Children's Portrait Photography Tips with Carrie Ryan

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started with photography.
27 years ago, I married a wonderful man with a large "pre-made" family. Developing personal interests was put on hold for many years while we raised a family together.

I'm truly a late bloomer because it wasn't until I was in my forties and most of my kids left home that I picked up a 35mm camera. Deciding to learn more about the options on the command dial other than full auto mode grew into a passion for learning portrait work.


What do you enjoy the most about portraiture?
A family member brings me a loved one to capture at a special moment in time. Their newborn, child, teen, or family at this stage—these all change in the blink of an eye. I help them hold the memory of someone they cherish.


What methods do you use to capture the genuine expressions of your subjects?

Two amazing photographers taught me their tricks in capturing a child's expression—Drake Busath and Karen Rubin. I also learned from watching my peers Miyo Strong and Laura Bruschke who work at the studio with me.

Pull the attention away from the child. Very young children usually respond well to "peek-a-boo" or "I'm coming to get you!" Children three years old and older love to see you make a fool of yourself. I play silly games where I always mess up or I let a puppet get the best of me. When the child is around eight years old, I bring out of my list of hideous jokes. I'm genuine in my compliments to teens and find out their interests.

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Any portrait lighting tips that don't require expensive gear?
For a good look on location, block the light from overhead and see that it comes in from one side. Watch the catch lights in the eyes. A catch light in the eye, which is placed at 10 or 2 o'clock, is very complimentary. Stretch yourself to add a hair light or rim light for interest. This can be done with a reflector on a stand.


I encourage you to rent studio space if you don't have your own. Play with light in a studio, and you just might get addicted, like me. It's a great world in there!


Famous photographer Michael Taylor said that if you want to get good at photography, 20% is education and 80% is shooting. If you want your lighting to look good, you've got to shoot and evaluate what you can do better next time.

What gear do you use on a daily basis? And what's the most-used tool in your arsenal?

Call me crazy in love with my Canon 5D Mark III! 90% of my portrait work is done with the 70-200mm lens. Adding to my most-used tools is my beloved monkey puppet, a silver and white reflector, and a great assistant.


July 2013