Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shooting sweet little children

I love photographing kids. Really. It's exhausting, both mentally and physically, and requires great reserves of unbiased patience and resourcefulness. But in the end, it's a really satisfying way for me to spend my time. They're fun, they're creative, they keep you on your toes and, quite importantly, they're all photogenic, which makes creating a good pic that much easier.

We all have the most beautiful, cleverest, best behaved kids in the world, and parents who arrive for a photoshoot with their offspring are no different. And so it's very stressful and a bit embarassing when Junior doesn't display his or her personality at its best. I think we feel judged when our kids behave badly ... or not even badly, just differently to they way in which we expect them to behave. So when your little fairy whips off the fairy dress, attaches it across her shoulders like a cape and runs whooping through the studio like a tiny, demented batman, you might feel a little ... well, fill in the space ... awkward, embarasssed, annoyed, irritated, ready to blow. Or you may find it amusing and wonder why the photographer isn't managing to capture this impressive display of creativity.

Either way, here are a few tips for parents who are heading towards the studio for some family or kiddie pics:

First of all, try not to have any preconceived notions of what the final product will look like. If you have in mind that the kids will sit sweetly next to each other, arms across each other's shoulders, smiling at the camera to create a classic Christmas card or gift for granny pic, chances are they're going to start squabbling the minute you walk through the door and the best you're going to get is one pic of each kid alone.

If you had in mind some lifestyle photograpy, happy kids diving at the camera, chances are they're going to dump their boisterousness at the car and put on their best cheesy smile and stiff pose. Or cling to your knees and hide behind your legs ... yes, your child ... the open, brave, sociable one who walks up to any stranger and starts chatting. And the shy one you expected to have trouble with is on first name terms with the photographer and arranging a coffee date for sometime next week.
Of course, I and any other photographer will work towards whatever you have in mind, but it's the kids who decide in the end. Especially if they're under the age of ten and if there are two or more of them in the studio at the same time.

Try not to say 'smile for the camera' - it invariably gets the opposite effect. or you get that well-rehearsed, cheesy grin that you keep telling them not to use.

Kids have a limited attention span. They may, at first, feel strange and intimidated by the idea of having their pics taken. Then they settle down and cooperate beautifully. And then they've had enough. It may be well before you feel you've had enough. It may be before the photo session is over. But once they've had enough, they've had enough. It's best to just accept it. Bribery, cajoling, anger, warnings ... these mean nothing to a kid who's had enough, and they do very little to help you create a prize photograph.

There might be tears. There might not. You can't predict. Either way, the photographer's been there before, so let it happen, let it pass. Don't feel judged or embarassed. Kids are all pretty much the same and if your kid is behaving in a certain way, chances are others have behaved in the same way in this studio at some stage before.

Don't bring bubblegum, chewing gum or chewy sweets along. They'll be able to think of nothing other than the sweets in your bag and you'll be forced to hand them over in the hope that they'll cooperate. And then you end up with little faces contorted and eyes glazed over by the sheer bliss of chewing the sugary gloop. No pics there! And once they've had one, they'll want just one more ... and maybe just one more. And then the sugar high kicks in ... and we've all been there!

Anything that can spill, will spill. So try to hold back on juices and cooldrinks in bottles and cups that can fall over. And bring a change of clothing along, should you choose to ignore that little bit of advice.

If you're going to be in the pic with the kids, try not to look at the kids and give instructions if it's an 'everybody smiling at the camera' pic you're after. What usually happens is that the moment the kiddie looks at the camera, smiles and looks cute, mom or dad have shifty eyes peering somewhere into the distance or they display an unattractive frown, or a little o-shaped mouth. You focus on the photographer and the photographer will focus on the kids.

And, lastly, go with the flow. A photo shoot is fun. The kids enjoy it, the photographer enjoys it and so should you. Try not to stress. Try not to stage manage and art direct. Just let it happen. Allow the photographer to establish a relationship with the kids and let the shoot evolve by itself. Kids are photogenic, no matter what kind of situation they end up being photographed in. You might not end up with that classic shot that you had in mind when you dialled the photographer's number, but you'll end up with great pics anyway. All those sweet facial expressions, little gestures, even the fake cheesy smiles, add up to create the pics that you'll want to put in the album, frame and hang on the wall, send to the grandparents, and fridge magnet to an appliance.

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