By Gail Braznell
Have you ever tried to photograph a child who doesn’t want to be photographed.
Photographing reluctant children is a common dilemma for me and many other photographers that I talk too. Reluctance can come at any time and in many forms, whether it’s an artificial smile or just a simple little strop, kids can be terrors when it comes to getting them to co-operate for a photograph. As a professional photographer, I’ve photographed lots of children of all ages, from newborns just days old to temperamental teenagers. I’ve seen it all, tantrums and tears along with all kinds of avoidance techniques. Photographing children has to be one of the biggest challenges I face as a photographer.
People often ask me, how I get such great natural looking Images. So I thought I’d share a few of my distraction techniques and hope that you find them useful. As every parent knows distraction is a great antidote to this resistant behaviour we all know so well.
My signature candid approach
I try to shoot candidly with kids as much as possible. Get them doing something that they enjoy and just start snapping. You might ask them to stop or pause what they are doing every now and again and to look at you. But over time you’ll find lots of moments in the normal run of their ‘play’ just follow their lead. At times it’ll be good to step back in order to get the background context – but generally, parents want to see kids faces – so make sure they dominate the shot rather than their environment.
Don’t add pressure
Kids don’t respond at all to pressure in my experience, especially when it comes to having their photo taken. When asked to do something under pressure ‘look this way’ or ‘smile’, they’ll more than likely do the complete opposite. The key is to try not to make it too intense, keep calm, relax and let the child take the lead, try and make them feel like they are actually calling the shots. If you do have limited time, try not to let the child know. Toddlers are notoriously rebellious when it comes to having their photo taken, any attempt to put them into a certain position or to sit on a particular chair could fail and lead to a spectacular tantrum. Keeping the pressure off will increase the likelihood of getting a great, natural shot.
Plan & be prepared to wait
All Children like to move around a lot, so let them. Ensure the backdrop and lighting are set up before you sit them down. Be ready with your camera, then just wait……..By waiting you are communicating to the child that they are free to do as they wish. This way there is nothing forced about the photo and you’re more likely to capture them looking natural and happy.
Good things do come to those that wait!
Encourage the child to explore
Let the child explore their environment before you start taking photos. Whether I’m photographing on location or with my studio setup, the setting is new to the child. So I always let them get comfortable with both their surroundings and myself holding the camera, which is probably quite intimidating. With an older child, I let them run around, jump in puddles, play in the leaves… whatever it takes to help them relax or win them over. Then when they’re eventually ready, I’ll use a super fast shutter speed to capture multiple frames in a matter of seconds. If I am photographing a baby who isn’t yet walking, I may set up something like a teddy bear’s picnic or a rocking horse maybe, something they can climb or even a teddy. Most of all I try to make it as fun as I can, I do find children, no matter what age respond well if you make them laugh or give them an enjoyable activity to do. Obviously, you need to consider an activity that is age appropriate but creating a funny situation will help relax the child and bring out those natural smiles. I like to act like a fool, pull funny faces and make noises, I find all of these simple tricks do encourage smiles. I like to turn my photo shoot into a game by rolling around or jumping up and down, the kids love to do this. I also find role play works a treat, pretending I’m a superhero and saving the planet works like a dream. For teenagers, interact with them, ask them questions or get them to visualise something. When they are doing this their expression is likely to relax and you’ll be able to catch the shot you are after.
To encourage toddlers to make eye contact with the camera, I use the technique of rolling a ball towards them, in return, they roll it back. When the ball is sent in the child’s direction they’ll usually take the bait by fixing their eyes on it. Then I ask for the ball back and when I pick it up and raise it up next to my camera, I catch them looking directly at me. Another trick, hold the ball near the camera and pretend to throw it at them. This usually gets them to smile or laugh!
Good luck and do let me know if these tips work for you.