Taking pictures of kids can be a real pain.
There. I said it.
Taking pictures of kiddos can be so gratifying…their true authentic joy, fun personalities, and sense of wonder. It’s a photographers dream and privilege to record it.
Working with kiddos can also be maddening! I’m not a big old grump. I’m really not. I’m just being honest…trying to get that perfect shot of kids can sometimes prove to be a challenge.
If they don’t listen, are bored, or just plan don’t want to be there, can prove to be a disaster.
In my 10 years of being a professional photographer I’ve dealt with the whole spectrum of “helpfulness”, from totally cooperative and accommodating to I want to pull my hair out by the roots.
With that said, here are my coveted, tried and true ways to get kids on YOUR side so that you can capture those dream photos. (spoiler: it does NOT include candy. 😉 )
1| Distract them!
Kids are at their best (and most genuine) when they’re doing something they want to do. …Which, let’s face it…that means when they’re doing something fun.
When we try to “pose” them or make them sit/stand in a certain way, in clothes that they hate, you won’t get the look you’re going for. (Unless that look is uncomfortable boredom.)
My secret is to be a little fly on the wall and photograph them just being themselves. Let them be kids while you observe and document.
There are a couple of ways to do just that without being noticed. The first way is to distract them. Give them something to play with or something to do. For example, playing on the beach, on in a toy room. Be sneaky and they won’t even realize you’re there.
I took this one of Lily in Hollywood Studios at Disney World. (below) It had rained that day and she kept asking to jump in the puddles, so I finally let her go.
She was having so much fun , totally unscripted.
I got my phone out and snapped away. She had no idea I was even taking her picture because she was so enthralled with what she was doing…
One way to be in the action of taking their picture without being in their faces is to use a long lens so you don’t have to be right in their faces.
Here’s an example of using my 85mm lens. I was able to get a good close-up shot without interfering with their play.
With each shot, I was probably about 20 feet away when I took the picture. This allowed them to have some independence to do their own thing without me being in their face with my camera.
They essentially forgot about me. 🙂
2| Get Down on their level
As adults we tend to always have a downward view of our kids because, obviously, they are shorter that we are. But when it comes to photography, your pictures can be enhanced by getting down to the kids eye level.
That way your photos are taken the perspective of the child.
This is also a good way of getting eye contact with younger kids, babies, and toddlers. When they see that you’re right down there with them, they tend to look your way and feel more connected to you, the photographer.
I’ve been known to kneel, sit, and even lay down. Whatever I can do to get the shot, right?! Don’t be afraid to move around.
The kids will love it and you will be able to capture angles you might otherwise miss.
3| Build a Relationship
It’s so important to have some type of connection with the child to really get a great picture.
Kids are perceptive. They know if you’re being fake with them. They want genuiness. (not sure if that is really a word…) If you don’t have the child’s trust, it will show through in the pictures.
Some ways to quickly build trust with kids are to sing the theme song from their favorite show. (c’mon, EVERYONE knows the theme song to Phineus and Ferb. And if you don’t, you should, it will make you smile.)
Another way is to ask them questions…
What’s your teachers name? What’s your favorite food? What’s your favorite TV show?
Careful through…once they start you may not get them to stop talking! This doesn’t have to take a long time at all. You can get a lot accomplished when you give them eye contact and show them you’re listening and interested in what they have to say.
When they know you have a sincere interest in them…you’ll be playing on the same team. They will will be great helpers and want to cooperate.
Now let’s talk about your own kids.
That’s a whole other beast.
Here’s my advice to you: Try not to be a crazy momzilla who is forcing them to act and look a certain way just to get a good picture. It will backfire.
Believe me, I know. Oh, how I know!
More times than I care to admit I’ve tried to force my kids to “be happy”, “be natural”, “hug your brother like you mean it”, etc… Unfortunately, more times than not, those pictures are usually the ones that don’t turn out.
Take a deep breath, and do your best to have fun with them. You will get far more pictures than when you try and force the situation.
The following pictures I was able to get because I took the time to get to know each child. I made it about them and put my agenda second.
4- Don’t Be Set On the Perfect Picture
If you’re hyperventilating right now, know that I was right there with you.
I’m a bit of a perfectionist. A bit.
I know what I like and I work hard to obtain it. So the thought of having to let go of the exact idea and vision of how I want a photoshoot to go, made me cringe.
It’s good to have a vision.
It really is. We need to have goals and ideas of how we what our photos to turn out. However, don’t be so rigid and stuck to your goal that you miss out on some real-life, candid moments.
Kids are kids and sometimes the best pictures are the ones where they are totally and completely being themselves. Clients have told me that some of their all-time favorite pictures I’ve captured of their kiddos were the ones that showed their true life.
The ones that maybe wouldn’t win an award but most definitely would win your heart.
Here’s some of my favorite un-perfect shots I took of my own kids…
This first one is of Lily when I was trying to get a super fun, happy picture of her swinging.
She wasn’t having it. We were living in Orlando at the time and it was super hot and humid…in November. She had had it with the weather and couldn’t muster a smile to save her.
So I got this instead:
Here’s a couple other’s of Lily who was uncooperative a different day but for the same issue…heat and humidity! She was completely unenthused about smiling or anything of the sort…
Here are some examples of Lyndon being himself, a bit uncooperative, yet filled with so much personality:
5| Ditch the Parents
I know this sounds harsh but bear with me…
When I do a photo shoot for other people’s kids I like to take the child just slightly out of the parents sight. Okay, after typing that does sounds a little creepy.
Let me explain… The reason I like to do this is so that the child will LOOK AT ME.
There is nothing more frustrating than trying to get a child’s attention, aka: eye contact, when the parents are also calling out his name, thus breaking the eye contact with you and landing it on the parent(s). Plus, when you get one-on one with the child it also gives you time to build trust without having the watchful eye of the parents.
Don’t be afraid to suggest the one-on-one time.
Every single parent I have asked if I could take a little walk with their child has been more than happy to oblige. I think they almost feel like they’re “off the hook” so to speak as well. The parents tend to feel it’s their job to get their child to smile for you so when I say they can take a break, they usually feel relieved.
Here are some great shots that I was able to get as I stepped away from the folks and was able to get their full attention:
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Welcome to Being Katie Brave! I’m so happy to have you here. If you’re looking to take better pictures (stress-free!), get the inside scoop on all things Disney World, or be inspired to live YOUR best life (even if especially if it scares you to death) …you’re in the right place. I ’ve written 3 photography books, our family lived at Disney World for 2 years, and wear my heart on my sleeve…all of which would never have come to pass if I didn’t push past my fears and step in the darkness. Join me as I share my adventure of life, one post at a time.