8 Tips to Create Fairytale Styled Child Portraits That Sell

8 Tips to Create Fairytale Styled Child Portraits That Sell with Nikki Harrison

If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to just take a picture. You want to create an art piece that not only causes a sense of wonder and magic, but will SELL.

A long time ago, in a far-off land and in another life, I was a successful business person running a financial business. During that time, I learned something very important. I learned that when you are in a business that is flooded with others just like you, you need to find a way to separate yourself from the pack. The bottom line was I learned I had to become highly specialized in 1 niche, as opposed to being mediocre in many. What makes you different? What makes you better?

After the financial crash of 2008, I had plenty of time on my hands and like so many others before me, I fell madly in love with photography. As a matter of fact, I tried my hand at almost every single type of photography and realized quickly that if I wanted to make this a career, I needed to go back to the basics.

So, taking a step back from the passion, I had to think with my business head and not my art heart. Make sense?

Once again, I needed to find a niche that I could excel at, become the “expert” at, and focus on that over everything else.

Because I loved the magic and storytelling of child portraits, I decided to focus on that genre as a specialty. I began to focus on creating a story within my images, and I quickly realized that the more I focused on building that story by supplying the wardrobe, building a set, and focusing on a theme, the more interest I received for my sessions. This was a win-win for me! I was able to create what I wanted to for my creative soul, all the while having parents pay top dollar for it.

4 Tips for Preparing to Specialize in Fairytale Styled Art

Before you can charge top dollar for incredible child art, make sure your skillset is easily replicated consistently. This might mean doing personal work and experimenting with props and wardrobe to assist in the story you want to tell. Make sure you have a clear vision of the story prior to bringing in a child to test with. Children do not have a long attention span for test shoots, so all of your prep work should be done prior to bringing a child into a test. I can photograph a complete child session in 20 minutes. I know that I have a very slim timeline whereby the child will be happy to listen to anything I say. You will need to have your poses prepared, either on a storyboard via a sheet, or on your phone. You need to always prepare everything to the smallest detail before the child(ren) arrive so that all you need to do is go through your poses. I have 10 go-to poses that I usually do for every type of genre that I create. Once you do it consistently enough, you will easily move through them without reference. Please, please make sure you have a website with a consistent body of work that clearly demonstrates your ability to replicate your style over and over again.

1. Consistency

Before you can charge top dollar for incredible child art, make sure your skillset is easily replicated consistently. This might mean doing personal work and experimenting with props and wardrobe to assist in the story you want to tell. Make sure you have a clear vision of the story prior to bringing in a child to test with. Children do not have a long attention span for test shoots, so all of your prep work should be done prior to bringing a child into a test. I can photograph a complete child session in 20 minutes. I know that I have a very slim timeline whereby the child will be happy to listen to anything I say. You will need to have your poses prepared, either on a storyboard via a sheet, or on your phone. You need to always prepare everything to the smallest detail before the child(ren) arrive so that all you need to do is go through your poses. I have 10 go-to poses that I usually do for every type of genre that I create. Once you do it consistently enough, you will easily move through them without reference. Please, please make sure you have a website with a consistent body of work that clearly demonstrates your ability to replicate your style over and over again.

2. Lighting

Besides your wardrobe, props, and creativity, you need to nail your lighting. I use both strobes as well as continuous lighting for my child work. If I’m working with 2 or more children, I will use strobes. I don’t want to risk having one child in focus and one out, especially because children move a lot, and when there is more than one, it is much safer to use strobes and a more stopped down F stop to prevent motion blur. Normally, if I’m working with one child, I’ll use my continuous lighting in order to get a shallow depth of field, which lends itself to a more Fairytale look. Although there are a million online schools and in-person workshops to learn lighting, if you are on a budget, YouTube has a ton of free ones.

