IMAGE TALK with Noella Ballenger: What makes that photo work…

Memories can be captured photographically of small children at play or in costume that bring to mind unique family moments that will last for years to come. These can include those fun, nude baby and toddler photographs that parents love and become the embarrassing nightmares of almost every teenager when mom and dad bring them out once again to share with friends and family. Kathy Hanson has captured just such a moment with her grandson’s cowboy image.

To get started, here are several tips that will help. As with many really good images, we need to start with some pre-planning. What location are you choosing to use, and have you scouted it out to be sure that the light is going to correct during the time you will be photographing? Have you pre-planned the clothing? Do you know what light, props and camera gear you are going to use? Is your gear set up and ready to use when you are going into action? These are important details.

When you are working with young children, you have to work within their attention span and their comfort zones. Sometimes, having an assistant helps the child stay focused on the pose. And certainly, a good strong measure of patience with the child, as well as knowing when to stop, will add to their comfort and make it easier and easier to get their cooperation. The goal is to make this a fun experience for both you, as the photographer, and the child.

Little Cowboy by Kathy Hanson

Photo portrait of naked toddler in cowboy hat and boots by Kathy Hanson.
© 2012 Kathy Hanson. All rights reserved.

Subject: My grandchild – a loving subject.

Conditions: “I wanted to do a special image of my grandson and he was just the right height for the cowboy boots and hat.”


1. There is a wonderful blend and contrast of textures.

2. Warm, diagonal light at just the right angle to the hat illuminates the child.

3. The shadows at opposite corners prevent the eye from leaving the image.

4. Relaxed and simple pose, from the head and arm positions to the slight turn of the child’s feet.

5. The clothing, or lack of, and location work well together.

Noella’s comments:

Kathy’s image of her grandson in cowboy boots and hat is a wonderful example of what a little pre-planning can do. By carefully choosing her background and pre-planning the composition, she set the momentum for a very special and touching image.

Breaking the composition apart, the first thing I noticed was the blend and contrast of textures. The skin tones and soft side light on the child’s back is in total contrast with the rough leather of the boots as well as the texture of the wall. This combination of smooth and coarse emphasizes the purity of youth.

By using warm, diagonal light, as well as the shadows bracketing the light, the little boy’s body contours becomes highlighted. The result of the photographer’s skillful and yet subtle composition is that the viewer’s eye is confined to the most important area of the image – those cute little buns!

What I really enjoy about this image is the very relaxed and simple pose of the child. He is supporting himself against the wall with his hands and his head is slightly turned over his shoulder like something just caught his attention. The slight turn of his feet in the cowboy boots is casual, relaxed and well balanced. Obviously Kathy’s pre-planning of the pose and anticipating the moment was done extremely well and it paid off.

As I said at the beginning, this is the kind of image that any parent would be delighted to have and any teenager would love to destroy. It’s a wonderful remembrance of an innocent time when little boys would dream about being a cowboy. It’s a terrific image, Kathy. You did an outstanding job!

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