Photographing Children – A Guide To Capturing Organic Joy From Our Tiny Subjects

As a family photographer there are very few things that make me happier than feedback from a parent telling me I did a perfect job of capturing their child’s personality. The main reason I approach my family sessions with a lifestyle method is that there are so many things in this digital age distracting us from living in the moment. When I look back on my photos with my two preschool age daughters I want to remember their character at that point in their life. If I detect a bit of sassiness in their photos that is OK! My job is to offer my clients a step back in time when they view their photos ten years from now. I want them to see their child’s personality and become overwhelmed with nostalgia. So today I am going to share some of my favorite tricks to photographing children and how to bring out their character in the process.

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Be Their Friend First

Chances are when the family arrives for their session there will be a decent amount of tension in the air. I’m sure mom had a hard time getting everyone dressed and ready so the stress levels are elevating by the minute. Kids are experts at picking up on this energy, leaving them unsure about how to feel about the situation. I like to immediately kneel down to their level and talk to them first. Tell them how excited you are to see them and compliment them on their amazing outfit. Making them feel important and that you want them to be there will help them come out of their shell right off the bat. Once the child is at ease you can stand up and attend to mom and dads needs. Assure them that you are going to let the kids be kids and not to stress if things get sticky. If you remain calm and composed the parents will follow in your footsteps.

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Over Exaggerate Your Expressions

 It’s time to bring out the actor within you and put on a show for the little ones. If they manage to follow directions on the first try then reward them but showing them how proud you are – “OH MY GOSH LOOK AT YOU, YOU ARE JUST THE BEST LITTLE PICTURE TAKER EVER!”  If they think they are capable of bringing out such excitement from you they will want to do it again. Also, do not be afraid to make a fool of yourself. If you need to play peek-a-boo from behind the camera then act genuinely surprised when you open your eyes to “find” them. They will love that taking pictures has turned in to a game.

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Stay Away From Bribery and The Word “Cheese”

I may be going against every other photographers views when I say bribing a child has some pretty hefty repercussions. More often than not, once you introduce a treat or toy to a child you will completely loose their train of focus. Running around and having fun with the photographer has now become a lower priority and the only thing they are can think of is getting their hands on the candy – and getting it NOW. As a mother of two sugar obsessed little girls, I know that once your child has started down the sugar slope there is no bringing them back. Instead – bring out their natural smiles just by simply talking to them. If you can find their happy place by mentioning their favorite character or song,  they will automatically smile when talking to you about it.

“Hey what do you want to be for Halloween this year?”

“Oh my gosh, no way! I’ve always wanted to be a princess too!”

I find this method far more effective than asking them to say “cheese”. Cheese only results in a strained face and awkward grin.

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Let Them Run Around In Between Posed Set Ups

I generally have four go-to poses that I present during a session. I know that if I tried to accomplish all four of these back to back that I would fail miserably. Instead, alternate between a pose and running around. Let mom and dad chase them or let them explore the surroundings. But of course don’t put your camera down during these moments. The in between moments are almost always by favorites from my sessions. Often times, mom and dad don’t even realize that I’m snapping away during and they are genuinely surprised and happy when they see them appear in their gallery. These are the moments when I capture the most organic joy.

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I repeat these four methods pretty much every family session and I can honestly say that photographing children is by far my favorite part of my job. I love running around and being a kid again and more importantly I love providing the parents with timeless treasures that they will value for a lifetime. Apply this tips to your next session and see what happens. Let me know what some of your favorite tricks are in the comments below!