3. Post work

It has become my experience that with the proper lighting, especially with continuous lighting, you can create an ambiance and mood that will require very little retouching. You can use 1–4 lights as well as tiny add-on lighting that will assist you so much in the story telling that the post work, although it may look like a lot of post was done, is not required. I have developed a very artistic approach to some of my themed work, taking advantage of compositing and really focusing on the post side of photography. This, however, is not necessary. The possibilities in Photoshop is what made me fall in love with the possibility of photography. My Photoshop skills were good long before my technical skills, but that’s because I’ve been an artist my whole life. You can achieve Photoshop skills via a multitude of online sources, and again, YouTube has some incredible free tutorials nowadays, unlike when I started out.

4. Sales

these are always emotional purchases. I do all my sales immediately following the session, while parents and kids are still excited and happy. I do not sell my files; my prints and products are my sole income and I will not give that away. As a studio, I can print up to a 16×20 wall portrait and for everything else I use a professional lab. My clients purchase the images while surrounded by large, beautifully framed prints of art I have made. As lovely as a computer screen is for showing off professional photography, my artwork is a million times nicer printed on Fine Art paper and framed in all its glory. This is hugely important to show your clients. They will see it and want it. This is the best way to sell and I highly encourage you to find a way to make this presentation possible. This is what will separate you from the shoot and burners or USB providers! Tip: Always over-deliver. If I have a good sale, I will always surprise my clients with an additional gift, whether that is a necklace with a portrait in it or a set of gift cards featuring their child—it doesn’t matter how small. People will always rave about you if they feel you over-delivered.

4 Tips for Working with Children

1. Parents

Regardless of the genre you decide to offer, children are all different. But there is one commonality that you should always be aware of: parents will try to direct their child. The best way to prepare parents for the session is: while the child is getting dressed into the provided wardrobe, you just share a few rules of the studio. I always do this after the formality of introductions and chatting with the child(ren) and getting them calmed down. I like to tell my parents, “So, it has been my experience with kids that they will be unsure of me because I’m a stranger, and therefore they will probably listen to me better than you during the session. For this reason, I just want you to sit back and put your phone away. I’ll direct your kids. I’ll pose them easily and I’ll take the pictures. You just sit back and marvel at how well behaved they are, deal?” This works every time! It sets a clear boundary for not allowing cell phone pictures, as well as demonstrating that for the time they are in my studio, I am the boss. Parents always leave shocked at how well their child followed direction and how well they behaved. I normally have little treat bags prepared for both boys and girls, and have them in a drawer in my viewing room, so that I can have something to bribe them with during the session as well as something to keep them busy while mom and dad view the images and make their purchase.

2. Wardrobe

I supply the wardrobe for all girls that come to my studio from age 3+. This is an investment, and it’s one that is necessary in order for you to control the look of the portraits. If you can’t supply wardrobe, then your portraits may suffer from bad clothing choices they may bring in. I always tell them that they are welcome to bring along anything they think is nice, and we can determine what is best once they arrive. Boys are easy; I simply tell parents to bring dark trousers and socks and I have several dress shirts I can provide along with suspenders.

3. Patience

not all kids are easy. I’m not going to lie and pretend they are. You must have patience and figure out ways to make kids shine. The more you work with kids, the more intuitive you will get. I can now read a child in the first 5 minutes, whether she’ll be a star or someone I need to work with. You might have to take a portrait of the child on mom’s lap in order to succeed with the image you want to create. I’ve done it so many times if the child refused to be away from mom. You can have mom sit on the studio floor, have the child sit on mom’s lap, and just direct mom’s arms away from the child so that you can at least composite the mom out. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and when you work with kids and animals, half your job is problem solving!

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4. Have fun

If you are having fun, being silly, and photographing the child down at their level, you will get gold! Don’t forget to have a few child jokes that guarantee laughs every time! Even if your portfolio doesn’t have one child with a smile, make sure you get several smiles anyway. They will SELL every time!

As with all photography genres, there is work, there is required effort, and a learning curve. Just remember that you are doing this first because it’s your passion. Don’t get sucked into the starving artist chapter. You don’t have to be broke to be creatively happy. Work hard on your goals, dedicate yourself to both the creative and the business side. You can do what you want with as much zest and passion as any other career, and still earn a good living.

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