It happens more than you know. I’ll email back and forth with a client. She wants a magical family photography session. She and I are so excited about the location we’ve chosen and the wardrobe is perfect. We spend weeks nailing down every detail for the photos. Then the day comes for the photo shoot. We show up bright-eyed and bushy tailed with great anticipation. I start posing the family and taking the photographs and boom… we get an uncooperative child.
Mom will sometimes say things like: “He missed his nap today” Or, “She doesn’t like getting her pictures taken.” Nevertheless, what is one to do? Should we let the child run off in every direction, throw temper tantrums and just give up on the shoot? Absolutely not!
We can’t let months of planning go to waste because we think little Timmy can’t get it together. With some children you just need a different approach and a little more patience.
I want to share my tips for photographing uncooperative children. Over the years as an Annapolis family photographer I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. These tips come from my background of professionally photographing children but you can apply these tips to any scenario where you are taking pictures of kids.
Get to know the children you’re photographing.
Before you begin photographing children take a minute to ask the parents about their personalities. You want to learn what makes the child happy, what they enjoy doing, and (especially) what makes them laugh. Once you learn these things use them to your advantage. Talk with the child about some of the things they enjoy. Make funny jokes about what mom told you makes them laugh. The child will feel the connection with you and be more willing to cooperate.
Children thrive while they are engaging in play. If they perceive that the photo shoot is more about playtime then they will really come out of their shell. A brilliant post over at Clikin Moms had this similar tip for photographing children. My advice is to play games that get them to look at you and laugh. For example, peek-a-boo is great for babies, taking turns making silly faces and noises always works with toddlers, and older children love to play I spy. Ask them to stay where they are and look around to find an item you’ve selected. Once they find it they get so excited and you get a big, bright genuine smile from them! Be careful with this tip though. Don’t get them too riled up. If they become too excited by running around or screaming then they tend to get frustrated when they are told to settle down. Keep it fun and engaged. I have the best time playing with the children I photograph at beach sessions.
Let the children help you.
The children I photograph love when I ask for their help. They feel like they have accomplished something and that I’m trusting them. If I am trusting them with certain tasks and I praise them for helping me then typically they will allow me to photograph them in the way I want. We have a mutual respect for each other at that point and I get a lot of cooperation. I might ask them to carry my prop blanket from one area of a park to the other. For bigger kids I’ll even ask them to carry my camera bag. They get SOOOO excited when I do that! I’ll even ask them to help make their little sister smile in her photo. I’ll typically ask them to come stand by me and do something silly to get their sibling giggling. Works like a charm.
Let the children be the photographer.
Children love to feel in control. When I have a particularly uncooperative child I’ll level with them. I’ll say: “Okay, how about you take the photo of mommy and daddy.” They will look at me with these big ole eyes of amazement. I’ll hold my camera up to them and have them hit the button to capture the moment. Then when they see what they’ve done they are so proud of themselves. This also creates a bonding moment between you and the child. They start to trust you a bit more since you’ve allowed them to use your camera. Plus, kids love pressing buttons so this is great for them.
Use your imagination.
This tip is especially useful for my style of photography. I love making the ordinary appear magical and whimsical. So during a child photography session I will play pretend with my subjects. If I’m working with a young girl I might ask her to imagine that she’s a princess and we are looking through the woods for a unicorn. Or if I’m photographing a boy I might ask him to listen for the sound of a big dinosaur walking through the forest. But you have to make sure to be a part of the fun. The writers over at the Digital Photography School talk about this all the time. Keep it fun! Don’t make them do all the pretending. If you participate the child will form a really cool bond with you. You guys will leave as new buddies and you’ll have tons of magical photographs.
Get the child involved in the surroundings.
If you are shooting outside there are tons of ways to involve the surroundings. I’ve found that children love nature. When you are taking a photo of a child outside try to find something like a flower or a branch from a bush that they can hold. It will keep them busy while they fiddle with it and it looks great in the photos. When I shoot any Baltimore family photography sessions at this particular gorgeous garden location I always use the flowers and branches around me. Incorporating nature like that will tie your subject in with the background. So you’re creating a more dynamic photo while your subject just thinks they are holding a stick. If you are shooting in a studio then look for props they can hold during their photos. For example you could give them a wooden star or an antique toy. These items are interesting for children to hold and play with and they look great in the photo.
