They squirm. They cry. They run. The run faster. They scream a little. Then scream a lot. They stick out their tongue. Monsters. They are monsters.
Ok, not all the time. And most kids really aren't monsters (mine definitely ARE). But it's hard to keep the attention and interest of a kid no matter if they are 3 years old or 11. So how do you do it? How do you go into the session and walk away with images the parents are expecting?
- Set the expectation. You have to do this first. Remind the parents that babies cry. That 3 year olds want to do what they want to do. That their kids make them smile on a regular basis just by being themselves, so maybe it's not best to try for anything different. Remind the parents of your process and flow of your sessions. HAVE A ROUTINE. In my guide I send out before sessions, I let the parents know what to expect in my sessions so they know I'm going to be silly when I need to, and I'm also going to let the kids be themselves.
- Use your talents. My special talent is fart noises with my mouth. I really really wish I were joking here. But I'm pretty good at it. And I do it at every session. Is it gross? Maybe to some. But I find that almost everyone is going to laugh at a toot noise. From the smallest of people to the oldest grandfathers. Have a grumpy 4 year old boy who doesn't want to smile simply because you want him to smile? Toot. With your mouth of course. If he doesn't crack then good luck to you. You might be screwed. And yes. Toot noises work with girls too!
- DON'T get frazzled. It's nuts how someone so tiny can really rattle you sometimes. My kids do it on the regular. But stay calm and take a second to regroup when needed. Step away (pretend to check your camera or load another roll of film if you need to), and use your head. Is something not working? Then don't force it! Take a breath and then take back control.
- Be a kid. Get on their level either on the ground or sitting on a kid size chair (I very carefully do this because it's really hard for me and my old knees to kneel or get up and down off the ground.) Kids have an incredibly special way of having fun. Everything is light and care free. Be a kid. act care free not stressed out about getting a shot. Be confident. The more consistent you are in your routine, the less stressed you will be and the better kids will react to you. I've seen it in my own work. They are sponges, so all the stress you put out, they are going to soak up and spit right back at you.
- Be a good listener. Tickle, laugh, play, put down the camera and talk to them. Ask questions about what they did in gym class that week or what they were for Halloween. Engaging with kids with your camera down lets them see you and be more comfortable with you when you bring that camera back up to your face. Talk, ask a question, take a quick photo, put the camera down and ask another question. Be interested in what they have to say. Kids want to be heard. Don't we all?
- Got a joke? I am a joke fan. I tell them all the time with my own boys and jokes have always been a part of my life (my dad is still a jokester). Now, with this tip, it really would help if you were someone who has a sense of humor. A silly knock knock joke about an owl won't go over well if you aren't into it. You just can't fake that. But if you do have some sense of humor, use google as your friend. Get some material. You don't have to become a contestant on Last Comic Standing or anything, but having a few solid jokes for kids in your brain will never ever hurt.
- Just go with it. Sometimes it is what it is. And there might be nothing you can do to make the kid want to smile and look at you for a photo. It's ok. Really, it is. You aren't a failure so just get out of your head. Take the time when they are being uncooperative and photograph something other than their face. Maybe they are wearing super cute red chucks. Maybe they brought their blankie and are snuggling with it while they give you the death stare. Maybe they are still in that kind-of-a-baby stage and have a little belly sticking out or part of their diaper peeking out the back of their tiny jeans. Photograph that. Parent's might not think they want it, but in 20 years those photos will make them smile so, so big.
So many of these things I am sure you already know. The biggest problem is not being comfortable. As soon as you get in your head about this, it becomes a problem. Stick with a routine you are comfortable with. Get jokes you are comfortable with. Or know you are NOT comfortable making toot noises or talking about poop. You have to learn how you work best. And you really do have to have fun. Most kids won't like you if you aren't fun. And really, shouldn't it all be fun?
*all images shot with Fuji 400h on a Hasselblad H1 and Rolleiflex 2.8e