Lesson 5. What to photograph when you’re photographing children?
In the final lesson today, I'd like to talk to you about an area of kids photography that is less about the technique, and more about the 'how to' work with kids for natural, lovely photos. So let me paint a picture and see if it resonates:
You found a lovely flower field somewhere near, you packed your child(ren) up, arrived in time to see the 'good' light. And then you get there and think - wait, what now? as your child complains about the bees, refuses to smell that flower or 'pose' nicely and you don't really have a good idea of what you want to do.
For me the key word here is 'pose'. I don't know about your kids but mine don't do posing. I may occasionally be able to 'convince' the older one into 'helping' but that's 4 min max. In our Photography for Parents courses we teach lifestyle photography - and that means following your child and working with them to capture them at their most natural. The majority of our approach could be summed up as a balance of freeflow /encouraged interactions
Freeflow vs Posed vs Directed / Encouraged interaction
Going fully freeflow/documentary means not directing, not telling them what to do, simply letting them do what they feel like and following their adventures. It's being a fly on the wall and letting your kids take you places. But also being aware that where your kids might want to take you is as far away as they can from the pretty space you found because it's 'boooooring mum' and straight to the ice cream truck in the in the parking area. If you can let go, and just go with their flow, great, but I know that lack of direction and lack of control can be frustrating and unnerving for many parents.
So if you're not wanting to pose but not wanting to give up all control either, what do you do?
Let's call it 'directed freeflow' - that means you're still in charge, gently encouraging, suggestion, setting up things for them to do, things that will engage and interest them. So no specific instructions like- 'look at mummy, touch that flower, look wistfully into the distance' and instead:
- 'Let's see how fast you can run - I'll time you from that tree to here',
- 'Can you count how many bees are buzzing around that bush?'
- 'I bet you can't jump over that puddle' ,
- 'How many times can you turn around in place before you get dizzy?',
- 'Does that flower tickle your nose when you get really close to it? '
- 'Can you find me the best smelling rose around here?'
These are just some examples that worked well for kids I know, but they may be something different for you!
If you're photographing your kids, you KNOW what makes them tick. You know what kind of things they're into and what are they likely to say yes to. Think of activities, games, objects they would naturally be drawn to. And frame the trips with those 'adventures' in mind.
A couple of suggestions for you.
- Scavenger hunt - if your kids are old enough, make it a game to spot and find things - you can think of them ahead of time and print them out for your kids to follow - they can be very simple, or more elaborate - for instance : Find the tallest tree vs When you see yellow flowers, jump on one leg
- Hide and seek - they can hide or you can hide, you can give little treats for best camouflage! ( for security and safety's sake, make sure there is another adult there to supervise and make sure no one gets lost)
- Treasure hunt - make a list of 'treasures you want to find - a round pebble, a stick as tall as you, red flower petal, a leaf shaped like a hand etc - the possibilities are endless. If you know the space you'll be in and can have access to it before your kids get there, you can do a non-seasonal treats hunt ( think Easter Egg hunt, just without eggs)
- Making flower / leaf crowns / fairy gardens, dens, mud cakes - whatever's suitable for their age, ability and interest levels
- Going insect spotting armed with magnifying glass and / or pretending to be animals or insects
- Silly Simon says - Like the regular game but with really silly suggestions thrown in - like grow your arms extra tall, pretend you're your sister /Daddy
- Silly Walk Club ( borrowed that one from Monty Python )
The possibilities are endless!
I would love to hear from you on the Facebook group what makes your kids go - let's crowdsource some ideas!!
But what if your kids see the camera and don't want to play ball? It may be early onset of Photographer's Child Syndrome
All kids, at one point or another decide they don't want to have the camera in their face. And frankly, they're entitled to it. Bribery only usually works short term only, because it doesn't address the issue the child has - something being inserted between their interaction with the parent, and play and lack of control. If they associate photography and camera with fun, they are much more likely to feel positive towards it ( see the section about games above) but we have a few other suggestions of ways in which you can help the situation.
- Involve your child in the process.
If they are old enough, you could think of getting them a kids camera ( like the Kiddizoom by Vtech) or even just a super simple small compact where they need to simply press the button to take the photos. The children’s cameras will be more shock absorbent and immune to the many dangers a toddler can pose to themselves and their environment, but the downside is a teeny tiny LCD screen and not the greatest picture quality. Alternatively, you could simply get them to see what you’re doing and ask them to help direct shooting a favourite toy or another family member.
- Make the photos tangible for them
All too often we take pictures only to look at them once after downloading onto the computer and then never seeing them again ourselves – let alone the long suffering subject of our photographic obsession. But for your child, they aren’t ‘real’ – certainly not something worth putting up with all this camera nonsense. But print them op and either let your child display them in your room as prints, create an “Jimmy’s adventures” photo book where you can stick their photos in after you’ve been somewhere interesting or even print a small photo book with fun captions from a family holiday or a trip. I guarantee you that the kids will value those and be more receptive to being in front of the camera.