Bring bribing material.
This tip is very important. Children have small attention spans so bringing a bribe item can snap them back into the task at hand. The best item you can bribe a child for a smile with is small candy. This is because it’s quick to eat and yummy so children go crazy for it. I like to use Smarties or gummy bears. These are super quick to eat and you can get a lot for cheap. Once they know they can get one gummy bear for each smile they will give you all the smiles you want!
What you don’t want to use is a lolly pop. Sometimes when a child starts flipping out mom will pull a lolly pop out of her purse and I die a little on the inside. First of all, since the child has now seen the lolly there is no way we can put it back away. And second of all, it takes children FOREVER to eat lolly pops. Now for the rest of the photo shoot little Timmy will be sucking on a lolly pop. Parents, don’t even let me hear you say the word ‘lolly pop’ during a session!
Keep the momentum.
When I arrive on a shoot with small children who tend to get uncooperative I try to keep the energy level high, happy and fast moving. Keeping this quick and happy momentum will keep the children engaged in the photo shoot. If I’m posing a child and they are cranky or frustrated with that pose I will move to something else and come back to that later to try again. You don’t want to camp out in an area if you’re noticing your younger subjects are getting bored. You want to keep them excited and moving. Even if that means backtracking a little bit. You can even do this in a small area. For example, I have this really beautiful location that I love to do fall photography sessions in. It’s this path that is lined with big trees and tons of fall foliage. I included some photos I’ve taken there in a recent blog post. To keep the momentum of my sessions when working in this area I’ll shoot in the middle of the path, then I’ll move to the side where there are lots of branches, then I’ll have them switch from standing to sitting in that same spot. So in that moment I’ve kept up the momentum even though I didn’t move too far away.
Don’t say “Say Cheese.”
I need to talk to the moms and dads for a sec. Please, do me a favor. After you’ve seen me working with your child, engaging with them, playing with them and forming a nice bond with them, please don’t come over my shoulder and yell “Say cheese!” I’m after a genuine, natural and bright smile. When a child say’s “Cheese” they make the fakest, most weird smile I’ve ever seen. To get good results with small children you need real emotion. Toddlers don’t know how to fake a smile. They do know how to belly laugh when someone makes a fart noise though! When you’re photographing uncooperative children try to stay far away from “say cheese.”
Demonstrate what you want them to do.
You can change the whole feel of a photo shoot by demonstrating what you want your subjects to do. This is a good tip for anyone: children, adults, teenagers… the list goes on. It’s normal for us to become nervous when we are being photographed. That goes for young children too. They may not say that they are nervous but you can tell. If they are not sure what they are supposed to be doing the photos you capture will show exactly that. But if you use your body to demonstrate a pose or you show them what your face looks like when you smile then they feel more confident. They know what they are supposed to be doing. I’ve found that when I’m photographing an uncooperative child if I show them my big bright smile they are more likely to show me theirs.
Know your settings.
This tip is geared towards photographers who are using DSLRs. Children move fast and uncooperative children move even faster. As an Annapolis family photographer I find myself photographing children on sunny beaches a lot but in a split second that child might run to a shaded area to check out a cool bush. You could demand that they come back to the beach area but then you risk upsetting them. What you might need to do is quickly adjust those settings to accommodate for the darker light of the shade and photograph them interacting with nature. Knowing your settings like the back of your hand will come in handy big time. So go get that manual and start reading!
These are just some of the many tricks and tips I use in my Maryland child photography. We have to remember that every child is different so every photo shoot is different. If you expect that every session will go perfectly then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Follow these tips that I have described here and I guarantee you’ll see better and better results while photographing little ones.
While reading this did any of these tips stand out to you? Have you used any tips similar to this before? What other tips and suggestions would you add to this list? Comment below with your answers! I LOVE LOVE LOVE hearing from my readers!!!
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