Searching for Butterflies- Thoughts on photographing kids

by on September 2, 2011

My photographic heart always pulses faster when I get an assignment photographing children. I shared my journey about this previously and I thank you all for keeping me company there.

The last 10 years of my career immersed me in the intimacy of family and children’s portraiture. I was allowed into the lives of very personal family moments and cherished gatherings, that for many of these families, often only happen but once in a few years. It was a privilege for me to be a witness to these tender moments with my camera and to be trusted that I could capture the essence of their family story.

Loving my subjects, cherishing their special family moments as if they were my own, and having them trust me to capture all this says so much of why I love what I do.

Photographers often ask me about my photographic process of how I go about making these images and how I “deal” with fussy kids. First of all, I don’t feel as if I have to “deal” with anyone. My method is quite simple and very much in the same thought process of how I approach life.

Just be yourself, focus on what makes you happy and to believe in that.

That’s exactly what I tell the kids and parents when I’m about to photograph a challenging situation. I want the kids to be allowed to be themselves, to be left alone to do what makes them happy and for the parents to believe that these images are beautiful representations of their children.

When parents want the perfect family portrait, I tell them there is no such thing. If parents want the perfect kid smile and look at the camera, I tell them that’s it’s not always possible. Mom might ask me to make their kids look beautiful, I tell her that they already are amazing. 

I communicate to my clients that perfection doesn’t lie in a particular pose or smile. A truly beautiful image is one that captures the essence of their children when they are allowed to be themselves and doing what they love most.  Simply put, the most organic way for me to make children’s pictures is when they’re allowed to be kids.

Children’s photographs are most compelling and emotional to me when I can capture them when they’re doing something that makes them happy, rather than them doing something that makes Mom and Dad happy. Maybe I’m strange that way, but I’m that type of photographer.

My most favorite photographs are those that are not perfect. Real emotions, random moments and just trusting your children to be who they are make the perfect photographs. These are perfect because they are authentic. Allowing your children to be authentic in front of the camera will give you a priceless photo to be proud of.

Trust me on this one. Enjoy the search for your butterflies.



Some moments from one of our farm shoots for Whole Foods. The photo shoot was in their family sweet potato farm, in 100+ degrees. So the kids weren’t happy perky to start with. 

In Hiding. He didn’t want to be in pictures. He just wanted to search for monarch butterflies

I insisted to his Dad to let him do what he wanted. That made him happy again.

I told him to play “peek a boo” with the butterflies. He did.

I asked him to go chase the butterflies. That made him really happy.

His shy, scared sister join in the search, but needed to hold Daddy’s hand.

They were having fun & didn’t need to have Daddy there anymore.

Here we go again. He didn’t want to hold any pumpkins.

I said ok, no pumpkin holding if u don’t want to. Your sister will hold the pumpkin. He’s happier.

All is happy when you can chase your butterflies & not hold pumpkins if you don’t want to.

and life is great when you can hug, love & close your eyes… on purpose.

The End.


{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

1 mushroom recipes September 2, 2011 at 1:24 am

Images closest to the imagination than the reality, kids in the great beauty and magnificence, amid flowers of Paradise, frankly, more than a great article .


2 Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga September 2, 2011 at 3:39 am

Diane, I love this post! Your words are so true!!!
“Allowing your children to be authentic in front of the camera will give you a priceless photo to be proud of.”

This post speaks to me even more b/c on the last day of Food & Light when you told us to create personal projects for ourselves, well I HAVE BEEN! And have been blogging about them.

And this past week, my self-assignment was to photograph some fountains at night in Balboa Park here in San Diego, but also my daughter was with me and she was tired, it was dark, it wasn’t her finest hour shall we say…my challenge was capturing it all in a way that showcased her playing near the fountains, the fountains themselves, and just letting the shoot unfold organically rather than trying to stage it (b/c had I done that, it would have been a guarantee for a meltdown and un-useable images).

Sorry for the long comment but this post speaks to me SO MUCH. Thank you for writing it!


3 Apron Appeal September 2, 2011 at 5:38 am

I have a hard time justifying the purchase of a DSLR just for food. These pictures remind me that my scope will branch far beyond food if I take the plunge.


4 TheKitchenWitch September 2, 2011 at 5:40 am

Absolutely beautiful. I really hope they bought the one where he’s bawling–it’s my favorite of the bunch!


5 Michelle September 2, 2011 at 6:50 am

This says a lot about life as well – we look the prettiest doing what we love. Be photogenic most of the time while doing what you love.

Thank you



6 Cynthia A. September 2, 2011 at 7:44 am

I look at those “perfect” Christmas cards we sometimes get where everyone is smiling and wonder how the heck they did it.

So glad you have the ability to follow the kids around and grab the moments of joy (and frustration) as they come along. And kudos for encouraging the parents to let go…


7 Yvette ~ Muy Bueno Cookbook September 2, 2011 at 7:56 am

Beautiful images!!! This is a GREAT reminder of letting kids be kids. I was one of those guilty parents who used to want perfect pictures of my kids. But after seeing images like these it changed my mind. Now when I see studio photos of kids with tortured and fake “say cheese” smiles I cringe. LOL


8 Nydia September 2, 2011 at 8:03 am

I love photographing kids! They’re carefree and often don’t notice or care that someone with a camera is following them. There’s no posing … just kids being wonderfully playful, cute and genuine. And it’s all captured on (digital) film =D

Great photos and equally great post!


