Jan’s Child Portraiture Advice #17: Use props to relax the child

Photo By: Jan H. Andersen

I often use props when making portraits of kids. It serves two different purposes. First of all it makes it possible to capture natural looking expressions full of curiosity, smiles and laughter that will end up as much more interesting and funny portraits than the traditional “still life” portrait . Second, it will make the nervous child relax almost immediately. One of my personal favorites are soap bubbles – I always have several bottles on stock in my studio. But almost any kind of toy will work. A lot of my son’s old toys that he don’t use anymore (or at the moment) are kept in my studio as easy to access props. The props don’t necessarily have to be a part of the portrait of course, but if they feel natural, and aren’t distracting on the final portrait, don’t be afraid to include them – kids and toys are closely related. And think about how the child would play with the toy for real, so things don’t look too staged. If the prop is a toy car, let the child play on the floor where toy cars belong, or on the edge of a table with the child peeking over the edge.

Stuffed animals are of course also very useful. I have a pile (literally) of all sorts of stuffed animals in my studio. Let the kids pick their favorite and watch them play with it, cuddle it and start talking about it. No wrong, don’t watch – make that camera click!

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