Expect The Unexpected: Tips for Working With Children

Working with a child is a lot like dealing with the weather. It’s unpredictable, temperamental and has the potential to wreck your entire shoot. At the same time, huge risk can mean huge reward. Children add an undeniable “cute” factor that will always have a place in advertising or event videos/photography. Unlike the weather, there are a few steps we can take to increase our chances of success when working with children. Photographer Jay P Morgan recently shot photos for California's Prestige Preschool Academy and put together a video with some great tips on how to be successful while working with children.

Here are the tips Jay shares in the video:

1. Schedule

2. Be patient

3. Be persistent

4. Lay on the floor

5. Show them the images

6. Interact with them

7. Bribe them

8. Shoot when they don't see you shoot

9. Be spontaneous

10. Shoot Fast

11. Don't get distracted

12. You cannot shoot enough

13. Bring extra shirts

14. Bring simple props

These are some great tips that I strongly agree with after working extensively with children over the past few years. Whether it's music videos or commercials, I find that at least 50 percent of my jobs include children in some sort of role.

My ultimate difficult experience working with children for a music video shoot in Jamaica.

Coincidently, the most recent video I did with children was a promo video for fellow Fstoppers writer Matt Kennedy. I shot his video over the course of two days. We allotted one day to capture his family life and one day to capture him and his wife Carissa shooting a wedding. Here is the result:


Though the family shots ended up looking effortless, I can assure you they weren't. I decided to have a quick chat with Matt to shed some light on the project.

Dave Wallace: So, how much of a heads up did you give your kids on what was happening on the day of the shoot?

Matt Kennedy: We told them that a fun guy was going to come and video tape us having fun together and that they would get to tell us what we should do. This helped them feel like they were in control a bit too. 

DW: And how would you describe the first "speed bump"?

MK: The first speed bump we came across was when the kids realized that we had to do the same thing a few times in a row to make sure we got it right. They started trying to make their own decisions, like putting on princess dresses...then taking them off for the next take...not realizing what continuity was!

DW: And after numerous bribes and breaks our patience paid off. I think we got some pretty genuine moments.

MK: It's very different for a photographer and a videographer because as a photographer, I can just wait until the kid looks away and then snap the photo...but when you're getting 5-10 second clips, it's got to be hard to get good stuff without them looking at you, especially when you're so close


DW: I usually find that the best way to pull a kid out of a great moment is by adjusting lighting or other gear. I always try to set up the lighting in a scene and made sure that the kid had someone in the scene that makes them comfortable and candid. 

The more distracted the kids are, the more I'm free to capture candid footage. 

MK: Yeah, did you find that if you interacted with them too much they would try to interact with you even more then?

DW: It's a tough balance of wanting them to feel comfortable around you, but not become your "buddy"

. It's hard to get candid moments when the kids are following you around.

MK: Did you find that you had to do anything differently than you normally would have if you were just working with adults?

DW: I mentioned how we want the kids to forget that they're even being filmed. This works out great until the kids get rowdy and pull over a heavy light stand. This is bad for the gear but much worse for the safety of the kids. I'd definitely advise taping down cords and setting up lights in the safest place possible

. What about you in during your wedding shoots?

MK: The kids are usually dressed up more than they want to be, and are embarrassed because lots of people are looking at them.

DW: So how do you maneuver their awkwardness?

MK: I usually get super goofy when I first meet a kid that I'm going to be shooting. I make sure I show them a picture of themselves, or get them to try out my camera. 

I usually don't want them looking at me and smiling, so I get quick shots while they're doing their thing. When I want them to look at the camera, I get them to chase me or I balance a toy on my camera.

With children making up over 25% of the world, odds are that you’ll find yourself working with kids. Remember that a bit of mental and physical preparation can be the difference between a fun shoot and a vasectomy. All jokes aside, good luck with your shooting and feel free to share any tips that you have in the comments below.




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Oh, now, I could write a book on this topic :-)


Kids will never do what you want them to do - they'll always do what they want. The trick is making what they want to do something that you want to photograph. As with all photography, if you observe your subject and have an understanding of their behaviours, you have a chance at predicting where to be when the magic happens - so release your inner child! I can't imagine how hard it is to get the same quality of video as you get with stills...