1 – Kids Don’t Like DictatorsChildren are used to being told what do to. All day long, it’s all they hear. “Sit down,” “Be quiet,” “Don’t hit your sister,” and “Spit that out!” Wven though they don’t like being told what to do, they’ll expect the same treatment from you. You’ll find, however, that you’re more likely to get great photos out of them if you shatter those expectations and treat them as equals.
Children like being helpers and they like being grown-up. So give them what they want. Instead of saying, “Sit down there and look at the camera,” you might try something like, “Hey buddy, would you help me out by sitting right here so I can see if the light is right?” In that phrase, you made them the big helper. You may already know that the light is right, but the child doesn’t know that. All he knows is that you needed his help and you see him as an equal. Another technique is asking the child where they’d like their picture taken. This gives them adult-like control. Give them options though or you run the risk of them picking a bad spot. Point out a few spots that you’re okay with and let them choose from those. Even go as far as to ask their advice when it comes to posing. Give them a little control and they’ll be happy to give some back when you need it. I once had a three year-old tell me that he wanted to do his epic mad face for a pose. I told him, “That’s a great idea! Let’s do it!” After I took a picture of that epic mad face and I then said we should try out a few other faces just to make sure we get them all. He was more than happy to let me pick the next face.
That’s okay! Some of your best shots could be the ones where the child isn’t looking at the camera. Being a kid means being on the go, constantly exploring, and living for the very next moment. Allow the child to move around the location and explore. Your job is to follow and click away. Once in a while, they may look directly into your lens and make a connection and that’s awesome. More than not, you’ll get shots of them whizzing past or looking down at a flower or hugging mom’s leg. All great shots that show what being a child is all about.
3 – Use Their Inner ActorGetting genuine smiles out of a child is difficult at times. It seems that as children get older their smiles get more forced. So how do you instruct a child to smile naturally? Even adults have a hard time with that. One effective technique is to work with the little actor that lives at the heart of so many kids. Try asking your kid clients to give you a fake laugh. Go as far as to model how the laugh should go. The awesome thing is that when you ask someone, child or adult, to fake laugh, it’ll make them feel silly and then they’ll really laugh. There is a smile that happens toward the end of a laugh and that is where their natural smile lives. This technique can work even on shy children.
4 – Monkey See, Monkey DoMost children, especially young ones, don’t really excel at following directions. If you’re trying to pose them and you’re giving them the same directions you’d give adults, you’ll end up with a very confused child who pulls off a really weird pose. If you’re photographing children and they’re okay to sit and pose for you, model every pose you want from them. Children can mimic like pros, so use that gift. If you want them to sit cross-legged with their elbows on their knees, get down and do it yourself. This goes for facial expressions too. Say you want them to smile, but not a big toothy smile. Show them the smile you want. They’ll give you their own version of it, but you’ll get what you’re going for. You may be exhausted at the end of the shoot after moving around so much, but in many ways, it’s easier than trying to verbally instruct a child into a pose.
5 – Give Them a Break
We all have our limits. Children are no different. If you find that your kid client is getting tired or upset, it’s time for a break. Take them by the hand and explore your location together. If the parents are okay with it, break out some snacks and have a sit. Talk to them and let them relax. Many photographers are worried about the use of time during a shoot and may be reluctant to do something like smell the flowers with a three year-old when they should be getting those precious shots mom and dad want. That’s understandable. But great photographers understand that you’re more likely to get the shot you’re after if you work with the client, not against them. In fact, you might find the perfect shot during the little break. Perhaps the child is picking flowers or collecting rocks and because they’re so happy, they look at you and click! You’ve got the shot. If you’re doing a family shoot, a break could mean that you go off to photograph another member of the family while the little one gets to sit back and relax a bit.