In today’s uber-pedophile-paranoid society taking photos of kids can be a challenge. It wasn’t a problem even a few decades ago (think of all the great photos of kids that Helen Levitt, Robert Doisneau, and Henri Catier-Bresson shot). But now even if you point a camera remotely close to a kid you can be called a pedophile.
Personally I haven’t ever had any problems taking photos of kids (whether it be candidly or with permission).
In this article I will try to share some of my personal tips when I photograph kids– and I hope this will help you!
1. Don’t be sneaky
One of the most important things when taking photos of kids is to not be sneaky. What I mean by that is to not shoot from the hip (taking photos from waist-level without putting your camera to your viewfinder) and by getting either implicit or explicit permission from their parents.
Implicit permission from the parent is when you get a nod from the parents (letting you know it is okay to photograph their kid) or by being obvious of photographing their kid (and not having the parent get upset).
Explicit permission from the parent is asking them “Do you mind if I take some photos of your kid?” and having them say “yes.”
Generally when I take photos of kids with implicit permission, I generally do the following:
a) I will wave at the kid, say hello, and talk to the kid while taking some photos.
b) While doing this, I look at the parent and smile and see that they don’t object. They rarely do.
c) Sometimes the parent will ask what the photos are for, and I respond by telling them I am a street photographer and think that their child looks adorable, beautiful, or unique.
2. Send the parent the kid’s photo
When the parents are simply curious why I am taking photos of their kid, I even offer to email them photos of their kid. Parents love photos of their kid, and if you take a nice photo– the parent can even use your image as a Facebook profile picture. Everybody wins. You might get a good photo, and the parent will also get a copy too.
3. Carry around business cards
Another tip which is related to the point prior is to carry business cards with you. You can always offer the parents your name, contact, email, phone #, and website address to show that you aren’t a pedophile and if they are concerned– they can contact you.
I know a lot of photographers who like to use moocards which allow you to print example photos on the back. This can be like a mobile portfolio for you to share examples of your work (to once again show that you aren’t a pedophile).
4. Show the kid (and parent) the LCD Screen
One thing I always make it a point to do (when shooting digitally) is to show both the kids and their parents the LCD screen. This gives them a sense of why you are taking the photograph of the kid, and what you find unique about them. I also try to tell the kids how cool or interesting (or cute) I find them– while also sharing it with the parents.
5. Shoot with a friend
I generally find parents more comfortable when you photograph their kids when you are with other photographers. It shows that you are some photography group or club. To the best of my knowledge, pedophiles don’t travel in packs.
6. Don’t shoot with a big camera (or lens)
Nothing screams “pedophile” more than taking photos with a massive DSLR with a telephoto lens (especially when hiding behind a bush). I recommend using a smaller camera and lens, and being really obvious when you are taking photos of the kids.
Here are some quick tips that I have found personally useful when taking photos of kids. Kids definitely are some of the best subjects in street photography (they aren’t camera shy, they don’t put on a false face, and are very innocent and show great emotions). However once again, in today’s society it can be a bit dangerous to take photos of kids (without explicit permission from the parents).
Of course it also depends on who you are and how you look. I don’t recommend shooting kids when wearing a black trenchcoat — that would really scream pedophile.
I am lucky enough that I am Asian and look quite harmless. But I know it is the case that men generally have a harder time photographing kids than women. Women are (generally) not pedophiles and thus look less harmful.
I would say the most important thing when taking photos of kids is to be really obvious about it. The worst you can be is sneaky. Because if you get caught while taking photos of kids (sneakily) it will be far worse than you waving and saying hi to the kid while photographing him/her.
If the parent asks you to stop, simply apologize and move on. And if the parent asks you to delete the photo, best policy is to just delete the photos in my honest opinion. Once again, if you get convicted (or even threatened of being a pedophile) it can be a serious issue.
But if nobody took photos of kids today, how will people know in the future how kids interacted, looked like, and played on the streets?
Gallo Boxing: 8 Year Old Boxer POV
Below is a video I shot of an 8-year old boxer. Note how I interact with his parents and the kid while photographing him. I hope this can give some insight into my personal working style.
What are your experiences taking photos of kids, and how do you do it without being accused of being a pedophile? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.