One of my all-time favorite kid's TV shows is Yo Gabba Gabba. With its groovy styling and indie musical guests, it's aimed to please adults and children alike. There is one skit they do where the characters teach kids how to move around to get the "sillies" out. As the robot character Plex explains, the sillies are those crazy creatures that live inside you. Well, I'm here to tell you that when you photograph children, you have to be mindful of the sillies because pretty much all kids have them! Here are some of my tips on how to get kids to act natural in front of the camera.
1) The Reward. It helps most kids to have an incentive. Sitting still doesn't come natural to most children, so I bring lollipops that they can have towards the end of the shoot. If candy is something you don't reward your kids with, bring a healthy special snack or promise them a trip to pick out a toy afterwards. After photographing hundreds of children, kids really respond to the potential of a treat and will listen more when they know it is coming.
2) A Special Toy or Musical Instrument. If your child is too young to have said reward, it often helps to have a toy that can grab their attention. I prefer the musical shakers because they like to hold them, will look at the camera if I'm shaking it, and it's not an offensive-looking toy to have in your photograph! Sorry, Vtech, I'm talking about you.
3) Picking the Spot. Kids of a certain age love to be in control and may decide to exert that control on your photo shoot. Perfect timing, right? By giving them a little control, though, you might be surprised with their renewed cooperation. I sometimes ask the child to choose the spot where we should take the photo. Even if it's not where I want to take it, I'll take a few shots there so they feel like they are part of the process and their voice matters. Then when I see that they feel open to cooperation, we can go to my preferred spot. Reverse psychology works wonders!
4) Let Them Run Together. One of the tricks I discovered may seem counterintuitive but it really works. Let them run! Particularly when I'm photographing siblings together, I ask them to hold hands and make it a game for them to run together when I say "go." Not only can you get great shots of them innocently waiting together (which might be an unusual scenario in your household), you can also get fun action shots of them smiling and laughing as they run.
5) Pick the Right Time of Day. Parents often ask me when we should schedule the shoot. While photographing older children and adults, I would say late afternoon because of that nice late afternoon light, but this typically is not a great time for children. Really the ideal time of day for kids is the morning or right after a nap.
And, it goes without saying, but take lots of pictures and be patient. Photographing kids is challenging but it definitely can be fun and dare I say...silly?