So here is what I am good at.
I LOVE photographing kids. Kids by themselves, in particular. It's one thing to try to capture a "family spirit", which is why sometimes getting good, natural pictures out of kids is hard in a group setting because let's face it, who walks around all day with their family wearing giant plastered smiles and stiff backs? That's not your natural environment with your children. Kids don't like family pictures, parents like family pictures. I work around it when I can, and more often than not, if I can convince the parents to give the reign of control over "smiles" to me, it works much better.
SO: here is my post about taking pictures of kids. Believe it or not, there are a few tricks you can use, some of which I have stolen, some of which have just evolved out of my experience with children. The ones I have stolen come from this lady right here:
Amy Wenzel Photography
Click on this link and you will find tips on interacting with kids that have saved my life a couple of times during a shoot. She is AH-MAY-ZING!!! She is my childhood inspiration for photography. Some of the looks she gets out of kids are KILLER. Like knock you off your socks incredible. Warning: if you go over to her blog, you may never return to mine. Nothing will ever be the same again, including my blog, so just make sure to wish me a fond farewell before you head over.
Here are a few things you might glean from me if you decided to at least finish reading this post first before you headed over to Amy's.
First of all, it is a common misconception that you, and you alone (parent or photographer) are responsible for making this child as happy as he can possibly be for an entire hour so that your shoot will just turn out to be this life-changing magical shoot. As a parent, your first instinct is to bribe them. Now, don't misunderstand me, bribery can be an effective tool sometimes, but save it for your final guns. The second you say, "Smile BIG and I'll get you your favorite ice cream!", the first thing the child thinks is that this is something I have to do, in which case, sometimes kids just aren't old enough to know how to smile naturally. Which is why you get those HUGE cheesy, mouth full of teeth and "dead-fish" eyes smile. You know exactly what I'm talking about. You said "SMILE", this is what a smile means to them sometimes. And you know exactly what happens next: "Bobby, not that kind of smile, a nice smile! NO, I said a nice smile! Okay, no ice cream for you if you can't smile!" and suddenly the kid is not liking what is going on and once that wall is put up, goodbye life-changing magical shoot.
So let's talk about what you should do instead. If they are your own kids, take out the camera for moments other than just the important, stressful, necessary pictures (first day of school, holidays, etc.). Get them comfortable around the camera. Don't make them pose for every shot. Tell them to be goofy. Let them dress up in funny costumes. Let them see the pictures and laugh with them at their funny poses. Make it a fun experience.
If they are not your kids, STAY COOL. Be easy going. Laugh with them. Get down on their level!! Physically and mentally when necessary. Physically by kneeling or lying down, mentally by playing some of the games mentioned in Amy's post. Tell them how great they look when you are looking at them through the camera. And don't sit there and say "SMILE!" over and over and over and OVER again. My favorite shots of kids are when I tell them, "You don't have to smile for this shot. Just relax your face and look right in the middle of my camera."
Bam. Gorgeous. This works excellently with teen/adult portraits as well. The best way sometimes to get kids to interact with you in the camera is to tell the parents they are off the hook and go take a little walk with them (if parents are okay with this). Case in point: I do this frequently, but here is my most recent example. This lil' tyke is FULL of energy and his parents do an excellent job of directly that energy constantly in a productive direction. He's smart, but he's got his own agenda. Mom and Dad were doing a lot to try to get him to focus on the camera during together shots, but when it came time for just his shot, I sat down with him for a moment and showed him a really cool old gas pump that was near the location we were looking at. As soon as I had his attention, I turned over my shoulder and asked Mom and Dad, "Is it okay if we go for a little walk?" to which they happily complied as they were changing little sister. I took him around the corner, and things quieted down immediately and then I beefed him up and told him how handsome he looked in the shirt he was previously refusing to wear. He just smiled and picked up sticks to play with. Then I got his attention again and told him the magic phrase, "Just relax and look at the camera for this one." Gotta be quick because it only lasted about a milisecond, but suddenly you have a look that reminds you that beneath all the craziness is a reservoir of calmness that you tap into for just a small moment.
And then he's right back to wear he started.
And you follow them around and play games (peekaboo with the little ones is cliche, but generally a winner). Very rarely do I need to reschedule a shoot when a little one is just not comfortable enough and expressing it in an extreme refusal to participate in the shoot. And you know what? You say, "Okay, let's just reschedule". Inconvenient, yes, but who wants to pay for a shoot where your kid is being a boob through the whole thing? I would want to get my money's worth out of it, yes?
Whether you are a parent or a photographer, you will see little success in your work if you don't know how to interact with your subjects. Technicality will only get you so far, end of the line. So break out of your shell and learn some good knock knock jokes.
Over and out.