The Go-To Guide for Working With Kids
Even though I work with kids nearly every day as a family photographer, no two shoots are ever the same. After years of working with kids of all ages and personalities, I’ve got some go-to tips for getting the smiles parents want and keeping sessions fun.
The First Approach
Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to sit with every kid and get them 100% comfortable before I have to start shooting; while I always want sessions to be fun, there is a schedule that we need to try and stick to. Those first few minutes after a family arrives to the studio are so important, and learning to connect with kids quickly has made a huge difference in how smooth a session goes.
The first step to starting a session on the right foot is to meet kids at their level. If they’re pre-teens, play it cool and ask some basic, non-intrusive questions like what music they like. Playing the music they like instantly opens them up. Toddlers LOVE when you actually get on their level, getting down and playing with them at their height. It takes time to be able to quickly read people, but the longer you’re at it, the easier it will be to know just what a kid needs as soon as you meet them.
There’s two types of kids in the studio: ones who love posing for the camera, and ones who want to hide behind mom and dad for as long as possible. When it comes time to shooting the second kind, there’s a few tricks I’ve been using for years that help even the shyest kids come out of their shell.
The first - and maybe the best - tip I have is to not focus too much on a kid that’s being shy; singling them out will only make them more uncomfortable. Instead, talk to the family as a whole. Start out with the family shots so that they can stand with parents and siblings while they get used to being photographed. You can also play off the parents’ energy to show kids how fun a photography session can be. Tickling Mom and Dad, getting them to laugh with you, or telling jokes with parents can show a kid that this is a place where they can relax!
If you’ve been to my studio, you know I’ve got kid-friendly distractions galore: stickers, blocks, stuffed animals, even a toy box! I don’t just use these fun toys to bring shy kids out of their shell, I also use them as bribes. Kids always think it’s a pretty good trade: stand still and smile for just one more photo, and get an awesome toy to take home!
It’s also helpful to encourage kids as the session progresses, especially if they’re getting antsy and want to be done before I’ve gotten all the shots in. It’s as easy as telling a grouchy kid, “Hey, you’re doing so great! Keep it up!” every few minutes. If you’re positive, the kids will be positive, and if you’re getting frustrated with them, they’ll know. Keep things light, and be sure to let little ones know that they’re doing the best job at standing tall and smiling!
Making Kids Laugh
Saying, “Don’t smile! Don’t laugh!” has almost a 100% success rate of getting kids to smile and laugh up until the age of about 5. Why? Because it’s plain silly! At the end of the day, all kids, no matter how shy or grumpy, will give you their best smiles if they’re laughing and having fun. Funny faces and kid-friendly jokes will always get a laugh, and younger kids think it’s hilarious when I have one of the stuffed bears take their photo!
Nothing can get rid of tears or a frown faster than play time, when kids are free to be themselves. I like to get the posed family photos done first, so that when little ones are getting tired by the end of the session, we can do candid shots with toys and games. I have a big comfy bed in the studio, and kids think it’s the best when they get to jump around on it - and the photos of them laughing and playing are always so sweet! Just be sure to save this for the last shot of the session as it can get kids pretty riled up!
And there you have it - my guide to turning even the biggest frown upside down! All you really need to work with kids is a positive attitude, some fun toys, and the confidence to be super silly. There can be no shame in this game! If you’re having fun, I guarantee that any kids in front of your camera will be having fun, too.