Photography is all about capturing life. And what is possibly more full of life than children? I love capturing the energy and enthusiasm of childhood, but photographing kids presents its own unique set of challenges. You never know what kind of mood you’re gonna get on a given day (or hour, or minute). You have to be fast, and then move even faster. You have to keep the attention of a person/people who have the attention span(s) of squirrels. You have to be the activity director & entertainer all rolled into one. So, when prepping for a shoot (whether for clients or with my own kids), there are always seven things around which I plan my session:
When location scouting, I look for space. If you give kids more physical space, you create more opportunity for their personalities to shine through. Whether that’s a quiet, distant moment of honest expression when they think no one is looking, or a little one who likes to show off his cool dance moves, or a fun game of tag. A location with space is top on my priority list. I also look for locations that are free of distractions for kids. Playgrounds are a lot of fun, but in a contest between playground and photographer, the playground is always always going to win. It is easier to keep focus when I am controlling the activity and flow of the session from start to finish. Some of my favorite places to photograph are a nearby state park with a beautifully wooded meadow (fairy hunting, anyone?) and a small state beach along the river front in our village. Both places offer room for kids to still play and have fun, but don’t have toys, playground equipment, or tempting treats that will force me to compete for their attention.
Remember when I said that I often find myself in the role of activity director and entertainer (photographer too, of course)? Well, part of that is turning the shots that I have in my head into games. With younger children, sometimes it’s a contest: “Who can run and grab Mommy’s leg first?!” “Who can catch the most bubbles?” Simon says, “splash your sister!” Red light, “stop!” Green light, “go!”. Childhood is all about energy and fun. Playing games makes it fun and lets their energy shine through.
Let them be themselves/show me what you can do that’s new
Capturing milestones is part of being a photographer...it’s actually one of the privileges (however corny that sounds). So, my goal is to let them be themselves to show who they are as small people at that moment in time. Give the kids a break to roam, and do their own thing in between your own ideas. Let them explore and wonder and connect with their parents again...this is key. As parents, we all want to remember the days when our kids wanted to hold our hands or be cuddled or were happy building mud pies or reading books with us. Let them be themselves. And, part of being themselves is showing us what they can do. Somebody just learned how to ride a tricycle???? Bring the tricycle and show me? Someone just learned how to write her name, well let’s see it (great detail shots like this make for an interesting and varied story. Let them show you who they are as people, not just who we (or their parents) want us to portray them to be.
One thing/prop to work with (fave stuffy)
This one comes down to preference, but I’m not fond of the overly accessorized/stylized photo sessions that I often see. My focus is on the people, not the stuff. That being said, I do think of one or two items that I know will enhance the shoot. Bubbles are a goldmine here. A cute little chair that will help to ground them for a few seconds of stillness? Or a favorite stuffed animal? Graphic books...the list is endless. But, I try to keep in mind that is should enhance the image not overpower it. It should allow for interaction between family members, not isolate. My daughter’s Pup Pup is often featured in my photos of her. Why? Because Pup Pup is important, read: IMPORTANT! That little stuffed dog goes everywhere & is as much part of Molly as her strawberry hair. Photographing clients is no different; I always encourage parents to bring one or two favorite toys to help occupy the kids during downtime but also to personalize the shoot.
Timing (aware of naps/meal times)
Child photographers need to be much more aware of schedules than senior, traditional portrait photographers. Why? Tiny people need naps...and food. When planning a shoot with my own kids or scheduling a shoot with clients, my first question is always “when do they nap?” That time is sacred - I happily observe the do not disturb sign. Try to plan for times right after nap time or right after breakfast. Kids are well-rested and recently fed. This makes for happier little people, and ultimately happier adults.
Wide angle lens
Because small kids move a lot, and move quickly, a wide angle lens is your new best friend. If there are no adults in the frame, my 50mm and 35mm are my workhorses. Allowing myself a little breathing room lets me capture more of the movement and energy without accidentally chopping of a hand or foot or (gasp) a head, and ruining what would have otherwise been a great capture. The only caveat to this rule of thumb is if I’m intentionally giving a child some distance. I’ll then utilize a long focal length, which allows me to peak in on that private moment.
Perspective (get on the ground or shoot from above to convey size)
Change it up. Get dirty. I can often be found laying on the ground or kneeling to bring myself down on the kids’ level. If I want to convey the smallness of their size, I’ll climb up high and shoot down. The lesson here is that shooting from a simple standing position usually makes for boring images and doesn’t do anything to convey their size or position in the world around them. Besides, getting down and dirty is just plain fun...for everyone. (For more information on using perspective in images, check out Ashley's blog post here!)
What parents can do to get the most out of their time with the photographer:
1) Bring snacks/water
2) Bring a back up change of clothes (just in case)
3) Have the kids bring a special toy
4) Tell them you’re all going to have an adventure and play games and meet a new friend - tell them the name of your photographer (get them excited and ready to have some fun).
5) Play the games too...treat your family photo session as a time to spend just with your kids and enjoy who they are as people, and who you are together as a family.
WEEK 10 CHALLENGE: This week your challenge is to go out and photograph a child! It can be any child, yours, your nieces or nephews, even your neighbors! Try some of Gina's awesome tips to get great shots of them! Go like the Kensie M Photography Facebook Page and post your favorite from the week there! We can’t wait to see what you are working on. And remember we love questions, so feel free to post them in the comments section!
Gina Cooperman, of Joy Alexander Photography, is a New York-based child & family photographer whose work has been described as colorful, happy, and honest. Originally a California-girl, she tries to infuse her love of the outdoors in both her personal and professional photographic work. And, as the mother of twins, she can often be found adventuring with her two little people....camera always in tow. Gina’s clients have remarked on her patience and enthusiasm at shoots, which she says is the result of her background as a teacher. You can check out her website here, her Google+ here, and also be sure and go like her Facebook page here!