I’ve worked with kids in various capacities since I was 16. From holiday camps to teaching in the classroom, you can say that in the last 17 years I’ve picked up a trick or two.
First rule, don’t talk down to them. A kid can pick up your phony intentions quicker than a significant other can smell the alcohol on our breath when you come home from “working late”.
Talk to them like the little people they are! We’re talking about kids here, not babies or young toddlers. By the time they get to around 3 years old, that’s a little person you have there and within about three minutes they are going to decide if you’re worth their time or not.
Welcome to the real Dragons Den!
So when photographing kids I usually arrive and say hello to the parents and throw a couple of smiles to the kids. Then I leave them alone. I’ll sit down and if the parents are nice I’ll have a cup of tea with them and just chat generally. All the time I am not actively talking to the kids, but I’ll catch their eyes now and then with a smile on my face.
After about ten minutes they’ll probably either start joining in with the conversation or be playing. If they get into the conversation then you’re already in and you can start asking some questions about them. What year are they in at school? What’s their favourite subject? Which avenger/my little pony is their favourite? Do they want to see your camera?
If they are playing, 9 times out of 10 it will be in the same room as you. Take a look at what they are playing with and ask about it. Is it there favourite? Did they get it for their birthday or for being good? Would they like you to take a photo of it or another toy? Would they like to take the photo?
The aim of all this is to make your camera seem normal to them and not some foreign object that’s going to be watching them and making noise. Some kids are pretty nervous.
Don’t be afraid to let them have a little (supervised) play with your camera. How about taking some shots of mummy or daddy? This is probably your most effective way of getting them on side. Because if mummy and daddy can do it then surely they can.
Winning an older sibling over can bring the younger ones across to easier and they become your assistant throughout the shoot, corralling the younger ones and helping them to pose or stay in shot. Maybe even being rewarded by being allowed to take a couple of shots themselves.
I detest really posed shots for kids. I prefer to let them get on with being kids and try to capture the essence of their youth and innocence while they play and explore. Of course some parents want the “standard” pose for their kids.
In these cases I let the kids play and get what shots I can. Then I get everyone into position for the “required” shots and then let them go quickly back to play. If the parents want quite a few I will break it up with play time in between the shots.
My last tip is, don’t ask the kids to laugh or smile, make them. Fake smiles look awful. When a kid is having a really good time its easy to see and makes for beautiful pictures. Tell a joke, make a funny face or have them say a silly word. Anything to make them giggle a little and have fun with you.
The results you get from the bit of effort at the beginning and end of the shoot will be well worth it!