Practical tips to photographing children and families.
As as mother of a very active toddler, I have to ensure that I capture all the fun moments and have it printed and framed (this is my biggest guilt at the moment - I've got many photos waiting to be printed but .... yes).
The days & years are really short. They are. She is 2.5years old now and as I look through the videos of her infant days, newborn days, days when she's a chubby cherub, I miss them dearly. I miss when she's just an upside down turtle, I miss when all she could do was be on her back and flash me her toothless smile.
Now, she frowns at me if I have a stern word with her about bedtime and "3 mins and I have to charge the iPad, baby". Now, she's all about "No, mama. I go sleep!". Now, she's growing into the amazing, fun, tough little character of her own.
I miss them dearly and that's why I make it a point to capture as many moments as possible and do them for other families and parents too.
I often get asked "How DID YOU GET THEM TO LOOK AT THE CAMERA?! That never happens to me before!" or "you're really good with children! he is smiling like never before!" or "he really likes pressing the buttons on your camera!"
I think it's because of a few factors and I highly encourage you to do it, if you're an amateur photographer, or a pro or even a mom/dad equipped with the mobile phone.
Get down to their level
I subscribe to Gentle Parenting Discipline and a lot of it is about understanding and treating children the way you do to an adult, bearing in mind the neurological differences between a mature and a growing mind (I can go on and on about this fascinating aspect!).
Part of the discipline (no, not that type of discipline) is to go down to the child's level instead of towering over them. It allows them to feel much more safer, more abled to trust and be themselves. When you're at the eye level, they feel more connected. Think about it, as an adult, you'd like it too if someone comes down to your level, whatever circumstances it is.
This is the case with young children too.
When you're not towering over them, when you're at their level, they are more willing to open up to you. Try it next time when they are rolling around in the supermarket, or crying and sitting on the pavement. Sit down next to them, quietly (I feel your frustration parents, I feel that too and this is completely human!). But really, try it. Go down to their level. After it has all passed, it's easier for them to run to you "mama, i need a hug. I'm sad!".
This is applicable to everything when dealing with a young child - go down to their level.
It's also why it makes it easier for me to get photos of kids - down at their level, it's marvellous! I experience things I don't and I see things differently. Above all, it's my job as a mother, as a mother who photographs children to make children feel safe with me especially when there's a big massive lens pointing at them, going "click, click, clickkkkkkkkkk"
Let them play or explore your shutter button
This is obviously not for every photographer out there but this is GOLDEN TIP if you can practice this.
After taking an amazing photo of them or their mummy and daddy, I tend to show it to the child "look, this is mummy, daddy and you!". Most of the time, if they are above 12 months old, they are amazed and quite happily smacking your camera screen and laughing. Imagine seeing double - your parents seating and laughing and your parents on the screen. What must be going through their mind?
When I feel they've grown warm towards me, I often tell them to come over and be the photographer. I will tell them to press down my silver shutter button as I point towards their parents. Ohhhhh they enjoy that alright. For a good 1-2mins I would have tons of funny photos, blurred photos but the point is, it's a fun thing for them! Every kid I know love pressing buttons. Again, this is not for all photographers and some parents will tell their kid off.
It's important for me to build a good connection with children to produce the photos that I want so if this makes them happy for the next 5 mins to get them to laugh, hug, kiss their parents, I'd do it.
At the same time, you lessen the stress of the parents. Seeing their child being respected by the photographer is key to most parents. Do what you can to make everyone happy. For me, its for them to mess around with my camera (make sure you've got lens cleaner, cloth, camera strapped around neck)
Lastly, fast shutter speed
Oh this is a given, right in the textbook. It amazes many parents when I manage to capture a good photo of the kids when they are running or jumping. Remember, children are not meant to be sitting robots. They are meant to run around circles, jump, tumble, etc. As a photographer, it's so important to let kids be kids - that's my motto when parenting my own toddler. Children learn through play, running around and being themselves. Your job as a photographer is to make sure you set up your camera to the faster shutter speed possible to capture it all. Hence why the above is key to having 'compliant' (I am using this word loosely) children who will make it a little bit easy for us photographer. As for the shutter speed, I sometime use 1/500 but it highly depends on the rest of the set up.
I am sure you know what's your best setup with a camera or your mobile phone.
Good luck with the shoot! Let me know how you get on.