Photographing kids can go one of two ways.
A. The session is full of laughs, precious moments, connection, and fun
B. Akin to suffering through bad karaoke night at a bar: awkward, painful, and exhausting.
I prefer option A. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks that never fail to achieve positive results. Because I began learning photography through commercial studios, I gathered a lot of info about what I did not like as well, which can be just as beneficial. I’m talking about those mall studios that set up corny backdrops, wrangle you down to a laser X in the center, and act as if they get paid by the amount of teeth shown per photo. I’m exaggerating, obviously, but at the same time … yep I’ve been there. There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room (literally or figuratively) when you have a small, limited time and space, specific rules to follow, stationary equipment, and stressed out parents who are expecting a smiling toddler with perfect posture (even though they woke him up from his nap on the way there and he has dirty dipper.)
I’m not trying to say that this type of photography does not have its place, because it certainly is not always a torture chamber. My family had photos done at just these types of studios my whole life and they were a cost effective way to show us together at different stages. But personality? Connection? Creativity ?. You’re not going to find that under studio constraints, not unnecessarily because of the photographer, but because of the context. The joy of on-location, customized photography is the freedom to get more.
So, given the unpredictable nature of kids, how do you be sure your on-location experience goes differently ??
1. Give up control! I know it’s hard as a parent to relinquish control over your kids, especially when you want them to have in front of someone new. But honestly, the best thing you can do is just step back and let the photographer handle the shoot. He / she is not judging your parenting and not expecting your kids to be perfect, so do not try to force the kids to sit still, smile, stop running around, say cheese for the lollipop … it only makes them want to do the opposite! Always.
You can not take a kid to the beach and then tell them not to touch the sand. They’re kids. And if you want photos that really capture them, whatever stage they are in, you have to let them BE KIDS. Candids are some of the best shots and if you let your photographer just play and connect with them for a little while and get used to that big, funky camera pointed at their face, by the middle of the shoot, the kids are a whole lot more willing to trust and listen to him / her.
2. Do not stress over time. With on-location shoots, one luxury you’re paying for is your photographers’ time and he / she is in control of that! The time always goes by faster than you think so there is no need to try to force something. Kids are squirmy? They feel like playing hide and seek for a minute? Why not! Let them jump around a little, run in circles, get out their silliness without worrying that they’re wasting precious time. It will, however, be wasted, if they get upset and overwhelmed and hide behind a tree for 20 minutes because they think everyone is being mean and scary. If they are in a good mood, you will get good pictures, so just have fun with it!
3. Bring something your kid loves to hold, play with, sit in … something familiar! New places can sometimes really intimidate or overwhelm kids with stimulation. Having something they really love handy will make sure you’ll be able to use it to get their attention, at least at some point. It’s also these little fragments- her favorite blanket, the toy truck he takes everywhere … these things are not just props, they’re reminders of a stage of life! How pretty would it be to have your son or daughter sitting on rocking chair from the nursery out in a tall, colorful field … ooooh, inspiration!
4. Speak up if there’s something you do not like or if you’re uncomfortable with something. Does she really HATE laying on her belly? Did he just get injured in the t-ball game so he can not run? Sometimes with newborns, parents love naked baby shots but others don’t- be up front with your photographer so he / she knows what to ask / not ask or suggest during the shoot.
Bottom line, it’s all about communication and openness. Great pictures come from great experiences, so be open about your needs and wants and then let the rest unfold! The best part about taking pictures while you’re actually having fun is that no ‘cheeeeese’ is invited.