- Reverse psychology
Yes, I know what you’re thinking but try this. The next time your child has a friend over (and having secured a permission to do that from the friends parents) tell the kids you’d like to take a few pictures of the friend. Make it really fun, making him/her laugh and giggle and play around. Chances are, your child who’s suddenly not being pestered for a photo, will voluntarily get in on the action.
- Camera means new games / props / dress up / things to do
Make the photography a part of a game or a make believe activity. Get props, new toy, go to a fun setting or a location – all with them knowing that this new exciting thing will involve a camera. This is not about tricking your child into thinking they’ll be doing something fun when suddenly you whip up your camera – make it clear that the camera will be there to keep a record of the fun activity
- Give them a break.
If they keep resisting, listen to them and take a break. And I mean not just for a day – turn your attention to different kinds of photography for a little while – if anything, it’s likely to widen your horizons and expand your style. You could even tell your kids that you are doing it so they feel calm about not being in danger of being pestered for photos and then gradually reintroduce the camera in small doses, and with their knowledge and consent.
- Agree boundaries or time limits and stick to them
If you tell them “I’ll just take 1 photo” and then shoot for 30 min, they’re not likely to trust you next time. Negotiate 5 – 10 photos and make them count - and I mean both figuratively and literally, your kids could count-down from 10 or 15 to keep them involved. Or invest in a silly egg timer and if you say you only have 5 minutes, set it for 5 minutes and stick with it.
- Fake smiles?
Tell them to be really really serious instead. Most kids can rarely hold a very serious face for long (especially when faced with toilet jokes – do what works for you!) and usually crack a lovely genuine smile. Or alternatively, get them to fake laugh big belly laughs or copy your silly laughs – the sillier and louder the better. This one has a similar effect and you usually get them to revert to ‘normal’ smiles after a while. I’d also recommend building up library of silly jokes.
Having an idea of what YOU want to do:
The last part of the puzzle is you actually having an idea of what you may want to see and capture while out and about. Sometimes the mind just goes blank and you end up taking the same 3 shots in 70 different minor variations over and over. We started getting you to shoot with more intent yesterday as you had a go at Diptychs, but it sometimes helps to have a couple more ideas up your sleeve.
Pros will often have a little mental 'shot list' - of shots they want to take to have a rounded session, and I would encourage you to try having a mini one too. It's not about being prescriptive, or sticking to it religiously, but more about having ideas to fall back on, when your mind goes blank. Note them down on your phone so you can whip them out quickly. And it's not about ticking all of them off every time, but having another idea to try out when you can't think of a fresh new take.
So here are some things you may want to consider adding to your list:
- Big picture - capturing a wider view of where you are
- Sensory detail
- Shoot directly from above
- Shoot from the ground up
- Find something to partly hide your subject
- Full Body / 3/4 length / head and shoulders / faceless
- Profile Shot
- Using Backlight
- Shooting through something
- incorporating props
- Big Sky
I could go on and on, and I would really encourage you to make yourself a list too. But this is more of a long term thing. For our final challenge today, I have something smaller, but hopefully, also productive for you.
Day 5 Challenge
Use our activity suggestions ( and / or add yours) and then, whatever it is that you're taking the photos of, find 5 ANGLES / PERSPECTIVES to shoot. Up/ down / from behind/ near / far etc - there is always something!!!
Looking forward to seeing your images!
So it your course just a collection of tutorials?
In the era of the internet, you could find a tutorial for nearly everything out there. For free. Why would you even consider paying for a course?
To put it simply, because that's not learning a skill works.
You can watch a tutorial on how to set the shutter speed on your camera, but that won't necessarily mean you now can take a beautiful photo of something in motion. You only learned a fragment of a skill. You didn't consider all the other elements that make a difference. It's not how we teach.
To give you an example - we have a module dedicated to capturing movement. We teach about shutter speed of course. But you also learn : how to make your focus follow your subject on the move, how to compose your photo to best illustrate the speed, whether to make your subject tack sharp or introduce a degree of blur to highlight the speed and how to apply it in common child-centred scenarios - swings, running etc . And then you go and try all this out and we give you feedback and advice on how to make things better, what you may have missed and to praise your efforts.
You don't get that from a random tutorial. YOU LEARN SO MUCH MORE
BUT WILL I IMPROVE???
Ah, the question nobody asks out loud but everybody is consciously wondering. You may be wondering if something like our course is the right thing for you. Will you be able to follow? Will you be able to transform your photography? Will you still benefit if you've already had some prior photo knowledge?
The answer is an emphatic yes. We say that because we see it with every single new group that starts. When you learn how to use that awesome tool of yours, the camera, when you learn how to see the world like it does, when you learn what things help in creating a strong image and when you learn our tricks for capturing children naturally, as they are, who they are, you can't not improve.
Did you know that the vast majority of photos featured in this bootcamp was taken by our students?
And since the proof is in the pudding, just see for yourself - here are some before and afters by our students, Mums and Dads just like you.