Parents are always amazed at the level of patience I have for their children. As a photographer, this is a handy trait to have, and I’ve come across so many different personalities, that it is hard for me to be bothered by children whose first priority that day isn’t me. Kids have such a wide range of personalities, and I always tell parents that I am there to capture their family and child, not someone else’s. Your child has a personality and we can’t change that. Some kids are wild and rambunctious and full of energy, and some are quiet and shy for the first few minutes. I have both of these in my own home, they start of timid, and go into full blown hilarious energizer bunnies. Preparing children for a photoshoot may seem daunting, but the below tips should make it easier and ease your fears.
For a regular, full length session, there are steps we can take to help minimize uncooperative children. But these are good rules of thumb to follow for any type of session.
1. Prepare your children by hyping up the photo session as a fun activity
Prepare them them- talk about the photos leading up to the day. Get the excited about the photos and the photographer. Talk about Ms or Mr so and so and how they’re going to look adorable and have so much fun! Tell them about us and how cool we are, so they don’t feel like they’re meeting a total stranger. Talk to them about us as a friend. Of course some kids will be naturally more shy or distrusting. During a regular session we have time to work through those roadblocks.
2. Let them get familiar with their surroundings and let loose a little bit by arriving early
Arrive early and let them play or run around a bit. This gets them familiar and more comfortable with their surroundings and helps them to feel more relaxed once we begin. I know we are worried about dirtying outfits and getting messy, but outfits should be put on right before we start the session.
3. Feed them – We don’t want hangry kiddos
Make sure kids are fed before the session. Calming down a cranky and hungry child is near impossible. As a mom with two toddlers, when they say they are hungry, nothing is going to change their mind, or mood.
Bring Snacks and water for them in case they need a break. Snacks should be small, and not messy. Think cheerios, plain crackers, or anything in the pale colored family. Nothing chocolate, powdered, or ORANGE (if you know, you know). The last thing you want is smears of bright colors, or messy looking poop stains on clothing or faces! Photoshop can only do so much.
4. Rested children, are well behaved children
Make sure they’ve rested or napped before hand. If they’ve had a chance to rest and re-energize, they are most likely to be in a better, more receptive mood. You definitely don’t want to plan a photoshoot for kids after a long and active or adventurous day. They will be overstimulated, tired, and cranky.
5. Clothing- make sure they’re comfortable!
Dress kids comfortably prior to and during the session. Ideally with certain outfits, you want to keep the final outfits on hangers until you arrive and are ready to shoot so they are wrinkle free. If the photographer is preparing your child’s clothing for you, you won’t have to worry about this part.
If your child has sensitive skin, don’t put them in outfits that will be itchy or scratchy for them, making them uncomfortable for the remainder of the session.
6. Do not force fake smiles during your photoshoot!
Do not stress them out. Plan for a potential meltdown- they always happen. Sometimes when this happens, kids just need a moment to recompose themselves. Sometimes this means that parents just need to step away for a bit. Let me talk to them, let me distract them. A bunch of people calling to them in different directions, constantly asking for a smile, or threatening them with this and that, does not a happy child make.
Do not try to force smiles- we are looking for natural expressions. We all know that children have the forced smile look, and normally this happens when they are pressured to smile. If we tell them to smile, that is what we get. We want to get real smiles and emotions from them, and often this is accomplished by just getting them to have a silly reaction or laugh at something. Sometimes, all it takes is a good old fart joke. You can also let me know beforehand if there is a favorite character, tv show, or song they really enjoy so I can be prepared to pull that out of my arsenal.
7. Bribery and Rewards
I have mixed emotions about bribery. I think this concept definitely works for some children. For others, it may make them upset. You can help put your child in a good mood prior to the session by letting them know you are treating them to something after the session – ice cream, a playdate, a fun movie, etc.
I am wary of offering treats during the session itself, or letting them know you have a treat for them in your bag. Often, especially with younger children who will definitely lack patience and don’t understand the “why can’t i have it now” concept, this will just lead to a cranky toddler screaming for that lollipop, or conversely refusing to let it go for the remainder of the session.
Here are some good articles on rewarding your children for specific behaviors, and how not to overdo it: How to use rewards to motivate kids. And: How to Use Rewards. I also like the tip on reinforcing and rewarding positive behavior shared here in bullet #3: 4 Tips for Raising a Well Behaved Child
8. Enjoy Yourselves
Stay upbeat and have fun- Kids and babies will pick up on negative energy. We know you’re stressed about this, but try to remember that this is why you aren’t taking your own photos. I am here to help you relax, and to guide you through the session. You focus on me, I will focus on your kids and getting them where they need to be. If you follow the above guidelines, preparing your child for photos appropriately will help us get through the day successfully!
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Sofia Ribeiro is an award winning New Jersey maternity, newborn, and family photographer serving the North and Central NJ areas, as well as New York City, Staten Island, and as far south as Delaware.
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