I’ve written hundreds of articles in the past 25 years, and the hardest ones to put together were those in which I had to interview children. Most of those youngsters were either shy to the point of being maddeningly mum or so chatty that keeping them on task was impossible. I always got the story finished, but they definitely presented challenges.
The same challenges present themselves when working with children during photo sessions. And learning how to deal with them can mean the difference between great children’s portraits and a total waste of time.
I like to speak with the parents and find out when the normal rest time is, and schedule sessions around those times. A well-rested toddler will be much more likely to be happy and willing to smile. Parents can help out by ensuring their children actually take naps before packing up to head to the session.
Once the session starts, however, much of the burden passes to the photographer. This is where having a knack of handling children — and exhibiting a healthy dose of patience — comes into play.
Take a recent session with the Hall family. Anyone who knows young Hudson Hall knows he’s rambunctious. Telling him to sit still is like telling the moon to stop orbiting the earth: It’s probably not going to happen. The key was to work with Hudson instead of against him.
The first thing we did was shoot some family portraits. His parents had Hudson prepped for the shoot, so we knocked out a couple of full-family images.
But, true to form, Hudson was soon fidgeting and running around at the first opportunity. I could have melted down and lost any chance of getting the images, but that obviously wasn’t an option.
His father worked with him initially, and then I decided it was time to just go with the flow by making a game out of it. I set up my light near a decorative column, and told Hudson to jump out and smile. That worked like a charm. He loved it, giving me several shots that were gems.
Often the most-difficult to deal with are the younger kids. Hudson’s sister, Leah, showed one side of the challenge: She couldn’t have cared less that I needed to take her photo. She was just bored with the entire exercise. So I had to work simply to get her to look at me. My wife (who is my able assistant) helped, and I finally got a few good images. Again, patience was key.
Another danger is that a child will lose patience and refuse to cooperate. The best way to deal with this is to ensure you get all the images you can of young children early. April Duplessis is less than 2 years old, and she arrived with her parents happy and ready to go.
We set her up, captured four or five quick images and that was about it. After that, she refused to sit still by herself. By focusing on her early I was able to capture some fantastic images.
My wife is constantly reminding me of the best approach: Be quick.
With adults, a photographer can take his time to set up and work with different exposures. That luxury doesn’t exist when it comes to children.