My photography self is completely different than my normal self. I seem to really get into character and turn “on” when behind a camera. I am a pretty laid back, quiet person that has a hard time getting to know strangers but get me behind a lens and I am full of life, funny, bright, full of laughs, and a true smile capturer. Be willing to step into a role (not a roll of film) and really ham it up if you must in order to get the shot.
When photographing families with small children (between 4 and 10ish), I generally try to warm up to the kids right off the bat. Telling them that they are in charge, asking who their favorite hero or princess is, showing them pictures I’ve taken on my camera, giving them a “job”, and anything I can to get them to warm up and not be shy. I tell them corny jokes, ask if they are in their 20s or married, ask about their spouse, stuff that will get them laughing, looking at me like I’m crazy, and opening up. At this point they generally will begin talking nonstop like we are best friends or avoiding me like the plague. Seriously, the sooner you can make a connection with the kiddos, the smoother the photo shoot will go.
Let them know that they are in charge and that when they are done, we can all go home. Bring some fruit snacks, cookies, or candy and don’t be afraid to bribe or reward them, if Mom says it’s okay. Be prepared to make fart noises, take turns making silly faces with them, ask them to do their favorite superhero pose or twirl like a princess. Take turns laughing the loudest and the softest. See who can jump the highest. Pretend they’ve disappeared, and you can’t see them through the lens and then act surprised when they are where they are supposed to be.
The more you make the photo shoot into a fun experience, the less anxious the parents will be and the less it will feel like work, as well. Constantly getting on to little Jimmy and trying to get little Susie to look at the camera can be very trying for the parents. Work a genuine pose into the mix here and there but working around the child’s personality will bring out their character as well as the whole family’s genuine reactions. I had a kiddo that was all about the fun and games and refused to do a genuine pose. He was standing on top of something behind his parents and grandparents with his cowboy hat in front of his face. I took the shot any way, praising him on what a nice hat he had. That was one of the mom’s favorite poses as she said, “that is SO HIM!” I also have one with him wearing his cowboy hat after he had stuffed it full of leaves. Truly, I can’t make this stuff up! Any photoshoot that I do with small children that doesn’t end up with the youngest in a meltdown is a success.
Children have very short attention spans. There is so much to do and see, they have so very much energy, and some very strong-willed children seem to love nothing more than to push everyone’s buttons. If you have problems with getting everyone to look at you, get them all looking at something else by allowing the child to point something out or have them all look at the youngest, the one that is the bossiest, yells the most, laughs the most, or has the stinkiest feet. You have to be interesting, flexible, quick, funny, silly, and genuine all at the same time.
Tickling wars are great, but it is really hard to capture it all when everyone starts wiggling and turning to and fro. I save these as a last resort. More often I will ask the dad to quit looking like he’s constipated, ask who farted, or get everyone to say a silly word. It’s not so much the initial look that I love the most but the ones that follow. These are the true gems. Kids love being kids, but they don’t like being told what to do all the time, being talked down to, or sitting around taking boring pictures. Make it fun for everyone, get as many candids and posed images as you can in the allotted time, and everyone walks away smiling.