I’ve been photographing my kids, frequently, since my oldest was about 1 and 1/2 years old. That means he has been a constant subject for 8 years, now. His brothers have known no other life besides one with Mom’s face frequently covered with a camera. Over the years I’ve figured out that there are certain periods in kids’ development in which true cooperation for portrait type images is almost impossible to secure. 2 out of 3 kids have moved past those stages and are now, usually, willing and complicit subjects in photographs. Here are 4 tips to inspire kids’ cooperation while photographing:
Bargain/Make it Fun
For my kids, the “no pictures!” stage has consistently been roughly ages 3 through 6. During those years they find sitting still nearly impossible, experience joy in being extremely silly/crazy and are challenging my ideas and plans quite consistently. In order to work with them (and kids that are younger or older!) I have to make sure that the time we spend taking pictures is fun and/or worthwhile for the subject. If I say “5 more pictures and then we’ll do xxx,” I need to stick to that bargain. The child needs to learn to trust that the temporary inconvenience of posed/semi-posed picture taking is worthwhile.
I also find that I have much better luck securing cooperation if the process is silly in a controlled way. Outrageous stories about fantastical creatures residing inside my camera, tickle wars in between shots, requests for crazy movements or expressions (even if my goal is to shoot the in between, less extreme, expressions…) all go over well and work towards consistently reinforcing the idea that cooperating with my photography requests results in a pleasant experience.
Illicit their ideas
Everyone likes to feel as though their ideas are listened to and small children are no exception. Ask your young subject if there is a photo that they would like for you to take. Inquire about their opinions regarding activity or wardrobe. Offer to shoot a few frames of their choosing after they help you capture what you had in mind. Often, I’m pleasantly surprised by the ideas my kids have and I always enjoy how the process of creating together grows a shared interest between the two of us.
Secure the support of another adult
I try to approach photographing my kids with as much positivity as possible, but sometimes they’re having a bad day or otherwise in a snarly mood. In those cases, if my husband is present, he will step in to remind the kids about the fact that photography is something that is very important to me. The lesson extends beyond honoring and supporting my photography, as he reminds them that when you love someone you find ways to show interest in their passions, whether you share those passions or not. Having the support of another adult often makes the difference between the kids running totally off track and them being able to shift their attitudes back to cooperation for the few minutes it takes to create the photographs I had wanted.
Shoot with the long term in mind
If the child just isn’t having it when you’re attempting to take pictures, pack it up. There will be another day. It is easy enough to grow frustrations and resentments in the day-to-day business of parenting and adding the pressure of conforming to rules and specific directions during a photo session can push a kid’s bad day too far.
Although some of it is due to his naturally generous personality, my oldest son is now the most willing photography subject that I have. He has a few specific requests regarding the pictures I shoot and share these days (respect those, parents!) if I ask for “5 minutes to take a few pictures” he’s at my side without complaint almost every time. Know that a child who has been respected and involved in the picture taking process will learn to be interested and come to enjoy the time spent together, 1 on 1 with you. Today’s photo shoot isn’t just about today, it’s about the relationship towards photography that you and your subject will share, for years to come.
Where are you with regards towards your kids’ attitudes about photography?