Landscapes, fashion, animals, there are many challenges in photography but the most challenging subjects to work with are children. Whether it’s a child who won’t sit still or one who’d rather be the photographer than the subject you have to think pretty creatively to get the shot you’re hoping for. Today we’ll look at three common issues people face when trying to get photos of their children.
The child who won’t sit still
An incredibly common challenge for any parent or photographer. Just as you get your child right where you want them they discover something much more interesting than sitting for a photo and off they go! And who can blame them, most of us don’t like having our photos taken either! But there are lots of options to help with this issue.
Try getting them talking! This is probably your best chance of getting the “looking into the camera smiling” shot. First, put them in the position you want them in, sitting works best for keeping the wiggles at bay, and then get them chatting with you. Ask them questions; what’s your favorite color, what’s your favorite animal, what’s your favorite thing about school. The more complicated the question the more likely they are to stop what they’re doing to think about it. It’s those thinking moments that you want to capture, before they start talking. The most genuine expressions come while they’re thinking or realizing something. Plus, then you don’t end up with a shot mid-word. Also, try getting them to tell you a story. Children don’t edit their expressions when storytelling, giving you lots to capture. Storytelling will keep them animated and genuine but hopefully keep the movement to a manageable level.
You may need to enlist the help of someone else for this. Some children may not want to chat with mom or dad, after all you know most of the answers to the questions you’re asking. But someone new or who they don’t see very often may bring a new element into the equation. A lot of children like to “show off” a little for someone new to their world and may be more willing to sit still and chat. That’s a great opportunity to capture them at their most animated.
But what about the younger children, who haven’t got the language skills to tell you stories or have full conversations? For toddlers you can try giving them an activity to do that keeps them in one place. If you can, avoid something that requires them to look down at the floor or a table, you want their head up to get that perfect shot of their face. You could try putting some paper up on the wall for drawing or painting, it’ll keep them in one place and concentrating on something at eye level. Or play a game of people watching out a window, getting them to point out different things to you. Again, it’ll keep them still and you’ll have the benefit of some great natural light! Every once and a while you can call their name and see if you can get a great looking into camera shot.
In the end though, some of the best shots are of kids just being kids, which often means running around and being silly! If your child doesn’t want to be still for a photo take the opportunity to snap some great candid shots. Some of your favorite photos may be the ones you did not orchestrate!
The child who wants to be the photographer
It never fails, when the camera or phone camera comes out there’s always a child who immediately grabs for it. You may have a budding photographer on your hands, in which case be glad film isn’t common anymore like it was when I first picked up a camera as a child. But even if your toddler does show a penchant for photography it isn’t the most helpful when you want to get a nice photo of them for grandma. The best advice I can give for this is to just let them do it! With supervision of course.
You tend to see this in younger children, under age 5. They’re curious and they want to try everything you’re doing. If you don’t let them you could end up in tantrum land and there goes your chance for a nice photo. So give in to their curiosity. Let them hold your camera, show them how the buttons work, help them push the button to take a photo. If you’re using your phone you can put it in selfie mode and help them take some photos of the two of you together. Let them take a few photos of you, pose in lots of fun, dramatic ways to show them how fun it is to be on the other side of the camera. Then tell them that it’s their turn to try out some fun poses. Hopefully you’ve enticed them enough to give it a go and you’ll get your camera back. This can also be a great lesson in sharing! Both of you can take turns being the model and the photographer. You’ll have some great shots of your child and, who knows, maybe some of yourself!
The child who pulls a face every time the camera appears
Getting children to give you a natural expression when you want to photograph them can be like pulling teeth. Some children like to be the jokesters all the time and all your photos of them are bizarre expressions and weird poses. Great for a laugh but not helpful for a photo you want to put on the mantle.
This is where the tried and tested “make ‘em laugh” method used by every photographer in the world comes in handy. You’ve seen it before, a photographer with a camera in one hand and a puppet in the other, desperately trying to get a child to smile. For the younger children a puppet or stuffed animal may work some magic. You can also try funny dances or sounds, anything to get their attention and smile or laugh.
For older children, the puppet probably isn’t going to cut it. You’re going to need to work a little harder. The tips from #1 above can come in handy here too. But in this case your goal is to make them laugh. Try some jokes or stories or better yet get them telling you jokes. It is a fact that almost everyone is nerdy enough to laugh at their own jokes. Ask children to tell you about the funniest thing that’s ever happened to them. Sometimes just recounting something they thought was hilarious can get them laughing and make them forget about making faces for your photo. And if all else fails, just imitate them. Nothing is funnier than an adult imitating a child trying not to smile.
In the end photographing children is a challenge but it’s a fun challenge! There are lots of ways to get creative and capture that perfect shot of your kids just being kids!
Emily Jewer is a Halifax based photographer. Her company MJ Photographics specializes in portraiture, occasionally working with families and couples, but mainly focussing on headshots for performers of all kinds including many kid and teen actors in the region. Emily is also a theatre artist, working as an actor, stage manager and director on many Halifax productions. She works with kids at Neptune Theatre School and as a child supervisor for kids onstage in professional theatre productions.
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