film fridays: a personal project where I put down my digital camera and share images created on film.
…without sounding like a Drill Sargent.
Last week, whilst doing a photo shoot with my son, we ran into another family getting their portraits taken. There were 3 kids and WOW, were they having a hard time with them! The mom continually screamed as they ran around behaving like…well, kids. The photographer just stood there silent missing the opportunity to defuse the situation. It was so bad I had to resist the urge to offer my assistance. Asa even noticed it and said “that Mom is MEAN!”. The more she yelled the worse they got.
So, as both a parent of small children AND a photographer I thought I would offer my suggestions. I’m no expert but I believe the best defense is good offense. A successful photo session with children often rests on destroying the enemy’s…er, I mean children’s, ability to attack. : ) This starts before you even leave the house. Here are my suggestions for parents:
1. Home front. If you have small children (under the age of 7) choose a location that is close to your home. No more than a 10-12 minute drive away. The shorter the better. This means that you as the parent might have to do a little scouting of your own to find a location that fits your needs, if your photographer can’t do it. Trust me on this one. A long drive will only serve to recharge those little monster batteries or *gasp* cause them to fall asleep. And how happy are you if someone wakes you from a perfectly good nap!
2. Don’t underestimate the power of a nap. Schedule picture day on a day when you have minimal activities and the kids can nap. Don’t think that your child can play a soccer game in the morning, swim in the afternoon, then be ready and willing for pictures in the evening. (oh yes, this has happened to me) Set the scene at home the day before. “ok, tomorrow is picture day. Everyone is going to take a nap so that we are in our best moods!” I also, use guilt trips. “this is very important to me. I really want to have good pictures of you guys so that when I’m an old lady I can say ‘Look how beautiful my babies were!’ It would really hurt my feelings if you don’t behave.”..etc. This one usually works on my son AND my husband. Double score!
3. Make them an offer they can’t refuse. Yeah, that’s right. Bribery. Probably the most unsavory trick I have up my sleeve but if you put yourself in your child’s mind you will see that they couldn’t give two flips about portraits. BUT if cooperating means they get a treat after, well then you’ve just spoken their “what’s in it for me” language. For the littlies it can be something as simple as ice cream after. As they get older, the stakes get higher, though. I have promised new Nike shoes in return for cooperation. Take advantage of whatever their weakness is but there HAS to be an incentive to behave. The drive to the photo shoot is an excellent time to discuss their “pay off”.
4. Chill. And last but not least, Mom, Dad… CALM.DOWN. It’s a photo shoot, not a kidney transplant. This is the perfect time to practice your go-with-the-flow skills. Like it or not, the shortest people in the family run the show. If you have hired an experienced photographer, I guarantee they have run into difficult children before, so don’t get embarrassed by your kids behavior. Kids can sense you getting upset/uptight and it only makes the situation worse. If you followed my advice above you have done all you can do. Plus, it doesn’t have to be perfectly posed everyone-look-at-camera-and-say-cheese for good photos to turn out. Some of my favorite photos of my kids are of them being silly and not even looking at the camera. Also, keep an eye out for mini session specials. These are PERFECT for young children. Outfit changes, location changes and posing for 2 hours is a lot to ask even for adults, let alone children with the attention span of a gnat.
Mamiya 645 Fuji400H
1. Bring out your inner Nerd. This is the time to let your guard down. I’ve done some pretty ridiculous things to get a genuine smile. From fart noises to having a race with camera in hand (not the wisest idea, fyi). Sometimes I cringe after a shoot thinking about the things I’ve said or done. Surely, they think I’m nuts. But I’m a slave for the genuine smile. I’ll do anything for it. And kids just can’t fake it. So get comfortable with actin’ a fool cause they make you work for it.
2. Keep moving. This helps with the whole “attention span of a gnat” problem. Shoot in one spot/pose for no more than a few minutes. Then move again and again and again. The goal is to keep them from losing interest and camping out in one spot is guaranteed to get boring for kids.
3. Give them something to do. Making them repeat something silly back to me is my go-to and STILL works on my own kids to this day. (As long as it’s ok with the parents) “My dad wears pink panties” always gets a giggle or we’ll play the “what’s grosser than gross” game (boys love this one!) Or make them scream at the top of their lungs “Happy New Year!”, etc…whatever pops into my head. And then I love giving them something to do. Like “run to that tree and then run back as fast as you can!”, “I want to see your best spin”, “Jump off this chair as high as you can!” Then I make a huge deal about it “That was the highest jump I have ever seen in my life! Can you do it again?” Making a game out of it really helps to get the sillies out.
4. Preemptive Action. If a child is not cooperating and you sense Mom/Dad are getting frustrated, don’t be afraid of an impromptu change of course. I’ll say, “hey, I was wondering if you would walk over here with me. I saw a really cool spot earlier”. I’ll hold their hand as we walk or I’ve even given piggie back rides, all the while talking and asking questions about school or their friends, etc. It only takes a few minutes but walking away from the group can really help to defuse a potentially tense situation.
I hope these tips help you, whether you are parent or photographer! Happy Film Friday.
Mamiya 645 Fuji400H