Today's post comes from Betsy Finn from Betsy's Photography. Firstly, congratulations on the recent birth of your second son. I'm really excited that she going to give us all her secret tips on how to photograph children. I for one find it an impossible task. I see a great shot, run off to get the camera and return to mayhem. Or I try to set them up just to discover the kids aren't exactly in the mood. But thanks to Betsy, we will all know...
How to Photograph Kids
Sometimes it seems so tough to get kids to behave for you -- particularly when a camera comes into play. Formerly cheerful children suddenly develop an attitude, an outgoing smile disappears faster than you can blink an eye. It's a catch-22 of the worst sort. Do you threaten and issue consequences for noncompliance? Do you let the behavior slide, in hopes of sneaking in a good picture later? So many decisions.
I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but in working with kids for numerous portrait sessions, I have learned a few things about photographing kids. And while these techniques may not work 100% of the time, chances are pretty good you'll be able to be successful more often than not! In the very least, I hope you'll find these tips helpful in averting disaster the next time you try to take pictures of your children. Or, minimizing the fallout from said catastrophe!
1. Relax (Find Your Inner Calm)
You know how animals can smell your fear? Well, kids have a sixth sense for knowing when something's really important to you, when you are stressed out, and when you need them to cooperate. The more you want something, the more they'll push against you ...just for the sake of it. So, the first thing to do is to find your inner calm. No matter what, you can't get stressed or give a reaction that will satisfy your child's reason for acting out.
Now, I'm not saying you can't express disappointment or talk about consequences, but the manner in which you do so -- your tone, body stance, etc -- are of vital importance.
2. Express Your Expectations Beforehand
Even I am sometimes guilty of the "just one more" syndrome. And even though kids do this too, they dislike having to cooperate without defined time parameters. Make sure to say what you mean, and do what you say. For instance, if I say I'll take five more pictures and then we can be done -- it's vital to be done in five pictures. Trust is key to future cooperation.
Another way you could communicate what you expect from your child is to tell them you want to get a nice photo of them, and then tell them what they will get to do once the photos are done and over with. (Which really is another tip...)
3. Reward Good Behavior
The reward I offer for cooperation depends on the child. And I do make the reward known ahead of time. "If you do a good job of smiling for the camera, we'll do some silly pictures afterwards." It's amazing how often this simple phrase works. Kids really want to express themselves, to be goofy, in front of the camera. There is nothing more exciting for them to giggle in delight as they stick out their tongues and wiggle their fingers behind someone's head. Don't repress that behavior -- just redirect (or delay) it. Require the good, happy smiles first. And then allow the silly pictures once you have the "good" one you want.
4. Say It With a Smile
When I'm working with parents and kids together for a family picture, there's something I've noticed... the parents who nag their children about sitting up, giving a good smile, etc -- their kids are the ones who get standoffish and uncooperative the most easily. It's not about what you say, so much as how you say it. In those situations, I might (with a smile) remind the kids to sit up tall or joke that I need to see their "real" smile.
So, when you remind your kids to sit pretty for the camera, say it with a smile. Be cheerful, give a gentle reminder. It also helps to word your suggestion in the positive rather than the negative. "Sit up straight so we can see how tall you are!" is much more positive than "Don't slouch, you know better." It's all in the delivery. It's all in the delivery. Comments that come across as critical or disapproving will not be as well received as comments that are gentle reminders.
5. Sneak Attack
Sometimes it just works better to sneak candid pictures instead of trying to get your kids to smile. Get them engaged in an activity, then casually start taking snapshots of your kids while they are engaged in whatever they're doing. Sometimes they'll notice, but I've found that if I'm nonchalant about the whole thing, the kids will be too.
Sometimes, they'll even be excited to see the pictures you've taken of them! If getting candid shots is proving difficult because of an uncooperative child, I will sometimes offer to take a video of the activity and then let them watch. Of course, you can take a few still photos too, they won't know!
6. Let Them Have a Turn Behind The Camera
This one works wonders. Kids want to do whatever mom or dad are doing, right? Well, why not let them have a shot? I'll barter sometimes with a child if necessary: "let me take your picture, then you can take mine!" Or, for a younger child, I'll offer for them to help me take some pictures after they give me a nice picture.
We teach our kids the value of sharing... and this can be a good time to reinforce good social skills!
In Case of Failure
Now, as I said, I'm not promising a complete success rate all of the time. But, hopefully these tips will help you to have an easier time photographing your children and getting those smiles that all too often disappear in front of the camera.
Keep in mind, your kids may need to acclimate to your new attitude when it comes to picture taking. They may have been conditioned to expect a certain fuss or struggle over family photo time, and when it changes, they will be confused and unsure of how to react. You may need to exercise patience; but with time, I hope you will find pictures of your kids come more easily for you.
Betsy Finn is a portrait photographer who lives in Michigan with her husband, two boys, and two cats (Betsy's story). Her photographs have received international recognition. In 2011, the Professional Photographers of America named Betsy one of the top 10 emerging photographers in the country. Visit BPhotoArt.com to Betsy's fine art and portrait photographs, or read as she blogs about parenting, capturing memories, and finding contentment in the journey of life. Follow Betsy on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.