Before you assess the location and the light, before the camera comes out and the lens is chosen, it’s a good idea to unpack some strategy. These are truly the essential elements you’ll need to get the best possible photos of your kids or grandkids, nieces or nephews.

That’s one of the things we learned from Tamara Lackey. Her mastery of portraits and lifestyle photographs evidences not only imaging skills but a sure command of the strategies needed. Tamara consistently captures the moods, moments, and expressions that make for memorable images of children.

Here’s more of what we learned:


The ages of your subjects are going to dictate what you can draw from them. “When I’m dealing with younger children—babies through toddlers—part is containment,” Tamara says. “I go in knowing they have no interest in being photographed, I have to contain them. So just for the millisecond I have, I get an expression that matters.” Containment can mean making a game of all or part of the session in order to keep the child in the spot Tamara’s chosen. Or it can mean setting up a location and gently—”in an inspiring, non-threatening way”—moving the child to it. “I’m always thinking, how do I get them so that I’m not always shooting the back of their heads. For that age, I lower my expectations of what kind of interaction I’m going to get, and I make fast use of the few moments I do get.”

From four to nine-year-olds, Tamara expects to get a lot of performance art. “They’re going to perform for me—watch me do this, watch me do that—so I have to be sure I’m shooting that as well as more authentic images.”

When her subjects reach nine to 12 or 13 years of age, Tamara is photographing children who are becoming self-conscious about how they look and how they come across. “They’re thinking, was I cool, was I pretty, was I fashionable,  So one is to help them feel sure about themselves, and comfortable, and I take extra steps to photograph them attractively because it matters more to them now. And as I show them that I’m photographing them attractively—because I’m posing and lighting them well—I get more authentic.”

With teenagers Tamara’s approach is to go with the truth: “Whether stated or not, I acknowledge that I know they don’t want to be here being photographed.” She’ll tell them she’s on their side, set a countdown—”it’s going to be a couple of hours”—and go to work looking for and catching micro expressions. “It takes only a second to get a laugh or an intense look before they remember they’re not supposed to be responding to me.” She’ll talk with them, but avoid the obvious—”What are you studying in school?” isn’t going to work. “They have predetermined responses and expressions for that,” she says. So she’ll go with the offbeat, like asking about their stances on current congressional bills. The measure of her success with teenagers is the number of times she hears versions of “I had no idea you were getting these!” when her subjects see the images on the back of the camera.