They're small, they're adorable, their laughter can make even the saltiest curmudgeon bubble out a smile. But as soon as you pull out a camera, it is sometimes like opening the third gate of Hell. Getting them dressed up, cleaned up, and smiling on queue are all nearly impossible tasks alone, but add the mix of bright lights, a clicking camera that they don't understand and a stranger smiling and staring at them and it becomes a nightmare zone for any child. It usually starts with extreme symptoms of "shyness" (hiding behind mommy and daddy) and can go to full out crying and screaming. Sometimes, if they're old enough, they can just downright refuse to smile, stand still, or pose.
Honestly, I don't blame them. Have you ever been shoved into the middle of an uncomfortable situation with a few people you didn't really know? All you wanted was to dash out of there and retreat to your happy place with sweatpants DVR tapings of the Walking Dead. However, in my time taking portraits of families and children, I have picked up a few tips and tricks to making photo day go as seamlessly as possible, even making it (dare I say?) FUN.
TIP 1: Talk to Them About It
Now this tip is definitely more appropriate the older the child is. Obviously a 3 month old isn't going to care if you give them the heads up about a photoshoot idea. But I feel like if your child is at least 4 years old one thing to make them less nervous is telling them about the pictures in advance. When you give them time to get acclimated to the idea, it's less frightening the day of. This way, they aren't walking into the unknown. If you call me on Sunday, and the shoot is scheduled for Saturday, give them casual reminders throughout the week, and with my next tip, you can even start getting them excited it...
TIP 2: Allow Them to Showcase Who They Are
I know that the purpose of getting beautiful Christmas pictures is to NOT have pictures of all of their toys and video games, but when they get to bring those things with them, it's a comfort. For younger children, the want to explain to you and share with you the things that they love is a not only a mood lifter but a learning experience. If his toy Captain America is his favorite thing, what's the harm in bringing him along? If she has been in her Doc McStuffins costume for two and a half days, one more day of dress up isn't going to hurt. Personally, I don't have a problem providing the family with a few extra pictures with these treasured keepsakes in order to keep the kiddos calm and happy. Besides, I personally feel that it's much more personal and realistic to have pictures of your kids with the objects and clothes that they were ACTUALLY around, rather than giving them a handful of false props that don't associate with any memories at all.
TIP 3: Be Prepared
Scar knew what was up when he sang this baritone hit in The Lion King. Preparation is key when working with children. Especially younger children. While older kids and teens can essentially suck it up and get through a photoshoot with out prep work, the young'uns (let's say Kindergarten age and younger) and are still on pretty strict schedules. Their schedules are often repetitive and well-worn, and once you vary from the path, it causes a lot of issues.
If your child is used to eating lunch at 3pm and laying down for a nap at 4pm like clockwork, DO NOT SCHEDULE AN APPOINTMENT AT 3:30. Chances are you would be skipping their lunch and their nap time and that's going to make for a grumpy child that will only sit still and smile for the first 5 minutes, guaranteed. As adults, its a lot easier for us to modify meal times, or stave off sleep when were tired, but those skills have not quite developed in children. No matter how rational it is to ask them to wait an hour to get food, they will be grumpy and hungry at 3pm. If you are going to be running into their food time, either feed them earlier than the shoot, or bring a snack with you to keep them happy and satiated during the shoot. Unfortunately, my best advice for young children and nap time is the same. Do NOT schedule a shoot during their nap time if you can help it, or push everything up and have them take a nap BEFORE coming to the photoshoot. If they are tired, there isn't much you can do while they're mid-shoot to make them feel any better.
TIP 4: I'm Still A Stranger, So Head In There Mom and Dad!
Even if we surpass all of the other obstacles, the fact still remains that they have no idea who I am. I have corny jokes and I listen to bad, not hip music, and I am generally out of touch with what kids think is cool nowadays. I didn't even do what was cool when I was a kid. I think other children can sense that. No matter how nice I am, I'm still a stranger and it may take a little coaxing to still get them to loosen up. Don't be afraid to jump in front of the camera, take a few silly pictures and show them that essentially, this is all for fun. If you don't want pictures of you processed, that's fine! We certainly don't have to, but just seeing you enjoy yourself will give them the message that this is ok and they can smile and enjoy themselves too. Hop in the back and take a few bunny ear pictures, stick out your tongue, bark like a dog, do whatever makes them laugh. Most young children are still looking directly at you for what is safe and what is not safe. No amount of coaxing words from a stranger will ever beat seeing you personally approve of acting silly and having fun. Besides, there are plenty of pictures that can be taken where the parents are still in the shot but the child is the focus. Posing and framing are easy to change and a viable option for the shy child that may still need to hold your hand.
Do any of you parents out there have any other tips and tricks for getting your kids more comfortable to take pictures? If so, leave a comment in this blog and share!!