I can’t claim to be an expert. But throughout my photography career I’ve amassed a bag of tricks I use to get kids to cooperate with photos. I grew up in a large family and my mom was also a very good photographer. So I learned some from her, some from hanging with my nieces and nephews, and some from just plain old remembering what it was like to be a kid. So here’s my top advice to parents and photographers.
Keep Photo Sessions Light/Happy
Some photographers hate photographing kids. And some parents get very frustrated with uncooperative kids. But the best results I’ve ever seen/gotten are when everyone stays cheerful. No threatening, no walking away. No weird looks at the child. Kids are sensitive to non-verbals. They may not seem like it, but they read adults very efficiently, because they can’t always understand the words. The best sessions I’ve had are when everyone is determined to stay happy and make it a positive experience. Even if the children fall apart, we can regroup, run around for a bit, and find angles we can get.
Mercy tactic: For a typical family, I’ll actually start off with some sort of activity. Having a photo taken is a rather awkward task for a child who’s not used to it. Something to do while having your picture taken is a big stress-reliever. So I encourage distractions at first. Taking a walk. Having pets around. Toys. Usually after awhile everyone kind of settles in and I can get real expressions.
Don’t Set High Expectations for the First Shoot
The best photos I’ve ever taken were candid or of families I’ve photographed before. Kids learn and remember. I always try to make photos a positive experience, so even if everything falls apart the first time, the next time they will be excited for photos. I LOVE it when parents are ready to let go and say, “We’ll get what we get. It’s not the best day, but it’s accurate.” It allows everyone to relax a bit and leads to better photos.
In the family photo below on the right, the parents had given up because the girls didn’t want to be photographed. But after I photographed the parents, I noticed the girls peeking out the windows. They were curious and, seeing their parents having fun, they kind of wanted to participate. So I invited them to come out and see if they liked it. And they did! We ended up with some great photos, although they weren’t really dressed or prepared for it!
Pay Attention to the Kids
I was shy as a kid, but even so, it felt good to have a “safe stranger” pay attention to me. So when I first meet a family, I always try to learn names, meet their eyes, and get to know them a little bit. Sometimes I let them play with some of my stuff, just to feel a bit more familiar with what I’m doing. I’ll let them see what’s on the back of my screen, let them press a few buttons, maybe help them take a photo, etc.
Prep the Kids
Parents who prepare their children are kings and queens in my book. One genius of a mother was even making an effort to get her kids to pose for the cell phone camera in the months before our shoot. Amazing new moms and dads feed their children, find the sleep cycle where they’re happiest, and bring their favorite toys. This makes so much of a difference with how easy it is to get good expressions. Sometimes (and I totally get this), their mood is inevitable and unpredictable. But I’ve had so many sessions go amazing simply because somebody got fed right before I came.
That’s it for now! Please comment if you have any tricks or tips for parents or photographers who are trying to get their kids to cooperate!