In a new blog series, I'm going to be doing a number of 'How to...' posts, answering some of the most frequent questions I get asked.
Virtually every time I mention I'm a family photographer and I work mainly with children, I get the inevitable comments about how difficult it is to take good photos of children. Most parents tell me, before a photoshoot, that their child hates having their photo taken and will probably play up.
The thing is, I LOVE working with children! Before I was a photographer, I was a primary school teacher and I have spent almost all of my adult working life hanging out with and having fun with children. All that experience means I'm a bit of a pro when it comes to getting the most natural, beautiful pictures of children. But I have a few tricks up my sleeve that mean anyone can do the same.
So, how can you get great, natural photos of children? Here are my top tips:
1. Get down with the kids
No, I don't mean, 'Try and be cool' (whenever I've tried that I've failed spectacularly and humiliatingly, but that's stories for another blog!). I mean it literally. Get down to the child's level. Firstly, because that engages the child and lets them know that you are ready to play with them. And secondly, because most of the best portraits are at eye level. The child is more likely to look directly at the camera if it's on their level and more likely to smile at you if you have shown them that you are interested in what they are doing / saying / showing you.
2. Work fast and be ready in advance.
I never expect children to sit still in one place and wait for me to get my camera equipment organised. Before taking any photos, make sure your camera settings are right (always best to set the shutter speed as fast as possible when photographing children) and then you won't miss that second when they catch sight of something funny and smile or pull a hilarious face! Once you are ready, get snapping! The average attention span of a baby / child is about 10 seconds (that's a fact, from the RWP Science lab), so you don't have long to capture that expression!
3. Don't try and get a 'perfect' shot
I absolutely love the shots that are not traditionally 'perfect'. The baby crying or eating a toy, the kid pulling a face, the hair blowing the wrong way, everyone laughing at a kid farting! These pictures are much better at telling the story of a family than the ones where everyone is smiling stiffly.
But, with the advent of social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, there is a real pressure to get The Perfect Shot. It's a totally addictive pastime (speaking from A LOT of experience!) to trawl through other people's photos and think about how you could set up a shot just like that one. But the amazing thing about each time I take photos is I NEVER get the same photo twice! Each family and each child has their own ways of playing, their personal expressions, their own twinkle in the eye and if you try too hard to get 'The Shot' that is just like the one you saw on Instagram (check out these attempts!), you'll miss the moment that is truly Instagrammable: your child's joyful smile or cheeky giggle. Not to mention the fact that if you try and tell a 2 year old to do ANYTHING... well, they just won't! So you'll both get frustrated and the photos will show it!
4. Include them
Even the smallest children love seeing pictures of themselves. A great way to 'break the ice' at the start of a photoshoot is to take a few snaps (it doesn't really matter what these look like) and then show the child. For older children, explain what you are going to do and how a camera works, let them look through the viewfinder and take a few shots themselves. They lose interest quite quickly but they are no longer wondering what on earth you are doing!
5. Engage your inner child!
Take a genuine interest in what the child is doing, ask questions, play with him / her and enjoy their company. In-depth conversations can lead to the most arresting portraits, as children look at you thoughtfully and intensely when you are really listening to what they have to say. Equally, playing a game that they are enjoying pays dividends in cheeky smiles or joyful expressions of surprise and delight. Hide-and-seek is a particular favourite of mine for older children, peek-a-boo for the younger ones and a bubble machine is worth its weight in gold! It's best to allow the child to take the lead rather than trying to get them to do what you want. You have to run around a bit more to get the best angles and light but you also avoid the self-conscious grimace children have learned to do when they are faced with a camera.
6. Wear them out!
Most children, at some point, need a moment of rest (however brief)! If you’ve been playing with them, chasing them around and focusing on them for some time, they will probably need a bit of time out. For babies, this often involves sleep and for older children, a little time to themselves (which almost always involves a snack!). This is a lovely opportunity to get those more peaceful, quieter photos, showing a different side to the child’s personality. You’ll be feeling tired by now as well, but don’t miss this chance to take some final shots.
I really hope this has been helpful. Please get in touch and let me know how your next portrait session goes!