Never Say Cheese, and Other Lessons in Candid Photography of Children
I like my camera candid -– real life and unexpected moments -- which is why I love working with kids. But sometimes unexpected means a baby that doesn’t want to be put down. Or a three year old who has decided a “smile” is a painfully over the top toothy grin. With jazz hands. Or maybe no jazz hands and just a scowl that says, “No pictures.” We all have hang-ups about having our photos taken. At any age. So, here are a few tips and tricks to help you capture the little moments with as few tears as possible.
STOOP TO THEIR LEVEL
The best shots are either right at their level or standing high over them (the latter sometimes requires a stepstool -- please don’t do this unless you have someone to spot you!).
With babies, if you’re shooting solo and baby is more comfortable close by, try a neutral blanket or sheepskin across your legs and let her get cozy while you take detail shots. A toothless yawn. A dimpled fist clenched against a forehead. If she’s up for it, gently move the blanket from your lap to the floor and keep snapping.
With older kids, start by asking about what happened today at preschool or at the park. The goal is to get them interested in something other then posing. I like placing a blanket on the grass and having them look up at the clouds. Then stand over them, crouch next to them, lay beside them and capture their expressions as you share silly stories, sing and find pictures in the clouds.
DANCE TO THE MUSIC
Music and conversations are key; generally, it keeps kids focused on everything but the camera. With more active kids, turn up the volume and snap away. Take shots of those capes and tutus full twirl and close-ups of happy faces as they move to the beat.
I keep a playlist of music from albums for both adults and kids -- including everything from Frances England to Elizabeth Mitchell, She & Him to ABBA -- songs both you and your two-year old can enjoy listening to again and again. And again.
BELLS AND WHISTLES
I can’t tell you what makes a better photo: kids attempting to blow bubbles or the look of utter joy when they succeed. I buy no-spill bubbles. In bulk. I love the look of large bubble wands but these work really well, too. And the no-spill part? Genius.
I also like hand bells. Ring them subtly and babies and toddlers will follow the sound. Bells you can attach to your wrist mean one less thing to hold, so you can get their attention with both hands on the camera.
LET THEM IN ON THE ACTION
Bribing kids to take pictures doesn’t work. Instead, pick up watercolors, chalk, finger paints and make them into play. Down at their level, snap their expressions as they create. Be sure to get shots of messy little hands, paint smeared across a cheek, a furrowed brow as the try to spell out their name in chalk. Remember to shoot both details and the big picture.
LET THEM BE HEROES, JUST FOR ONE DAY
When it comes to wardrobe, you will one day cherish the photos of them in the purple cape and rain boots they refused to take off the entire summer of 2011. Or the princess dress that looks more like Cinderella’s rags. You won’t ever look back and wish you’d taken more photos of them in that crisp white button down they cried over because they said it felt scratchy. But you might tear up a bit when you look back and see those well-worn ruby slippers that lost much of their glitter as they ran around the sandbox. So, mix up the fabulous Crew Cuts ensembles with outfits that reflect who they are.
Now charge those batteries, grab the bubbles and bells, and yes, even those rain boots. Because, believe it or not, one day you will miss them terribly.
I feel like I barely scratched the surface here. What other troubleshooting (no pun intended) tips can I offer? Let me know!