Photography has been my love for the last 7 years. I first started with Landscape photography I truly enjoyed setting up my tripod and loosing myself in the viewfinder and painting with light…it was a very magical feeling for me. I wanted to learn all that I could about exposure and working with different lighting situations. It was while working with light that I learned how to create beautiful illustrations that focused on children. Susi Lawson first introduced me to this art and she opened a whole new world for me. While taking just a simple photo of a child I began to relize that I really enjoyed working with kids and I wanted more. I really wanted to try my hand at photographing children. Like any starter photographer …I thought… KIDS!, EASY PEASY! Not a problem! I was so wrong :) Patience is key with kids and yes, they can smell fear :)
I have fallen in love with children’s photography and working with children, and I love even more to share with others what I have learned along the way. I welcome emails and try to help as best I can. I’ve collected a few of them and the most common messages that I receive are as follow, how do I get my little clients to look so happy on camera. Do you pose children? What do you recommend kids wear on a shoot? How long are your shoots and how many images do you show clients? Keep reading to have a peek at how I work with children :)
Well..the truth is sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not and I have to work hard to get the smiles. The key is finding what interests your little client. We have to remember how scary or stressful it is for a child to have to smile and interact with a stranger..let alone a stranger holding a large camera in front of their face. I really need them on the day of the shoot to feel like they know me and can laugh with me. This is why I feel that a getting-to-know-the-client consultation is important. Not only is this informative for the parents but helps the child grow more comfortable with who you are. During this time I get a sense if they are shy, talkative or full of giggles. This will also help the little ones know me, what I look like and what I sound like. The clothing I wear is important (now don’t shake your heads…Yes it is! :) ). A child is more likely to approach a person in color than a person dressed in black or dressed conservative. Most often you will also find me with a hello kitty hanging off my portfolio or somewhere on me. The kids love her! Knowing there name I still procced to ask. I find kids love to answer questions and they love to share things about themselves and their families. If they are not too shy then I will ask them what color they like and if they have favourite toys. I am trying to get to know them so that on the day of the shoot we have something to talk and giggle about.
During the initial consultation I go through a small list of items with the parents with what they should bring with them, included are a few small trinkets or toys ..it has to be something the child favours…something small ( kids over 5) they can hold in their hand ( larger toys for younger children). You will see that kids love to talk about their car or ball and will smile for you while talking about it. For example: if a child brings a small ball I will ask them how high can the ball go and of course the first thing they do is bounce it. Awesome! Then I ask them to hold it in their hand and TELL ( not show me) me how high it can go. The child will focus on his/her thoughts ….be patient (sometimes you have to wait). The smile will come when they come up with something terribly silly..if they need a bit of help, help them out and tell them “Can it bounce up to Mars?” The response is usually a smile with “NO! ” … and then giggles. Another technique I use is talking about farts or, better yet, asking them what mischievous things they do to their siblings or parents. For example I will ask them if they freeze their sisters shirts or put spaghetti in their pant pockets and what do their siblings do when they find out. This usually makes them giggle and smile. They will think you are super silly!Now there are times when I meet a child and they are talkative and full of giggles and then the day of the shoot they shut down. The reason for this is the new surroundings. It is not familiar to them and they are not comfortable, for little ones they are making strange, and you have to respect this. I have found it takes a little one around 10 -15 minutes to get comfortable, and for some…longer. What helps in situations like this is asking the parents to bring along some toys from home to give the child familiarity and comfort. Let them move around the space, explore the area and play with their toys. Keep your distance and start taking some pictures, look for indications from your little client if it bothers them that you are photographing them. If they do not like it, step back. You want their trust. Patience goes a long way working with children… before you know it you will get several smiles and possibly hear the giggles you heard the first time you met.
Should you pose a child? I work with children in different areas of photography. One thing I have learned (regular shoot or model shoot) is that if a child does not want to be posed or photographed, it won ‘t happen (I never push a child or ask for more than they can give). On a few occasions I have had to reschedule so that the little one became more comfortable and familiar with me. I do not pose a child who is under six. I will show them the area and mark it where I would love for them to play and talk to me. ( Kids are visual ,green painters tape and “X” marks the spot). For older children, seven to ten, I will try to pose them a bit. I work on foot placement first ( a great tip I learned from Bambi Cantrell). Check to see what the arms and hands are doing? Get them to hold on to an element that is around them or pointing to body parts for younger ones. For something different I may ask them to try and see if they can spot a bird up in the sky. I point in the direction that I want them to look. This avoids me having to touch them (adjusting their chin). I try to respect my little clients and not touch them if I do not have to. When I pose them I show them and they follow along. Why don’t I touch them, you ask? Well..most kids do not like being touched. They like their space like adults do. This doesn’t mean we don’t high five, this just means I won’t go up to them and touch their chin to move it up slightly. If I do have to touch them I always ask them first and tell them what I am doing.
An important message that needs to be given to children when you are working with them is to always make sure to give them positive reinforcement. “Great job!” “Awesome!” let them know they are doing a wonderful job…even if they are not full of smiles..if they just look your way let them know how great they are doing. Now if you find yourself with an itty bitty or older child who will just not smile. You are not alone! I give a child around 25 minutes to warm up to me. If I see that the child’s mood has not changed by 25 minutes then I will reschedule the shoot and hope by the third meeting they will have warmed up to me. If their mood is in the middle + parents okay and I feel that I can obtain beautiful images for my client then I proceed and gently talk to them and try to capture them the best that I can.
Dress up or Casual? Clothing is important. When I meet with my clients I give then a package filled with information of what to expect and what to wear resources. I love color so I encourage my clients to have their kids in colorful outfits! In saying that I ask the parents to dress their children in clothes the children feel most comfortable. If a little girl is wearing a dress and she hates dresses…your shoot may not go as wonderful as you had hoped and the smiles are a lot of work to come by. The reason for this is your little client is not comfortable and it will show in your images. Remember you are not shooting the clothes…you are capturing your little clients beautiful little smiles and personality.
Finally, another couple of quick questions ask regarding photographing children is the duration of my shoots and how many images do I show my clients? I only shoot for as long as the child will allow me to, and when they are done. I am done! I will not push them to be infront of the camera. If need be I reschedule.
Typically my shoots run like this ( how much the child can give) 1-5 years of age 30minutes ( I let parents know I block 1 hour but 30 minutes is more common for little ones under 3)
6-9 years of age 40-1 hour ( changing locations really helps this age group and introducing props at different times)
10-13 years of age 1 hour ( really important to let them be who they are and get them involved in the poses)
14-16 years of age 2 hours ( my experience has been that this age group loves to have their picture taken with a focus…a theme and it does not have to be an extreme theme or expensive set up)
As for the images…I try really hard not to bombard the parents with a lot of them. I normally show up to 30 fully edited images in a slideshow using Royalty free music purchased at Triple Scoop.
The best piece of advice that I give and will go far during a shoot with a child is let the kid in you come out and play!
Get down to their level, relax and have fun!