I have been photographing kids for close to 7 years now. With each year that passes, my love for photographing children grows stronger. Believe me, when I first started though, my photoshoots with children felt completely out of control and I felt totally worn out because the kiddos were literally running circles around me. I couldn’t even get them to sit still for one quick shot, let alone get them to have a sweet natural smile towards the camera.
Well… that all changed once I learned to work “with” the little ones and find techniques to get them to do what I wanted them to do without them even realizing it! Below are some things you can do to make your shoot go smoother.
First off, you need to love kids! You will learn extremely fast that you need to have a special place in your heart for kids to be able to get those perfect little smiles from them. If you have no tolerance for them running around screaming, you’re not going to last. They will pick up on your stress and frustration and make the shoot that much harder for you. Send out a questionnaire before the shoot to find out the children’s likes and dislikes. (ballet, soccer, teddy bears, kites etc…) You can incorporate these props to show what the kids are interested in at the time of the shoot, or if they have something there to play with, it will only make your job easier. Your goal should be to make friends with them before you even begin shooting. They need to feel safe with you and know that they can have a good time. Don’t just show up and start shooting them and begging them to smile for the camera. They will do the complete opposite! Try to keep your camera hidden for a few minutes. Get down on their level and play. Once you are ready to start shooting, show them your camera and ask if they want to take the first picture. If they are really young, be sure you help them hold the camera, but let them look through the viewfinder and click the shutter. Once you praise their amazing picture, they will get so excited and become puddy in your hands!
Here is a short list of quick tricks I have up my sleeve to get those cute little smiles from them…You’ve got to play games with them! One of my best tricks is to play “red light – green light” with them. They get super excited running towards you (which makes for great smiles) then when you yell “red light!” They stop and laugh and it’s just enough time to snap a picture. Balance something on your head while you’re taking the picture and pretend like it’s going to fall off (be as dramatic as you can) and they will just stare right at you in amazement. Make loud noises! My favorites are pretending to sneeze (babies love this one) and pretending to be a monkey. I am actually quite proud of how real my monkey calls have become over the years! For small babies, bring some type of squeaky toy. Be sure there are no dogs around though – I have definitely been tackled by overly excited dogs running over to snatch up my rubber ducky in the middle of a shoot! Try to get the kids to help you with something. Ask them to try and search for a 4-leaf clover on the ground or to help you find the most beautiful flower, or to even smell the flowers and tell you what they smell like. Whisper a secret into their ear that only they can hear. A good one is to tell them to pick a bunch of flowers and bring them over to their Mom. They will be so excited to surprise Mommy and it makes for the cutest picture! For family shoots, some of the best smiles come from “tickle time!” Get the parents to tickle the kids or even switch it up and have the kids tickle Mom & Dad. Another great one is to have the Mom & Dad lay on the ground and have the kids tackle them.
Another piece of advice for baby shoots is to bring a bunch of your own props. I always remind my clients to bring along toys, props etc, and almost every time they show up empty handed. It’s best to be prepared and you will feel better knowing that you have a variety of things to photograph the baby in. (old wooden boxes, wagons, baskets, furry rugs etc.)
Lastly, be sure to keep your camera up and ready to shoot at ALL times. They may only smile once during your game playing and you want to be sure you capture it! I keep my camera in back button focus mode and on AI Servo at all times so I can just follow them around and keep my focus locked in on them.
I know I have only shared a few tips that you can use, but once you try them out on your own, I guarantee you will notice a difference on how you shoot and the wonderful, natural expressions you will get from the kids. Good luck!
Written by Kacie Jean