Taking a compelling photo

One of the most effective ways of grabbing the attention of prospective parents is with a great photo of a child. Even if you don’t work with a professional photographer, today’s phones and small cameras make it fairly easy to capture a compelling image if you keep a few best practices in mind.

On this page:

Planning your photo shoot

  • Take photos at a time that is convenient for the child. Make sure the child and their caregiver have advance notice and are prepared. Don’t take a child out of their favorite class or stop them just as they are going to basketball practice.
  • Have a familiar person, such as a social worker or foster parent, at the photo session to help put the child at ease.
  • Let the child pick a favorite outfit and background for the photo. Avoid clothing that shows a school name or team or other geographic references and items that are revealing or have violent or sexual imagery. If the child wants to wear a hat, make sure you will still be able see their eyes and face clearly.
  • Choose the location carefully. The easiest and best pictures often are outdoors, because there is plenty of light and the child is free to move around.
  • If you are going to take pictures outside, do it during the early morning, late afternoon, or on a cloudy day. Too much sun can increase shadows or make your subject squint.
  • If you need to take photos inside, identify a setting with good lighting and a neutral background.
  • Bring “props”—a child’s favorite toy, book, pet, or piece of sports equipment—or, if possible, plan to take the pictures in a place that highlights the child’s interests.
  • Plan to photograph siblings together. It will help prospective adoptive parents understand the importance of the children remaining together.
  • Make it fun! If you take a field trip, get a quick meal, or play a game, the child may be in a better mood for a great photo afterward.
  • Set aside enough time so that you won’t feel rushed. Plan to spend at least an hour.
  • Be prepared to take lots of pictures—the value of digital photography is that you can take many images until you get the ones you want.

If you’re taking photos of many children, be sure to individualize the photographs for each child. Vary the locations or backgrounds. If you have the same background, the children won’t stand out as much and each subsequent image a person looks at may be a little bit less interesting.

Taking the photos

Below are some general photography tips that can help you capture great pictures. Keep in mind it’s more important to get a natural, comfortable picture of the child than to create great artwork.

  • Know your photolisting requirements and take pictures that meet them. Some require just a head-and-shoulders shot, while others are more flexible. When in doubt, take a wide variety of pictures so you have options to choose from.
  • Make sure the child or siblings are comfortable and at ease. A happy, relaxed subject makes for a better photo. If possible, before taking photos spend time talking and playing, letting the children take the lead.
  • Be sure the child looks well-groomed but natural.
  • Double-check the background. Are there signs that could give away location? Are there items behind or above the child that will be distracting? Does their clothing and skin tone work well with what’s behind them? A brick wall, wooden fence, or wood door can make an interesting backdrop. Avoid a plain white background if you can.
  • If you are taking pictures outside on a sunny day, try to find a spot with shade. If you cannot, be sure the sun is behind you.
  • Check for shadows. Look at your pictures as you take them and make sure that shadows are not hiding the child’s eyes or other features.
  • Be sure the child isn’t in front of a window, which will make it harder to see the child’s face. Try having the child stand near the window, but without it in the frame.
  • Avoid using flash if you can. Especially on phones, flashes don’t do a great job and can lead to uneven or overly bright lighting.
  • Try taking the photo with the child looking a little to the side or down. A slight angle can make an image really stand out.
  • Don’t require a smile. It’s usually best to go with the child’s natural expression rather than a forced smile. But don’t hesitate to be funny and work for a real smile!
  • Get close rather than using the camera to zoom in. But don’t have the photo be so close that it’s all the child’s head and shoulders—leave yourself some room for cropping or adjusting.
  • Take a variety of pictures—some just of the child’s head and shoulders and others with their whole body. Have the child change their position—some sitting, some standing, some playing.
  • Crouch down a bit so you’re on the child’s level. Make eye contact and then take the photo while you’ve got that connection.
  • If you’re taking pictures of siblings, have them interact in some way, such as holding hands or having their arms around each other. Remember to take even more shots when you have multiple subjects—there’s always a chance one will be blinking, looking away, talking, or otherwise doing something that makes the image less successful.
  • Try candid photos or action shots. Often a posed photo doesn’t have the same feel or life that a candid picture does, although you may sacrifice focus.

Selecting the final shot

  • Show photos you like to the child or siblings and ask which ones they prefer.
  • Have the child help pick their favorite photos. Be sure to offer only photos you know meet all of your guidelines and rules.
  • Remove geotags from photos before posting them online. (Geotagging is the addition of geographical location information to images or videos. It is often automatically added by your camera or phone.)