Tuesday, May 22, 2007

11 Tips For Photographing Children

Last Wednesday I did a family shoot for a friend, specifically her children L. (about a 12 months old) and J. (about 3 1/2 years old). It went well, and although many of the photos didn't turn out, many turned out great. I learned a lot. So, I thought I'd digress a bit and give 11 Tips for photographing children before I get into my business plan in the next few days.

Yes, I did actually say business plan.

Obviously, I'm no expert with one shoot under my belt, but I did learn a few things.

1. Expressions are way more important than technical greatness. After all, you are shooting for the adult family members (parents, grandparents, etc). Really parents just want a record of their kids to aid memory later in life, don't try to make them too arty. If the lighting isn't perfect, they'll forgive you as long as their children look cute.

2. Be flexible. I can't stress this enough, nothing with children goes according to plan. I had all these planned shots I wanted to get, but the best ones were the ones I set up in 30 seconds on the fly.

3. Don't expect them to listen to directions. I mean seriously, if my kids don't listen to me, why should anyone else's? Really, though, it means keep it simple. If the kids listen, great. If they don't, move on.

4. Play houses are gold for portraits. Most of the photos that came out were in the play houses. The transparent walls make for some nice diffuse light, and there are tons of activities in them.

5. Ask them to lean on something. This may be for all portraiture, but giving them something physical to do will keep them occupied. I asked J. to lean on the window of one of the play houses (demonstrating myself) and he quickly obliged, going from serious and thoughtful to wacky in a few frames, and all of them turned out great.

6. Play with the kids. If you want cute shots, you HAVE to play with the kids. Otherwise they're going to look at you like you have four heads the entire time, and nobody wants to put a picture of that on their mantel. That's how I got J. to go from serious to laughing (see right) in about 30 seconds.

7. Babies like to touch your equipment. Yeah, I planned on using the Sunpak 383 balanced with the ambient to add some interest to the shots, but L. went right after it. One tug on my eBay slave trigger and I decided to put it away. I did let him explore the light stand a bit, that's where the lede image came from.

8. Bring props. Presenting children with toys that are new to them is the most reliable way to make them forget about you and the camera. Make sure those props can be chewed on. Another little-known fact is that even older kids will play with any new toy you hand them.

9. Don't prematurely delete photos. I thought I was doing a good thing to pare down the photos right after the shoot (eliminating bad shots and bad expressions) but after I did it, I regretted it. For instance, I had two shots of L. with the light stand, and I got rid of the one which showed the stand more clearly because I figured I had two and the parents wouldn't be interested in it. BUT, when I started work on this page, I immediately wanted it back as the lede.

10. Delete the technically bad photos. Or at least don't show them to the parents. And, yes, I know this is directly opposite of #9. This is the deal: the shot at right I included in an e-mail to the parents right after the shoot (really cute). When I looked at it in more detail, I realized it had horrible focus (probably because I was playing peek-a-boo with L. at the time) and the huge bright spot on his head will be impossible to remove. Clients generally won't understand that it is impossible to fix focus problems, but if you show them the photo, they'll want to. My new motto is to delete the technically flawed photos I would be ashamed to show as my work, and any redundant or blah expressions. But keep everything else, just in case.

11. Make sure the parents sign a model release. Otherwise, all your work is for nothing. A step farther, I'd say walk them through the process so no mistakes happen. Without the model release, I can't include the photos on this page or use them in my portfolio. Last Wednesday, it went pretty smoothly, but I regretted not talking it over with them (they just read it over and signed as I got started).

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