One thing I am often asked is: “How do you get your son to cooperate for pictures?”
One of the things I have learned as a mother and photographer is that when you allow a child to play, explore and imagine freely, you end up with a kid who is pretty content. When you engage with them in their activity it builds their confidence and trust in you, making them even more easygoing. Even though I am speaking to the concept of child leading, I firmly believe that children should have rules, routine, and boundaries, because once those expectations are established and understood, it makes for a child who is secure in his or her world.
Have Your Camera Ready
Before you do anything, make sure you have a fresh memory card and a charged battery. The worst thing when taking pictures is when you see the perfect shot and your card is full or your battery is dead. Keep your camera close by and take a couple of quick test shots just to make sure the settings on your camera look good. This way when you see that moment you want to grab, you are ready to take that picture!
Don’t Dictate How They Should Play
I have made this mistake so many times, and ultimately it is choice that is made selfishly. The reasons I would interject my opinion on how he should play is always self motivated. To get the shot instead of waiting patiently for it to play out in front of me. This always results in frustration for the both of us and everything goes downhill from there. I am not referring to suggesting an activity that you know your child enjoys. What I mean is that once your child is engaged in something, interrupting them to tell them how to play or to pause their playing just so you can get the shot is where this frustration will happen.
Be in the Moment
Play with them! Keep your camera close by and ready to grab when you see something special about to unfold, but don’t have it front and center. Even keep it off to the side for a little bit while you play. Playing with your child not only strengthens your bond, but it shows him or her that you are genuinely interested in what they are doing without having an agenda. This way when you do pull your camera out, your child won’t feel like they are being used for your photo taking pleasure.
Allow them to Move Around
I don’t know about your kids, but mine does. not. sit. still. He is in constant motion and always has been. Even if he stays engaged in an activity in a general spot, his hands and body are moving in all different ways which can make photographing him challenging, but also makes for very interesting photographs. Making them feel like they need to sit still is stressful and will cause them to feel frustrated. Not only that, if your child is a mover like mine, that is authentically who he is. So any picture capturing that movement is one that is honest. Allowing your child to move about can also result in images you wouldn’t otherwise have. So often I think I am seeing the best possible version of the scene until my son moves and it became even better because he did!
Who Cares If They’re Smiling!?
We are so conditioned to think that we need to smile for a picture to be good. I don’t know about you but I definitely do not smile all day long. We experience all kinds of emotions, so why would you only ever want to capture one? The serious face a child makes when concentrating on a masterpiece, the face of frustration when they realize they built their lego creation wrong and have to start over, and tears when they accidentally knock over a castle they just built out of blocks. These are their real emotions, in that moment, and they are just as beautiful and valid as when they are feeling triumphant and joyous. Embrace all of the emotions that unfold naturally before you and don’t be afraid to capture them. Just don’t forget to comfort your little one and lift them back up if they need it. I know I sometimes get stuck behind the camera and have to remind myself I am needed in this moment right now.
Curb the Cheesing
When a child is engaged in play or an activity that brings them joy, they are preoccupied with a task that is important and interesting to them so they don’t feel the pressure to perform. My son is so used to this approach, I honestly don’t think he even notices the camera most of the time. Other children who have been trained to smile for the camera can often ham it up for the camera. As soon as someone pulls a camera out they stop what they are doing and say “cheese” or they start goofing off and putting on a show. Taking the approach of allowing your child to be so engaged in something that interests them, will help to curb the habit of cheesing.
Move Yourself Around
Try out different angles by moving yourself around your child. Instead of interrupting them by asking them to move, get up and see what happens when you take a picture from above and below. See if you can back up and frame them somehow (maybe a doorway?). My house has a lot of windows so almost always my son is playing in front of a window. What I do is take pictures with the window behind him for a more silhouetted photo or I move around so the window is behind me and he is lit differently which completely changes the photo. I almost always get down at his level to take pictures because I love that the result is that the viewer is in his world instead of having the perspective we are all so used to: an adult who is taller and looking down to a smaller child. I also love getting in close and taking photos of what his hands are doing. Shooting from above is another angle I do find myself doing often. This is different from just standing and taking a photo, its as though you have a birds eye view because you are directly above. Play around and see what works and what you love!
What Does this Result in?
When you make these tips a habit in how you approach photographing your child, you end up with images that really illustrate your child honestly. You’ll have images that capture your child engaged in an activity that he or she cared about at this age. These images show their personality and facial expressions since you are merely capturing the moment played out before you. Nothing is contrived so you are able to both be happy with how it went since there is no power struggle and you have a real memory of your child and what interested them to cherish for years from now.
You may feel a little stuck as far as knowing what kind of activity could possibly keep your child’s attention long enough to try this out, don’t worry I have a list just for you! Click below to download!