your own kids (if you’ve got em) are a great place to start- especially in a day and age where the threat of quarantine is looming.
Another option is to try getting agency represented kids into your studio. This is a fun and unexpected way to start building a relationship with a local talent agency. Request a kid with a great personality that matches your concept. Or of course, you could always scout a great kiddo around you.
I’m not a snob, I think you can make beautiful images in available light, but if you want a controlled circumstance in the studio, I recommend starting with a one-light set-up. It’s especially important because when photographing kids, you want to be very present, and they need you. They aren’t experienced fashion models who have posing ideas of their own. Kids will look to you for advice on how and what to do.
If you are fussing with a complicated setup or need the kiddo to stay in an exact spot for popping rim lights, you’ll be hard-pressed to bring out any energy in your model. I’ll tell you the truth, for most kids things, I take one “kid-sized” soft box or umbrella (i.e. one that is about the size of the kiddo themselves 4-5 feetish and point it right at them.
If I want a softer look, I feather it across the front of the scene sideways, either way, I treat it like a crockpot: set it, and let it do its job while I do mine. Lately I have really loved using a Profoto B1 with a 5-foot octabox.
One caution I will give: don’t fall so in love with children’s editorial photography that it’s all you want to do. Very few photographers make a full time living attracting exclusively children’s fashion designers to the studio.
There ARE photographers in big cities that are known for beautifully photographing children and making a career with fashion industry brands like CrewCuts and Gap Kids. It’s rare though to shoot only for children’s fashion designers, and you would need to be near where those brands shoot in order to be an appropriate choice.
I would instead think of adding kids to your fashion portfolio as a place to start your fashion portfolio, or a new and diverse thing to add to your existing portfolio. The lessons you can learn from a kids shoot can be utilized down the line when you are shooting for major fashion designers and magazines. It just makes sense to start with what is around us, while also doing it the right way.
If you’re completely new to fashion photography, take the next step once you have something you are proud of to show off. I recommend you use the images you take of kids to start a conversation with a local modeling agency.
You can look to my tutorial about model testing for more information about how important that is in a fashion photography career, but essentially, I teach that you use your best portraiture of ANY kind to show your control of light, creativity, and composition. Secondly, through posting online, you could attract various clients that might be interested in the style you are trying.
If you’re still skeptical that a kids editorial is a valuable piece of your portfolio, I’ll tell you this: clients look at your ability to work with kids all of the time. I work with kids on everything from fashion footwear to Food Network. I am often specifically chosen for these jobs because the clients know that I have a comfort level with children.
I have a specific tab on my website dedicated to kids, a broad mix of editorial and commercial images, that clients regularly browse and comment on. I also find I get feedback about the amount of color I use in my kids editorial work. Like it or not, clients often want to replicate old work that you showcase. Whenever I post something new, colorful, and fun, I receive inquiries that request similar elements in upcoming projects.
Color is also a huge trend in photography right now. Your ability to master something that would overwhelm some photographers is a great addition to your resume.
Now grab your kids and get to work. I can’t wait to see the magic you create.
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