Summer is here. Kids are out of school. Families take vacations. You swim, play in the park, take road trips and go camping. There are endless opportunities to take photos of kids, especially your own kids: frolicking in the waves, blissed out by the campfire or lying in a field of daisies. This is the time of the year when children are freest to do what they do best–be a kid.
But what if you’re the parent of a kid who hates having their picture taken? I understand, because I am that mom. Left to her own devices, my daughter rarely stops moving and will do her best to look anywhere but at the camera. I’ve tried all sorts of tricks with infrequent or limited success like mounting a cute Pez container on my camera’s hot shoe, bribing her with various edible and non-edible treats, and making jokes about an [imaginary] bird pooping in my head (however using the word “poop” does work, at least once or twice). There have been plenty of times where I just gave up and went outside to take pictures of real birds who I have good success capturing with my camera, despite their flighty ways.
Don’t despair. There is hope! Take it from me, the mom who struggles on a regular basis to get “a good shot” of her daughter Here are five hot tips that work!
Shoot like there’s nobody’s watching
What would happen if I stopped worrying about whether my daughter smiles for a photo? What if I quit begging, pleading and bribing her to please look at me? Why do I feel like I need to sell my soul so my kid’s eyes will be in the picture? These are questions I’ve asked myself a lot in the past six months. I know it’s said “the eyes are the window to the soul,” but I’ve discovered the truth is I can catch the essence of my daughter when she’s not watching me, not dutifully looking at the camera. The “trick” lies with me, not her. When I shoot with my own eyes, and stop caring about hers, those are the moments I get some of my best “captures.”
Make them laugh
Saying “cheese” never works, unless you like cheesy, fakey photos. And do as I say and not as I sometimes do because “Look at the camera” rarely works either. I’ve also tried “Where are my eyes” from time to time. That usually ends with her reaching out her arm and pointing her index finger in the direction of my eyes…which covers her face. The way to get natural smiles, easily, is to forget about any and everything having to do with SMILE. Tell a joke. Get goofy (you too mom). Ask her to tell a story or you tell one, “Remember the time the cat chewed holes in your shoe?” Or ask her not to smile, no really I mean it, don’t you dare smile.
Think out of the box
Or under it and over it. Almost every “tips” article I’ve read talks about getting down to kid level, like kneeling or lying down on the floor. And that works, but also think about shooting from above, from behind and from a distance. BONUS tip–Sometimes shooting with a longer lens, like 85mm-105mm, helps you get”closer” than you might shooting with a 35 or 50mm. Being stealth is what it’s all about, especially if your subject is camera shy or downright camera averse like my kid. This resonates with me too. When someone sticks a camera lens right in my face, I know I’m not my most photogenic self.
Embrace worse for the wear
Yes of course she looks cute in that adorable dress her grandmother bought her, but I can guarantee you’ll get better shots if she plays dress up instead of getting dressed up, even if all you do is give your kid a pair of sunglasses to put on. What kid doesn’t love sunglasses? Plus, she puts them on and her eyes “are covered.” She feels safe in that comforting, “I can’t really see you and you can’t really see my eyes…so, we’re cool” sort of way. Try not to worry so much if her hair is messed up (and my girlie is the Queen of Messy Hair), whether her shirt clashes with her skirt, or even a smidge of yogurt on her lips or snot under her nose–it’s all part of kid-charm, plus there’s always Lightroom and Photoshop for the really egregious boo-boos. In fact, sometimes, the best part of the shot is mismatched socks, hair flying wildly about and pants that are on backwards. You can save coifed and color-coordinated for the Santa photo booth.
The bottom line? When my daughter is in her own fantasy land (instead of mine) is when I get the best photos. I’m not sure at what point in life we get so concerned about the right outfit and the perfect smile, all poses and matchy-matchy. It’s kind of a shame, really. Because it doesn’t get any more authentic than when you shoot kids in their element.
Find the story
Do you really need all of your kid in the shot, or maybe just a close up of just her tiny feet in bunny slippers? Could you crop out half her face, just shoot her from the neck down, take a picture of her hands drawing? And now for the big kahuna of questions: Does it really matter if your kid looks at the camera? As it turns out, no. If you look through this post, there is only one photo where you can see my daughter’s eyes–well, an eye and it’s underwater at that. So much for all my attempts to get my daughter to look at the camera and not make a silly face. That said, even though I now know this, I still keep trying more than I’d like. Thankfully I am solidly on my way to recovery.
In the past six months since I started my 366 Project, I have learned a lot about photography. Some of the things I’ve learned have come from trial and error, a LOT of trials and a lot of errors. I once joked (but it was “for real” and not a joke) that all it took was three shots to get a good picture of a bird and 53 shots to get a good picture of my daughter. You know who else has my back? Other photographers, particular photographers who are moms like me, so a shout out to my beloved Mamas with Cameras who have given me encouragement, shown me creative angles (literally) and are always inspirational.
Rock the shot!
It’s all about the journey,
Note: I used her exclusively because I have a ‘her,’ but everything in my post applies whether you’ve got a boy, a girl or more than one of either.