Children are notoriously hard to shoot and most photographers generally avoid doing shoots involving them. There are ways to make it easier though!It's true, they get grumpy, they don’t listen, they misbehave, cry on set, and this all ends up delaying everything by hours. It can be quite the handful to say the least. Let's just say that I have no idea how parents do it! Bravo moms and dads of the world!
I only started photographing kids recently and that was only after I spent a few years being exposed to teaching self-defense (Krav Maga) to 5-10 years olds. Kids can certainly be a handful on set but there is nothing quite as adorable as watching a 5 year old charge towards a punching bag with the passion of a true little warrior!
Coming back to photography, these tips are not going to magically turn the children on set into little angels but they have certainly helped me in getting the kids comfortable with me, which is always beneficial to the final shot. We cannot expect the kids to act like adults but we can make the environment more welcoming to them and that is going to help keep them somewhat in check and focused.
Introduce Yourself to Them
Kids know when you’re not interested in them and in return they won’t pay much attention to you. Safe to say if they aren’t paying attention to you, that isn't exactly helpful when you need them to listen to what you say. So first thing first, introduce yourself to them. You, the photographer, don’t send your assistant to do it.
When you introduce yourself, go to their eye level. Talk to them and be genuinely interested in them. Don’t immediately talk about the photoshoot, the kids don’t likely care much about it. Ask them personal questions, like what’s your favorite color, animal etc.
If a kid refuses to tell you his or her name, my go to is to look at what are they wearing. “Can I call you Dinoman?” if he is wearing a dinosaur shirt etc.
Have a little routine that can be just between you and the kid. I picked up something from my time teaching Krav Maga where we do this little handshake and fist bump routine at the end of class. Put it high and make them work for it, this usually brings a smile to their faces and has yet to fail me.
Be a Fun Person to Be Around
Kids are not naturally attracted to adults who are too serious. If the kid isn’t bringing the energy that day, you have to be the one to do so. Be funny, make them laugh, and relax around you.
Make fart sounds. It’s been the easiest trick in the book that has gotten me plenty of workable images. Kids love it. Blame it on them or their parents or any other adults. If you want them to point at you, point at them and blame the fart at them and they’ll start pointing at you laughing cause they know it’s yours.
Work With Their Schedule
Do you like waking up at 4.30am to work? Probably not. Adults get grumpy when they're tired and even more so for little kids. Find out from their parents their sleep schedule and work with it. Don’t expect a happy smiling kid on set if it’s in the middle of their nap time. For most kids I only schedule half day shoots for them. Have a backup kid if possible.
Give Them Activities, Not Directions
Kids don’t do as well when just told to smile. Make them laugh. Tell them to twirl in circles. Let them play and just be kids. Tell them to clap as fast as possible. Or have a competition to see who can wave their hands around the silliest. Capture them in action and that’s when you’ll get the most genuine emotions.
Prepare, but Don’t Be Uptight About It
Prepare mood boards and poses but don’t expect it to go exactly as planned. As always, prepare and research as much as you can. Find poses that you might want to use if you run out of ideas on set. But don’t be too uptight about it. Kids will be kids so sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow. Might turn out better than you planned.
Kid Friendly Co-Stars
Do the kids have to work with an adult talent? If possible, take note to also cast someone who is good with children. It'll definitely make your life a lot easier, especially if you need them interacting well!
Be Open to Help
Get the parents/booker on board to help. These are people who know the kids better than you do. Find out what the kid likes or doesn't and try and prepare for it. If you want the kids to look a certain direction, have the adults they like standing there. If you want the kids to look at the camera, have the parents squat beside you instead of stand. It’ll be easier for the kids to look over at the camera while having their parents in their peripherals.
Don’t Force It
If a kid is upset and doesn't want to work, give the kid time to calm down. The worst thing you can do is scold the kid, that’ll just scare them and you’ll lose any connection you need to create the photo you want. One tip I’ve heard from another photographer was that he told a kid who was upset on his set that it was okay and the kid could go home if he wanted. He’ll just get another kid to do it. Immediately the kid refused the idea of letting someone else take his place and behaved the rest of the shoot. Of course, this would not work on everybody so you’ll just have to see the personality of the child that day.
Even for adult models, most find it easier when they have something to interact with. Especially at the start, many beginners don’t know what to do with their hands. Even more so for little kids! Make it easier for them and provide things for them to play with.
Prepare to Take a Lot of Images
Kids are unpredictable and you’ll want to capture the moment when it happens. They also have a much more limited time where they have full energy to work so when they’re doing it, snap away.
Like adults, we all want to hear that we’re doing a good job. It can be very awkward in front of the camera so encourage them. Tell them to dance and that they’re doing wonderfully. Even if they’re not, encouragement always helps before you tell them to something else. If they start doubting themselves, it’ll be very difficult to work from there on.
These are all the tips I can think of right now. If you have any others, do add them below so we can all learn from it! I hope you found this useful!