If you want tips on how to take the best children’s photos, where do you go? There are plenty of professional photographers who can certainly impart some helpful advice, but then there’s Karen Haberberg, an award-winning photographer, teacher and author whose passion for children and their wellbeing resulted in her book, An Ordinary Day - Kids with Rare Genetic Conditions, in which she photographed and interviewed 27 families with children who have genetic disorders.
Educated at Brandeis University, NYU and the ICP (International Center of Photography), Karen’s work has been featured in publications such as Cosmopolitan, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, New York Family and Time Out NY, and her collaborations with fellow photographers include the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Joyce Tenneson and Bruce Davidson.
A Lucie Award winner, Karen also gives back to the community through her work as a teacher at the New York arts center 92Y, in the Gilda and Henry Block School of the Arts, and at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, which serves the needs and interests of the Jewish community.
I interviewed Karen about her career, in which she explains her family’s personal and emotional connection to her book on children with genetic conditions, the pleasure she derives from teaching, and, of course, her top tips for taking kids photos.
At what age did you know you wanted to become a professional photographer?
I received my first manual camera at the age of 13 from my Uncle Ben. I didn’t know I wanted to be a photographer then, but I did know immediately that I loved taking pictures. It took some time for me to have the courage to leave my steady job in television production and become a photographer because of the instability associated with a career as an artist.
What made you want to do your book An Ordinary Day – Kids with Rare Genetic Conditions?
An Ordinary Day was a labor of love for me. My parents lost a child to Tay-Sachs disease before I was born, and almost 50 years later, they still suffer from the loss of my brother, Rafi.
More recently, my best friend’s son was diagnosed with Angelman Syndrome. Hearing her struggles and victories made me realize how families who have children with rare genetic conditions receive little attention and how common it actually is. One in 10 families in America has a child with a rare condition, and 95% of those conditions do not have one single FDA-approved drug treatment.
What aspect of teaching gives you the most satisfaction?
I love getting my students excited about photography. It’s inspiring to see how much progress they make both technically and artistically in just a few weeks. One of my favorite aspects of teaching is helping students to develop their style and make work that they feel good sharing with me and the world.
What camera gear do you usually use for your shoots?
I have the Sony α7R IV and the Canon 5D Mark IV bodies. They are both wonderful cameras.
For portrait shoots, I tend to have the following lenses with me: the Canon and Sony 70-200mm f/2.8, the Canon and Sony 85mm f/1.4, and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. The most gorgeous lens I own is the Sony 55mm f/1.8.
I also have a Profoto on-camera strobe and a reflector with me.
Of the photos on your website, I thought this one was particularly captivating, especially how beautifully the falling leaves are captured.
Can you talk about the story behind this photo in terms of the visual concept, how many photos you took until you got the perfect image, and the shutter speed and aperture?
I love when portraits show the natural beauty of the subject. This shot was captured on a lovely fall day. I wanted to make the shoot fun, so I asked the kids to throw leaves up in the air and at each other. This is one of the images from that series. I had set the shutter speed to freeze the leaves in motion, and I used a shallow depth of field so the background would be soft. My settings were: f/2.8, 1/6000, ISO 400, Canon 24-70mm.
What's been your proudest moment as a photographer?
My proudest moment was when my first book was published. It was a very challenging book emotionally and logistically to create. When the book arrived and I started to peel open the box and saw the bound cover, I held it in my hands and thought, I DID IT.
What are your top tips for anyone wishing to take the perfect kids photo?
Are your subjects doing something they love? If you’re shooting them “happy” – be it playing in the park or listening to a bedtime story – you’ll get the best results.
Be creative. Photograph your subject from a variety of angles and distances.
Use your flash to fill in shadows around the eyes and the rest of the face, even on a sunny day.
Timing is everything. Be patient and wait for the right moment to press the shutter, even if that moment comes on a different day..
Have another adult on the scene. It’s tough trying to be a successful mom and photographer at the same time!
To learn more about Karen and book a session, visit her official website: https://karenhaberberg.com/
For details of her next class at JCC, commencing February 26, visit: https://jccmanhattan.org/programs/digital-slr-photography
You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram: