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Photographing children is one of the toughest things we do, even after more than three decades of “practice!”. Whether you are a professional photographer, an amateur or just a father with a point and shoot, kids bring to your doorstep some of the most challenging aspects of photography. They move fast, they don’t take modeling instructions, they touch your gear and in general, create mayhem all around them.
So, what do you do? Kids! They can be charming, frustrating, laughing, crying, independent and clingy…and all in a short time! Here are a few tricks we have discovered to win these young subjects over.
ONE: You MUST have a pleasant personality and be at ease with people in general.
Kids know when you are nervous or are not comfortable with them and they will react accordingly. If you are not a person who communicates with a wide range of personalities easily and quickly, maybe this isn’t the best profession for you. Just like dogs and horses, kids will size you up immediately and smell your “fear.”
TWO: Greet the kids first when a family comes through the door.
And yes, we pretty much ignore the parents (for now.) If we can win the kids over, we will automatically have the parents on our side. We don’t try to get them too comfortable where they will want to get down, run and play. This backfires when you ask the parents to then pick them up and snuggle. It is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN!
THREE: We work FAST!
Never, never do we make kids wait! Their threshold of attention is very short and we don’t want to waste time getting them into the camera room to get started. This means being prepared for every appointment. We stage the dressing room 15 minutes before we expect the client to arrive. We put out cold bottles of private label spring water out for the family and a Serendipity goodie bag that we provide for each child is prepared along with a personal note, written to the children or child. Restrooms are clean and all mirrors are wiped down.
FOUR: We are not silly with the kids during the photographic session.
Kids will mirror us and what we want, at least in the beginning, is a pensive expression, not a silly one. We may get a bit silly late in the session if we need to get smiles. However, if you come out loud and explosive, you will get them so excited (or scared), it will be difficult to contain them to get any intimate imagery.
FIVE: We don’t get toys out unless forced. The trick is to engage the mind.
Kids reach for the toys you are holding, and if they cannot have them, they get MAD! We use our personalities to get the expressions we want and we feel we can engage their minds much more effectively this way.When we are working to get expressions from the kids, we are intense in how we speak. If you speak to them quietly or without much oomph, you will not hold their attention, especially if they are wanting to get down and run!
SIX: We get kids off their feet!
We often stand kids on short blocks or furniture (like the pew you see here) just to get their feet off the ground to keep them from wanting to get down and run. BTW, they will never, ever run their energy out, so we ask parents NOT to put them down before the session. They even are asked to carry their kids into the studio from the car and then carry them out of the dressing room. Once they are allowed to get down, the parents will not be able to pick them up again and the session becomes candids in a catch as you can mode.
SEVEN: Ask your way to success.
We ask questions that are not answered by a YES or NO and that are appropriate to the age. Toddlers respond to, “What is your favorite food?” while older kids respond to, “What is your best friend’s name?” With elementary ages, you can ask mom or dad to whisper something in their ear that they would NEVER want you to know. This is a great way to get an expressive, fun expression.
EIGHT: Singing is a great secret weapon.
Often, when nothing else can get a kid’s attention, singing their favorite song or a popular kid’s song can. If you can’t sing, whisper a story to them, barely letting them hear just bits and pieces. They will engage with you, lean forward and be completely mesmerized if you have a great story you are telling. Practice a story to keep as a “weapon” in your arsenal if you are having a difficult time with a child. Keeping them intrigued and engaged with you is the key.
We advise parents to select and stay with one outfit, especially on toddlers. Changing clothes upsets the child and we can get all the variety we need through changing angles and sets. PLUS it gives us something different to do for their next appointment and gives the client a reason to come back.
TEN: When all else fails, bribe them.
As a last resort, we will bribe kids with Smarties with the parents’ permission. Smarties won’t ruin clothes and their color blends in with our sets, so if they hold one, it doesn’t show or is easy to remove later. They also dissolve almost instantly and are never a choking hazard. After all, safety is our number one concern when we have kids in our facility.
Even after doing all of these things, the bottom line to us is love…love for the children that grace us with their presence. We are indeed blessed to be doing what we do!
Have a great week, everyone!