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Photographing children with endless amounts of energy can be challenging.
But, with these genius tips from the Pros, you’ll be breezing through kid pictures from here on out!
Tip from Lee Fardoe: Embrace something they love. My boys love to role play in costume. So if they aren’t having it when I’m trying to shoot I’ll have them play out a scene in their costumes.
It’s a win-win. They love it and I get pictures like this one that reminds me of what they were into at the time.
Tip from Georgina: My 3 year old can be a handful sometimes so when it comes to toddlers and unruly behavior, chairs are your best friend.
Set them up in a chair and give them a job to do. Be sure to have a spotter or be close by to ensure everyone is safe when using a chair. Here my boys were holding and singing to their new baby sister, because seconds before this shot she was not happy and my toddler was running all over the place.
: Confine them to super small spaces. Preferably one with a five point harness such as a high chair. You can also distract them with food and friendly pets.
: Most of the time, I try to capture photographs of the kids before they lose interest or get tired.
Other times, I work with kids who have loads of energy and there’s no stopping them! In that case, I allow their adventurous side to kick in and photograph the candid moments. Once they’ve burnt off some energy, those moments become more tranquil and make for beautiful portraits.
Tip from Georgina: If I want to do a particular shoot with my daughter I bring a friend for her.
They will play and have so much fun, they barely notice me! In all other cases I find that my kids almost always will work for chocolate 🙂
: Kids become uncooperative when you want them to do something they don’t enjoy. If you let them be wild and carefree, you will capture natural expressions and wide smiles!
Jumping on the bed, dancing on the couch, shouting really loud… Anything that sounds slightly mischievous will make them happy!
Tip from Lee: A kid will never be uncooperative as long as the portrait sessions looks like a fun game.
Don’t make them pose, make them play instead! Peek-a-boo is a perfect example of how to capture a smiling face with young kids effortlessly!
OUR CHILD PHOTOGRAPHY ESSENTIALS
When photographing kids you are going to need gear that can keep up! This lens lets you capture the whole room and beautiful portraits without ever having to change lenses. Even better, it is known for its quick, sharp autofocus so that you don’t miss a single joyful moment.
We can’t imagine anyone being able to resist smiling back at this adorable guy! A little plush creature slips right over your lens, eliciting giggles and smiles from your subjects as you click away!
A full frame camera allows you to capture more of what hits the sensor than its crop sensor counterparts. We love the Nikon D850 for its exceptional low light performance, allowing you to capture the kids in whatever light situation you get them to cooperate.
Tip from Lee: When I am dealing with kids who are not wanting to do what I asked or just not having it, I ask them if they want to play a game. Most kids say yes!
I ask them if they want to race to me when I say GO or count to 3. Then their minds are off the camera and back to doing what I want them too, smiling and having fun!
Tip from: I was shooting siblings in a family session recently and they were not interested with being in the frame together. I decided to ask questions about each other and play “Can You Find” games with them.
Within minutes, they were working together to find something the color red. After I got my shots, the siblings asked if they could continue to play the game!
If your subjects are enjoying themselves, they will remember how they felt and that their photos will have meaning to them.
Tip from Georgina: One of my go-to strategies is to let THEM be the photographer.
This works great for 18 months and up and sometimes even younger ones want to play along! I hold it and let them push the button on my camera to take a picture of their parents or siblings, and then I get a turn to take a picture of them.
Tip from Lee: A visit from the tickle monster works with all ages. For uncooperative kids, I’ll have mom or dad tickle the kids to get more natural smiles.
Ask the kids to tickle each other, it’s always results in laughter and so much joy!
Tip from Georgina: When a young toddler is squirming and won’t pose, I’ll have dad toss the child into the air.
The key is to take a photo after the child comes down from the toss, who inevitably looks either at me or dad. I’ll end up with three photos: a fun toss, the child and dad interacting, and a posed, natural smile shot.
: At newborn sessions, when trying to get a photo of an older sibling and the baby, I’ll ask big brother or sister to either show me the baby’s nose, count the baby’s fingers or sing the baby a song.
This task or direction, gives the child a purpose and is more willing to cooperate. If the older siblings continues to act out, we stop immediately, move on and try again later.
: I like to give kids something to do or hold. They usually forget I’m even there. My youngest was so cranky after a day at the beach and wanted nothing to do with my camera. Then we pulled out the kite and she was in heaven!
Tip from Lee: When I photograph my children I prepare something fun for them to do, such as painting in cardboard boxes and often placing songs to keep up with the moment. That leaves them well involved with the activity and forget that I am there.
Tip from Georgina: I always give my kids something to do that’s fun. The more fun they’re having the longer you have to get your shot as well as get a variety of shots. And if you make it fun they won’t runaway the next time you want to get a picture.
Tip from Lee: During my client sessions, I ask the kids to show me their tricks and talents. Most kids love to show off and are delighted when someone is interested.
I can capture genuine emotion and photos that are true to that child. We all have a good time and parents love the photos!
This cutie is showing me how her hair can fly:
: Read a book!! Nothing quiets a rowdy toddler better than a couple lines of their favorite story.
: When my own son is being terribly uncooperative it usually means it’s time for a nap.
I let him think he’s getting away with something by sleeping on the couch (where the pretty light is!!) and snap away once he’s snoozing.
Tip from Georgina I think music can be so powerful and therapeutic. Whether I’m calming down my child who is nervous or I’m trying to get a natural giggle, I love to sing.
Old MacDonald, If You’re Happy and You Know It, You are My Sunshine, Let it Go, or the themes from Batman or Star Wars are just a start. Asking mom or dad before a client shoot what their kids’ favorite songs are or even asking them to sing to their child usually results in some great reactions.
