First and foremost, I need to say something. DO NOT EVER approach any child without the parent’s knowledge and permission. This goes without saying for most people, but if you find that to be confusing I ask you to please leave my blog immediately.
Don’t take me wrong, but children are like dogs – they can sense when something is ‘off’. Maybe it’s that they are closer to whatever it is on the ‘other side’ or maybe it’s a 6th sense that only young babies have, but they can read a grown up like the back of their hand, which evidently is pretty new to them so maybe that cliche doesn’t fit this time, but you get the idea. If my dog barks or growls at a stranger, I know to steer clear. I swear to you that young children have this ability too. I think it’s innate to help them stay alive, just like our doggies! Young humans can’t speak yet, and although I joke that our dogs understand Englis, I’m pretty sure I have no idea what they are saying when they bark, other than, “Beware!”. Children and animals need to have a higher sense of danger.
I love kids. Not just the non-talking/moving variation but all ages. Almost nothing makes me happier than to hear kids laughing. But, how do you photograph them? They move at lightning speed, and if you’re a professional photographer you are often showing up to meet them for the first time. That means they are meeting you, too. While occasionally I will get the outgoing child who is a ham in front of the camera – and I’ll go into how to work with them a little later – most of the time the little one will look at you like you’re a swamp animal that just crawled from under their bed. I’ll share what the following little tips on how to create a better relationship from the start with the children you photograph.
- Crouch down to their eye level, but don’t get too close or you’ll scare them. Be cognizant of their reaction to you. This seems obvious, but I am surprised at how many people will not realize the little things that a child does when they are uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s a change in their expression, but other things are more subtle, like looking at their parent.
- If it feels like you’re losing them due to ‘stranger danger’, back off. Sit on the ground. Stop trying to engage them for a few minutes. I usually take about 10-15 minutes getting to know my kiddos before we begin, so work this into your time frame. If you get onto the floor with them, you are already less threatening. This is also a great time to get to know the parents. If the child sees you laughing with their folks, they will take an interest in you as well, and you’re already physically on their level!
- Try talking a bit quieter. Even kids who have taken to me at first stepped back a bit once I let loose a boisterous laugh. It doesn’t come often, but every time it did, I regretted it. Then I had to backstep for a while and start all over.
- Be ready to be silly. My intern was terrific at doing silly little dances behind me to get their attention, but in lieu of that, I have had huge success with knock-knock jokes (this works best on school age kids who are already familiar with these kinds of jokes. Sometimes they don’t laugh, but they will start to like you!
- Keep talking to them, not only their parents but to them. A whole lot of silence and they will get distracted fast. Keep connected.
- Take breaks. Potty breaks, or simply to sitting around chit-chatting. It creates the feeling that they are not just there for pictures. Then, when it’s time to get back to work, they almost always come willingly.
- I hate to suggest this one, but honestly, I feel like sometimes it’s just necessary. At the beginning of your session, ask the parents if they are okay with bribery, and then keep it in up your sleeve (so to speak), in case all else fails. The promise of a special snack or outing can work wonders. Try to discuss ahead of time with the folks so you know what they are willing to do.
Now you’ve made friends and things are going swimmingly. However, all you get is a child standing there doing their fake smile thing. You know the one, that silly frozen smile and maybe a hand on the hip? I discovered this little trick early on, and I don’t think it’s ever failed me. Tell them to stop smiling. Say in a funny, silly, bossy sort of voice if you can, so they know you aren’t mad at them. Say something like, “Now, the smile is lovely, you are super cute, but can you do me a favor? Stop smiling. I don’t want any smile, not even a little bit. Give me your most serious face.” Then, as soon as they give it to you come out from your camera and watch them. Stare right back, but almost like you see a small smile in there, which you might actually see. “Don’t you dare smile! I see that! No silliness you hear?!” Hopefully, you get the idea because I have never seen a child not break through their ‘serious look’ and crack a real smile. You have to be exaggerated and silly though like you’re almost prodding them to break your own rule. Be ready to take the picture! The cheesy smile will disappear, and you can use this as much as needed, but usually, I only need it once and I’ve got a real life kid full of real life behavior right in front of me.
Hopefully, these tips will help you with taking better photographs of children. All in all, you’ll have to finesse things to fit your own personality, but these strategies have helped me endless times. Let me know how it goes! I love to hear feedback and don’t forget you can also suggest topics.
Until next week – Click, click, click, and learn, learn, learn!