9 Ann September 2, 2011 at 8:05 am

I’d rather have an imperfect picture that brings backs emotions and memories, than a (technical) perfect picture that you’ll forget in a nanosecond. Your words are so true. Let kids do what they like to do and shoot. You’ll have the best pictures ever.


10 Jessica September 2, 2011 at 8:10 am

this is SO TRUE! Just sit back and let the child do what they want and you’ll have a great batch of pictures to choose from. thanks for sharing this message.


11 SoupAddict September 2, 2011 at 8:17 am

I’m so happy that portraiture has become all about capturing an authentic moment (as authentic as you can be when you know a camera is being pointed at you. ;) ). Smiles, wails, silly grins – those are the moments I cherish, not the stuffy poses in a studio with a gray backdrop.


12 Chef Gwen September 2, 2011 at 8:40 am

awesome… you are some force behind the lens. Thanks for sharing.


13 Katie @ Epicurean Mom September 2, 2011 at 8:55 am

Wow, spectacular! These are just gorgeous!

I love taking photos of my girls, when they cooperate. You’re right, maybe I just need to let them do what they want to get the perfect photo!


14 Aly September 2, 2011 at 9:04 am

Imperfect perfection … Children’s photography is my favorite too! I love these images – as I do all of your work – but this write up should be given to every parent who is always trying to search for that “perfect photo” … Beautiful!


15 Arudhi@Aboxofkitchen September 2, 2011 at 9:16 am

What beautiful precious moments you captured there! The ones with the pumpkins are adorable!!


16 Paula @ Dishing the Divine September 2, 2011 at 9:43 am

I love pictures of children. I look forward to having my own so I can fill memory cards with their precious faces. :)


17 Rebecca ~ Sweet Baby Yams September 2, 2011 at 10:41 am

Beautiful pictures! And I agree about letting kids do what makes them happy.


18 Helene September 2, 2011 at 10:53 am

I love taking pictures of my nieces, especially when they just play around. They are so cute and those moments captured on camera are precious. You are doing such a great job, it seems natural for you to be around children.


19 Kiran @ September 2, 2011 at 11:34 am

Amazing shots and the story behind it. Photographing kids is so hard, but once you allow them to be who they are, naturally, it’s a breeze. Thanks for sharing these useful guides and tips :)


20 Valerie September 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Your words and pictures moved me… “All is happy when you can chase your butterflies & not hold pumpkins if you don’t want to.” How true.


21 Cookin' Canuck September 2, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Diane, these photos are so precious and I love that they capture the everyday silliness, not the perfect smiles. My favorite photos of my kids are ones where their hair is a little messy, they’re not looking right at the camera and they’re being just plain goofy. Those are the ones that allow me to see their souls.


22 Tyler Ngo September 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

I really like this post; and like your title :-).


23 kankana September 2, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Such a beautiful post :) Love the choice of clothes and how you explained every single things.


24 Quay Po Cooks September 5, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Diane, this is a great post. You write so well and you are so skillful in your photography. I can see your passion glowing through all those fabulous photos. You have captured precious moments which are priceless! This is what you said which I will have to remember “Just be yourself, focus on what makes you happy and to believe in that.” Thanks so much for creating this wonderful space of yours where I spend joyful time reading your posts and browsing your beautiful photos. HUGS.


25 sarah September 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm

Lovely. And I love your approach – I’ve always been drawn to images that convey ‘real’ moments, not staged ones. I love the picture with the dad’s hand still holding on! Just beautiful.


26 a suburban kitchen September 6, 2011 at 8:11 am

When photographing kids patience is the word and a sense of humor!
Now my kids are teen and pre-teen all I get is a hand in front of a lens!
Great post Diane.


27 Nolita @Morganic September 6, 2011 at 10:04 am

I need to take your advice when I am taking pictures of my kids. My favorite ones are the ones where they are unaware that a camera is on them. I do spend too much time trying to ensure everyone is looking at the camera and smiling instead of just waiting for the right moment or working with them. Occasionally I get lucky with the capture.

Thanks for sharing….your photos are gorgeous!


28 Mai September 7, 2011 at 9:00 am

I don’t make my children pose for the same reasons. My most treasured pics are of them playing, laughing, crying or having fun. I don’t see the need to create moments as they are happening right before our eyes.


29 Mai September 7, 2011 at 9:02 am

BTW, I love your pics of kids. Your love of photographing them is showing through in your photos. :)


30 Dennis September 12, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I love the photos! Looks like happy memories!


31 Jenn September 16, 2011 at 2:14 pm

beautiful pictures and even more beautiful post. it’s true that the best people photography is the candid ones. those kids are adorable!


32 Liz @ Las Vegas Photography September 21, 2011 at 2:06 pm

My favorite picture is the final shot of the two kids together, one happy holding a pumpkin and one happy not holding one. It’s so true, you have to do what the kids want to do instead of the forced, staged family photo. These pictures mean so much more!


33 desta October 29, 2011 at 11:02 pm

Reading this has truly inspired me. Thank you :-)


34 Dana August 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Powerful – allowing children to be… and photographing them on their terms. I’m always moved by the images you capture. Now, a bit teary…


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