: My goal is to capture my kids being themselves and doing the things they love.
While I’m happy getting a full range of emotions in my images, including my uncooperative-3-year-old, it’s a lot easier when they are happy. So if all else fails, I’m not above bribery. The “prize” can even make for a great image.
: Whether it’s my own son or a client’s child I tell them they can pick out ANY rock, flower, frog, or blade of grass that they want and can keep it forever! And we act like it is THE most special rock we’ve ever seen!
Because kids usually are told no all day long, they light up when you tell them YES!
Tip from Lee: My go-to trick for getting kids to cooperate during a session is to offer mini marshmallows in exchange for a smile or sitting still for one minute – with Mom’s permission, of course. Mini marshmallows don’t melt, haven’t left a sticky mess yet, and seem to make everyone happy all around.
Here’s a before and after. Littlest sister is sharing her marshmallows after her epic meltdown.
: It’s such an easy but effective trick with uncooperative toddlers and young kids.
The thing they love the most is doing the exact opposite of what they’re supposed to do, so just ask them NOT to do it! Don’t smile, don’t kiss Mom, don’t sit… They’ll be delighted to break the rule.
: Use sibling rivalry to your advantage! When one of my girls doesn’t want to cooperate, I just tell her to stand back so I can take a photo of her sister. Works like a charm.
If the kid isn’t in the mood, or is about to throw a fit, just give him/her a break.
“You know what? You can leave the room, I am going to take pictures of Mom and Dad alone (or big brother alone)”. After a few minutes (or sometimes seconds!) the kid will come back because it’s much more fun to be the center of attention than to be on your own!
: I try hard not to ask for too many specific things from my kids, so that when I do, they might be more cooperative.
Instead, I find the composition, light, and settings ahead of time, and wait for the moment to happen. I regularly take note of certain light or shots I want so that I can be prepared when they magically happen on their own!
Taking care of that beforehand what is left is emotional. They may need some fun, sun running and crazy spinning and dancing with mom and dad. Many just need reassurance. Getting their pictures taken by a stranger may cause them to feel unsure so i tell Mom and Dad to keep focusing on their little one and be ready to provide all the snuggles they need. What results are the emotional images that Mom and Dad want.
: When photographing my own kids, I just don’t fight it! I may have an absolutely brilliant idea for an image, but if my kids aren’t feeling like participating, it doesn’t matter.
I might suggest it, but if it isn’t happening, I just step back and let them explore on their own. Sometimes they end up doing what I asked them to anyway (just because I didn’t push it!), and sometimes I end up getting an even better image than I hoped for in the first place.
I always tell parents (before the session starts) that kids will be kids and they ALL will have moments where they are uncooperative. I ask them to stay calm WHEN it happens (not IF.)
Photo sessions can be a stressful endeavor and I want Mom and Dad to be at ease and not worry about how their kids will behave. Children feed off of their parents energy; so if Mom and Dad get angry or upset, the session can get out of control pretty quickly.
If we keep the energy light and playful, I can get some great shots no matter what is going on. This particular family is one of my favorite families to photograph because they embrace the fun and natural chaos that comes with having young children. We dance and sing and play and we have a great time together!
: My first step to uncooperative children is to get the parents to STOP STRESSING.
I always tell the parents “Kids will be kids and for one hour just let them be. Don’t get frustrated, don’t raise your voice, just relax.” Once the parents let go of the stress, the kids tend to relax too.
: For client sessions, it’s all about parent preparation for me. I tell the parents that we will plan to get one or two “posed” pictures, where everyone is smiling at the camera, and then after that, we won’t focus on poses so much.
I want them to just interact and play with their kids, and follow their lead! If the kids aren’t into an idea that I present, that’s okay! I personally love the candid moments so much better than the posed ones, anyway.
: Don’t force it. The harder you try the more reluctant they will become. I always tell the child I will take two pictures one for mom and on for him. I have actually had mom’s come back and tell me they like the goofy picture because it is so their kid.
: How’s this for a tip… Just give up. LOL!
I’m joking but not really.
The chances of getting my 5 and 2 year old girls to be cooperative with anything (photography related or otherwise) are slim to none. So I just embrace it and look for the story. So maybe instead of “just give up” I should say “look for the context and include it”.
It’s fine if your kids are uncooperative sometimes, but how can you photograph them in context to show the viewer the story behind it? Back up and include onlookers, signage, siblings – anything that explains the environmental and social context within which this noncooperation is happening.
Here’s a recent photo I made on one of the hottest days of the year at an outdoor mall on tax free weekend (just so you know those are the actual ingredients for uncooperative children). The two year old had had enough and wanted nothing to do with shopping or even sitting upright.
Rather than fight her on it I just backed up and took note of how ridiculous she looked laying outside the store display as busy shoppers passed by. In addition to backing up for environmental context, I slowed my shutter speed to 1/80 to enhance the feeling of people walking swiftly past (hunting for deals) while the toddler lay there not moving a single muscle.
: Learn to let go of perfection. I tell my clients to embrace their kids quirks-the kids can make or break a session-the trick is to roll with them!
If everyone let’s go of perfection and appreciates the season the kids are in the more fun and memorable the session will be!
: In my experience with client work, the best sessions are always the ones where the children are allowed to just be kids. We need to let go of the idea of perfection and the thought that everyone has to be looking at the camera and smiling for it to be a good image.
Let the kids be themselves! They’ll have more fun and the parents will have less stress. Everyone wins!