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How to Work with Kids During a Photo Session

Toddlers/kids. Let's talk about the parents' expectations vs reality. When booking a session with me, the parents biggest question is if I know how to handle their child. Of course I do, but it may not be in a way you expect. Let me explain.

Expectation: Perfect posing, perfect smiles, Mary Poppin styles to handle tantrums, and always looking at the camera. Keep in mind a lot of us photographers share our best work. So of course when we get a child smiling, being cute, and running carefree we share those photos. Yes we get those kids, but not all the time.

Reality: Kids are shy.. I have a big camera, and a flash stand most of the time. They are in a new area and so this can cause a sensory overload in being distracted or not following directions. Stranger danger is also VERY real with most young kids so the last thing they want to do is be friendly with a new person that has a big camera and lens. Older kids can have other issues. They don't want to be there. They want to watch TV or play their video games (I have experienced this personally with my own kids). Teens may have insecurities, with their braces, teeth, outfit, body. It is very real. Teens may not like to pose or smile in a way you want them to. We have little people of all ages learning how to process and control emotions in a very sensory overloaded scenario.

Now what do I do with these situations?

1.) Time and space. Parents should, if able, arrive a little early. Let kids explore and get the wiggles out. Maybe have them in play clothes and change them right before the session if you are worried about them getting photo clothes messy.

2.) Snack/meal before the session. Have it be their favorite. I get 'hangery' as does the rest of my family. So make sure kids aren't hungry and having it be their favorite makes them extra happy. I am not saying give them a cupcake or giant bowl of ice cream. Just compromise with their favorite cracker snack. Favorite fruit/veggie. Favorite snack bar. McDonalds Chicken nuggets and fries. Photo sessions are not done often so make their snack one of those rare meals/snacks they get for special occasions.

3.) I introduce myself, and let kids look at my camera if they don't immediately tuck their tail behind mom and dad. I give them a couple minutes to process that I am a safe person. This includes talking to mom and dad. I get on their level when talking to them, so I am less intimidating. During the session, I show them photos of them on the back of the camera. They LOVE looking at themselves in photos and are typically eager to pose again, listening to instructions more.

4.) Breaks as needed. I get kids sometimes need a reset. Throwing rocks in the water or showing me how fast they can run. Some like talking to me about their favorite TV show, animal, or pet. They bring their favorite toy and want to play with it, or show it to me. Some want me to photograph it. I oblige knowing it most likely won't be picked (but some parents end up loving it) While I do try to move things along, I also try not to rush them. That is a fast track to a complete shutdown or melt down.

Closing Take Away for Parents

I am only human, and so while I do everything in my Power/experience, I am never successful 100% of the time. Even after all the steps, hard headed children will do what they want. I tell parents to just embrace this time. It is a chapter and you should be capturing these moments anyway. The goofy face, the serious glare, the pout. It is a part of your child.

Parents/guardians, I just have one piece of advice for you. Breathe and let it go. Having these high expectations can stress you out. If kids don't have those perfect smiles, some parents may get upset/stressed/frustrated. This will feed off of you, and your children will pick up on it. It will make my job harder if I get these intense vibes from all sides. If you have fun and go with the flow, we can capture some fun images and looking back 20 years from now, you will cherish them just as much as if they had the perfect face.

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