Just keep smiling

In the past few weeks, I've had several caregivers of my kid's friends tell me they'd love photos but they're worried that their kids won't behave well for them. Trust me, I totally understand that fear! I fell into a similar trap with my own family photographer, apologizing in advance that my six and four year olds probably won't cooperate well with photos. That they may only have a few minutes of "listening ears" before they go feral. You know, that they'd be typical four and six year olds. I've heard from families that the last time they've had professional photos done were at their wedding or as a newborn photoshoot because their toddler/young child is just too wild to cooperate. But they'd really love updated photos.

I get it. I really do. And, honestly, you're probably right. You're toddler won't cooperate for photos the way s/he did as a newborn. And s/he won't tolerate the posing that you and your partner did for wedding formals. They won't sit and smile at the camera for an hour.

But can I tell you secret? And this is really important: Kids NEVER "behave perfectly" for photos. Like ever. Photo sessions with children are chaos. Every. single. time.

But can I tell you another secret? That's OK!

As a family photographer - and as a parent of young children - I understand that family photos are really hard on kids. It's hard to listen. It's not very fun. You're wearing clothes that maybe you didn't choose. And you're in a big field or at a cool new place and people are asking you to just sit and look at this stranger, instead of exploring. Not fun. So you try to behave, you really do, but your attention starts to wander and you get silly and want to just have fun.

But the good news is that photographers are used to that. We expect it. And we know how to run with it. As the photographer, it's our job to give directions in a way that is fun and digestible to the child, to prompt the child/family in poses that lend themselves to great family photos but don't create undue stress to a child. And it is our job to recognize when a certain prompt just isn't working and to move on.

As the grown up, it's your job to sit back, relax and go with the flow. It's totally normal for kids to be silly and for certain prompts to just not work. If they don't, it's OK. I've got other ideas up my sleeve! It's OK for kids to be kids and normal, playful caregiver-child relationships and interactions make beautiful photos.

So to all the adults out there thinking that your kiddo won't behave for family photos. All you need to do is to adjust your definition of "behave". I have never photographed a kid that didn't behave like a kid. That doesn't mean that they're misbehaving. That means they're a kid. And kids are so much fun to work with!

Here's a list of the most important things you can do - as the grown up - to help achieve gorgeous photos, even when your kiddo may be less than enthusiastic about the process:

  1. Keep smiling yourself. Seriously, the most important thing you can do as a grown up can do when your kiddo is not smiling at the camera, is to just keep smiling yourself. Look happy - even if you are feeling like a ball of anxiety. Look like you're having fun. There are so many moments between the photos that can be captured. And a happy face on the grown ups really makes those photos special.
  2. Don't yell at your kiddo. Even if you really want that unicorn shot of everyone smiling at the camera and they're just not smiling, I promise that you scolding them to sit still and smile isn't going to make it happen! Especially in any sort of natural way. I have tons of tricks to get natural looking smiles out of kids. And at 9 frames per second, my camera can catch even the briefest smile! But if you're mid-yell for that brief smile, then that's a bummer! It's my job to direct them and to get the shot. It's your job to relax, make it as fun as it can be for them, and be present in the moment. Remember tip 1: keep smiling.
  3. Take play breaks! You've posed for a couple shots and the kiddos are getting squirmy and goofy. They're not feeling the next pose. It's times like these that a play break is perfect. Racing games, helicopter rides, ring around the rosie, red light/green light, blanket peek-a-boo, piggy back rides, picking flowers, surprise hugs all make for beautiful, candid-style photographs. And that's just a short list of all the fun things we can do at a session that really do lend themselves to lovely photos. Let's play for a bit and then come back and try another posed shot.

All this to say, if you are really wanting photos of your family but are concerned that your kids won't sit still, DON'T BE. I don't sit still either and I can keep up with most kids (though, if I end up racing your kid - which I frequently do - I'll let them win!) I promise, I can get some good photos.

Just remember, we're here to create memories and we want them to be good ones. Let's have fun!