There's something I've been mulling over for awhile now, but finally decided to make it into a blog post. I often work with young children in my photo shoots and there's a few things I've learned from my experiences that I wanted to share with everyone (hopefully future clients!).
1. Drop all expectations. A lot of parents go into photo shoots having high expectations for their kids, and I get it. I mean, who doesn't want the perfect picture of their child protruding an angelic smile while sporting that Pinterest-perfect pose? I've found that most parents have looked at Pinterest and gotten ideas of what their ideal session looks like beforehand. But it's best to remember that Pinterest and other online sources compile many types of photography- some of them even stock photos that have professional child models in them. It's not always real life. And this is part of the beauty in lifestyle photography- I want to capture real life, not some fake posed stuff that isn't reality. Like the above pictures, if a kid is smiling and happy and wants to point, wave, or touch their hair, let them! Remember, photos are hard for kids. It's boring for them, and they are too young to understand why parents want these treasured memories. But lowering expectations can really allow you to appreciate photos that are taken while being on their own level.
2. Utilize your surroundings & props. I love letting kids interact with whatever's close by! Nature can make pretty props, and it's an easy way to fascinate kids (thus getting natural expressions). I also encourage clients to bring some of their child's favorite snacks or toys/books. Real life is kids playing with toys or giggling at their treasured storybook. That's the essence of lifestyle photography as opposed to traditional "posed" photography. Kids are also more likely to stay interested in the photo shoot; when they start to get bored or irritable with pictures, it's a great tool to be able to say, "Hey, let's sit down and look at your favorite book!" Kids usually appreciate what they see as a "break" from pictures while the photographer is able to capture some precious family moments.
3. Consider the kids when scheduling. Every kid has their own "best" time. For some kids it's right after nap time while other kids are happiest and most cooperative first thing in the morning. Whatever that time is for you, make sure you schedule around that time. I took the above photo at a 9am photo shoot because that's when the client told me her boys were in the best moods (and you can totally tell by their adorable cheese!). Nobody is a happy camper right before lunchtime or immediately after waking up. And good photographers should be flexible with your requests; of course there's ideal shooting times (for my style, I almost never shoot outdoor sessions in mid afternoon when the sun is blazing), but good photographers understand that children have very select and limited "happy hours". That should always be priority!
4. Have fun! I've encountered parents who become harsh with their kids or threaten them with punishments when they don't want to cooperate. Whenever this happens, children are typically very quick to shut down. I can't stress enough that the best way to handle an uncooperative child during a photo shoot is to just let them be. If I ask them to smile and they don't want to, I don't push it. We just move on to the next thing. One small scolding can ruin the entire mood of the photo shoot for little kids, thus ruining many good photo opportunities. This is yet another reason why I love lifestyle photography. Following a child around to get shots of him or her playing/acting naturally, rather than posed, is not only beautiful but much easier to keep a kid happy. I encourage silly voices, goofy faces, and joke telling. :)
5. Trust the photographer. Sometimes parents think they are helping by getting their kids to laugh and smile or by straightening clothing. But this can actually be a big distraction in pictures. Because as a photographer, I have to be ready at any split second to snap the camera when a young child is finally grinning, and often times the picture will be ruined by a mother looking down at her kid saying, "Smile big!". Trust your photographer to know how to arrange everyone and when to take the picture. It's the biggest help if a parent can just interact naturally with their child or smile. Be focused on the camera yourself so that when everyone else is ready for a picture you aren't the one holding things back.
If you are contemplating family photos and have young children, hopefully this is helpful. I absolutely love working with children and seeing their individual personalities shine through my camera lens. Working with young kids can be so rewarding- you never know exactly what they might do in a picture! It's always perfectly imperfect. ♥