Going Beyond "Cheese"
In order to photograph kids in a way that showcases their personalities and creates a positive experience, it’s part of my job as the photographer to engage with them on their level, become a trusted friend, and inspire fun all within just an hour’s time! It’s a tall order and while it may look like just running around and snapping away to the random bystander, there’s a lot of purposeful interaction and choices I make throughout a shoot to ensure my energy and engagement meets each individual child’s needs. They are all different and unique after all, and I never want a child to feel uncomfortable or scared during their shoot with me.
That’s one of the reasons I feel strongly about meeting with the parents—and kids if possible— before the shoot; removing the “stranger” label can do wonders, but even just learning about the kids’ temperaments, what makes them tick and what makes them ticked off, these details can make or break a shoot! A shy 18 month old girl may need a little more chatting and exploring time before she starts to feel comfortable around me with my camera, whereas a more gregarious girl who is willing to tell anyone within ear shot all about her awesome ninja Halloween costume is more likely to jump right in need a lot of crazy ideas to keep her interested in the shoot.
Tricks from my Toolbox
Today, I wanted to share this fun little trick that works wonders for energetic kiddos, espcially if they’re loosing interest or not really engaging.
C was so excited by all the stimulation around him on the downtown mall the morning of our shoot and while he was interested participating, he was also a master of the “freeze and cheese”— otherwise known as the position kids are conditioned to assume whenever a camera is present. This is the before pic of what happened when I just said "Hey C, let's stand over here and get a picture of just you!"
He's obviously an adorable kiddo, but this expression is so not him! I wanted something a little more natural to say the least, so I set up on a spot, adjusted my framing and composition, then asked C to come stand right in front of me for a little game.
When he did, I squatted down to his level and said
“Ok C, why don’t you race to that tree and back to this spot (pointing to a place on the bricks) and I’ll time you!”
He was pumped. When I yelled "go", he bolted over to the tree and back, freezing in the perfect spot with a big ole natural smile on his adorable face. Bonus: Keep shooting after the moment has past- the one on the right is a few moments later as he was catching his breath. :-)
It took him four seconds. And we got awesome pictures of a four-year old in the meantime.
I realize this is just a tiny little trick, but when used with the right kids, it's a home-run. Try it next time you have a distracted or energetic kiddo on your hands and want to capture an authentic and lively shot in the moment 😃