I have a unique experience when it comes to photographing kids. Prior to dedicating myself full time to photography, I was a nanny for 6 years. My extensive childcare experience has given me an incredible insight into kids. Here are a few tips and tricks I picked up along the way that have helped me with photographing kids and families.
1. Be careful of bribes, they can backfire.
Young children have no concept of time, so delayed gratification usually doesn’t work. Instead, all you get is a hyper-focused child who will ask you every 30 seconds if they can have their treat now.
2. Pre-session questionnaire.
If you’re not sending out a pre-session questionnaire, you are missing out on a valuable opportunity! I have standard questions, like names and phone number, but a couple that I have added recently that has really paid off are asking the kids’ birthdays. Not just their ages, but actual dates of birth. There is a big difference between a just turned two year old, and a two year old that is almost 3. Knowing that information helps me plan and set realistic expectations for the child(ren). I also recently added to my questionnaire a section for parents to describe the personalities of their child(ren). “Tell me about some of your kid’s favorite things, or least favorite things.” This question helps me to relate to the kids once we’re at the session. This brings me to my next tip…
3. Get on the kids’ level!
You have all this information, now use it! For instance, say you learned in your questionnaire that big sis just started 2nd grade. Great! Ask her about it! What’s her favorite subject? Where is the coolest place at the school? What’s her favorite game to play at recess or during P.E.? And maybe little brother is fascinated with dinosaurs, ask him about that! Does he have favorite one? Why? Maybe you pretend to be dinosaurs for a while. Asking kids questions and getting on their level helps them not only feel important, but also distracts them so they don’t feel as nervous. This is a great way for me to get genuine smiles and reactions from the kids. Cheese smiles aren’t something that anyone wants to see in their photos.
4. Be patient.
I usually have a list in my head of “must capture photos” but there is no particular order, and I live for the in-between moments. What I mean by this is if the toddler only wants to be held by mom, don’t force him to do solo shots first. Instead start with some sweet mom and kiddo shots. Maybe then move to family shots, and as the kid warms up, maybe he’ll go to dad or big sis. Those solo shots are much easier to get once the kiddo is more comfortable and secure. But whatever the kids needs are, be willing to meet him where he feels comfortable first. Don’t take away security blankets, or favorite toys. Start with those included, and then maybe try to distract and capture a few without.
5. Have some tricks up your sleeves!
Don’t be afraid to be silly, or LOUD. The sillier, and sometimes louder you are, the sillier and more relaxed kids become. I mean who doesn’t feel relaxed when someone else is acting a fool and taking all the focus?! I also have a few games I sometimes play. Simple things like “Simon Says” and “Ring-around-the-rosy” usually get great reactions. Other fun things that kids react to are telling siblings to whisper funny things in each others ear, patty cake for younger kids, or just singing songs in general. I also do the “tell me if your mom/dad/whoever, is about to get to me.” Where someone pretends to sneak up behind me, and the kids have to warn me. That’s hilarious for younger kids! I’ve also had families give eskimo kisses, piggy back rides, parents tickle kids, or lift them into the air. Anything that evokes genuine giggles and emotions! It’s also not a bad idea to memorize a few kid jokes! (What do you call a pig that knows karate?- A pork chop!)
6. Let them be little.
Remember those in-between moments I mentioned earlier? There is nothing more beautiful or moving to me than to capture a kid just being a kid. And for me that usually doesn’t mean looking at the camera, or necessarily even smiling. We all know how quickly childhood passes, and how much kids change in such a short amount of time!
Have any great tips I didn’t mention? Leave them in the comment section! I’m always looking for different ways to improve my shoots! And don’t forget to head over to my website to see more examples of my kid and family photography! You can also connect with me on Facebook or Instagram.