How to: Photograph Your Kids (and get them to enjoy it)
They say you should never work with kids or animals, right?
I say wrong! I loooove kids! I also love working with them, and capturing all their crazy moods and wind-swept hair and snotty noses and teethy grins!
Booking a session with a professional photographer is important for stacks of reasons (print-worthy, heirloom photos, with YOU in them, being the most important) but you aren't going to stop wanting photos of your kids. And I'm betting that you've got THOUSANDS of photos, stored on your phone, computer, hard drives and in the cloud.
It's pretty easy to take lots of cute photos when your kids are babies, but the older they get the more opinionated they become and the harder it is to get a good photo (at least, that's what I hear).
So I thought I'd put a blog post together with a few tips on tricks that I use to photograph kids (and I've photographed hundreds of them).
I'm not a parent!
This might seem like an odd tip, but honestly - I'm not a parent (so take all of this advice with a grain of salt) but the most important thing is that I'm not YOU. What do I mean by that?
You are the parent, I am new and shiny and distracting. During photo sessions, I'm a big goofball and I do whatever I can to make sure the kids are comfortable with me and having a good time. I'm also a stranger, and kids are usually a bit reserved with strangers (no matter how confident they are).
On the other hand, when they are at home with you - all bets are off. Kids will push the buttons of the people they love most (this is how they learn boundaries, what's safe and what's not), which means that it is going to be WAY harder for you to take good photos of your kids, than it is for me.
Your kids will say no to you, much more quickly, and with much more gusto, than they usually will for me.
That's not to say it's imossible, I think it just means you need more patience to get the results you want.
Make it fun, and go with the flow!
The most important thing you can do to make the whole experience enjoyable for your kids, is to make it FUN.
All kids want to do is have fun, and they mostly want to have fund with YOU. That's it.
When things become un-fun (repetitive, rigid and restrictive) and when you become too demanding (look this way, smile, say cheeeese) for too long, that's when you lose them. Kids have a really, really short attention span as well, so you've got to be quick.
I think it's also important to set your intentions.
I always enter every photo session with the intention of just having fun with the kids, and taking photos as a secondary job. Putting photo-taking as my second priority might seem strange cosindering I'm a photographer, but if the kids aren't having fun, I can't take photos; and I think this rule applies to parents too.
If you approach photo-taking as the primary job, your kids isn't having fun and they aren't going to want to do it.
But if you approach your kids with the intention of just having fun with them, and then taking some photos, you'll get way better results.
And kids will do almost anything you aks them to do, as long as you make it sound like fun (and then if you actually make it fun, they'll be more likely to trust you next time too).
What's the opposite of fun?
Trying to force the moment is a recipe for disaster, and the opposite of fun. During sessions, if I ask a kid to do something and they say no and run away, then I leave it, have some more fun with them (distract them) and come back to it later and this usually works.
Anger and frustration. Kids respond really well to normalcy - the more you run around after them demanding they sit still/smile/hug their sibling, you'll get forced smiles, and the more frustrated you get, the more likely you are to get tantrums and tears. If you relax and go with the flow, you'll get exactly what you are looking for (photos of your kids having fun and loving life).
If your kids are in a moment, and you want to capture it, the important thing is to not interrupt them, and to not ask them to change their actions or behaviour or to repeat an action more than once.
Behaving like the paparazzi, and peppering them with photos and a phone or camera in their face non-stop. Take a few quick photos, put your phone or camera down and just engage and play with them for a few minutes, and then pick up your camera again - this is the approach I take during my sessions as well (I put my camera down a lot, and engage with the kids as much as I can in between moments).
You gotta be QUICK!
This point goes hand in hand with number 2 - you gotta be quick.
If you miss the moment, that's it.
This can be really gosh darn hard if your only camera is a smart phone - these cameras are not great in low light! If you are using a camera phone (and want to avoid blurry photos) then make sure you set your kids up in a really bright spot. PRO-TIP: the best spots inside are right next to a window (the bigger the better). Try to avoid taking photos with the window behind them, make sure you are either standing next to the window or with your back to the window.
Get down on their level.
Have you ever noticed that whenever HRH Wills + Kate are disciplining their children, or heck even talking to them (when in public anyway) that they ALWAYS get down on the same level as their kids?
This is for a very good reason - it psychologically helps your kids feel safer, more in control and that you are willing to engage with them and give your full attention to them.
It helps when you are taking photos of them too, I know that a kids desire to engage with me in the camera triples the second I get down on the same level as them and give them my full attention. They love it!
Use lots of different perspectives.
Your kids definitely don't need to look at the camera in every single photo, and you'll often get better results if you can photograph them engaged in an activity.
So next time they are building something with Lego, grab your phone and take a photo from 5 different perspectives.
No idea what I mean? Here's a few ideas:
A birds eye view, from way above their head looking down over them soyou can see their head, hands + Lego all spread out everywhere;
A photo from the side;
A close up photo of their hands playing with the Lego;
A photo of their concentration face;
A photo from the other side of the room.
See how easy that was? And there are so many other ways you could take photos of this moment - without disturbing them ONCE. And when you are done, you will have *at least* 5 awesome photos that tell a much more complete story.
Tip #6 [Bonus]
Delete the word 'Cheese' from your vocabulary.
Unless it's in the context of eating it, obviously!
But this word causes the FAKEST. and WEIRDEST smiles in kids!
To get natural smiles and laugher, try tickling them with one hand while you take photos with the other, making fart noises at them, asking them silly questions, pretending to hurt yourself, pretending their high fives hurt you - anything that makes them laugh!
It's best to act like a kid when you are taking photos of them - so get down on their level and have fun with them ;)
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