These 12 tips will help you get through a difficult session with unruly children. You’ll get those photos that the family will cherish for many years to come.
1. Get on The Kids’ Level
Children, especially those under five, are not keen to be photographed let alone by a stranger. The first step in getting them to gain confidence in you is to get on their level.
Stoop down onto one knee and take some time to introduce yourself and even show them your camera. Show them a photo that you’ve taken of them will also grab their attention.
This will pique their interest in what you’re doing and perhaps may even pose a little more for the next photos.
Getting on their level will also help set you apart from their parents. They are usually the ones who have all the authority.
It will make you a friend rather than another adult they have to take orders from.
2. Involve the Children in the Session
Oftentimes children become unruly and difficult during portrait sessions. They feel like they are following orders.
Keep an eye out to check if their energy is draining, or they’re acting out. Try and have them engage in the session in a different way.
Have them come over and stand by you while you get photographs of the older siblings or the parents alone.
Ask them if they want to be your assistant and that you need help making mom and dad smile.
Have them tell jokes, make funny faces, anything that helps them to take part in the session. Children love to change roles with their parents and will find it both entertaining and fun!
3. Play With the Children
Sometimes, children need to play and not pose. They need to let out their energy and don’t care much that mom and dad are paying you for portraits.
Go with it and play with them a bit. For babies, getting close and making noises or tickling, with parent approval, usually works to get their attention.
Move back and get the shot. If you can use a tripod for this, even better, or have an assistant help you making them smile.
For children around 2-4 bonking your head with a noisy toy chicken or another noisy toy usually gets them riled up.
This can also mean you’re behind your camera and can get the shot faster.
Saying funny things like “eww daddy farted!” or something that gets a reaction out of the children will help you get a real smile. And it’ll keep them where they are.
Even better if you can get mom and dad on board to do some silly faces or noises.
Getting them to play can also give them a little break from posing or as they know it, standing in one spot for too long.
Playing can also involve exploring, looking around the location for lost treasure, or having them lead the play.
You’ll find that once you play a bit with the children, they’ll loosen up. They’ll be more willing to pose with mommy and daddy to go back to playing.
4. Phrases for Redirecting the Child’s Attention
Let parents know that saying “no” can shut down children. They want to push the limits with their new photographer friend.
Telling parents to refrain from using the n-o word can shift the energy of the session. It can make it so that the children are more willing to follow instructions.
Use phrases that redirect the children’s ideas or if they are firm on their uncooperative attitude. Use phrases like “that is a great idea, but, how about we first go over here with mommy and daddy?”.
These redirect the children all the while you’re acknowledging them in the process.
You can also redirect unruly behavior when children aren’t willing to smile. Saying something like “oh don’t smile, don’t you dare smile! I don’t want any smiles” can actually bring about smiles.
When a child is getting restless, you can try and have the children break away from the parents a bit.
Giving them space can also help them to not feel too pressured to pose, stand in one spot, smile or otherwise.
5. Take a Break
Most often, the reason children are acting out is that they need a break. Mention to parents before the session that they should bring snacks and drinks for their children. Just in case they need them during the session.
Breaks can also be a great opportunity for you to photograph the family being natural. Or to get other details like the location of the session for the family photo album.
6. Change of Scenery
Children get tired of being in one spot for too long at a time. This can sometimes result in meltdowns and shutting down during sessions.
If this is the case during the portrait session you’re shooting, change the scenery.
You can change locations or move the session from say, the sand, to the water. Or perhaps from the lake at the park to the games for the children.
With the change in scenery, you can redirect the attention of the children to another part of the location. This might be new to them, or at least more fun to be in.
7. Keep the Session Moving
Nothing makes a child more uncooperative than having to stand in one place for a long period of time.
Getting the family posed, then composing the shot, having them smile, is a lot for little ones to be happy about.
When you’re taking portraits of families with smaller children, keep the session moving.
This means that for every spot, take about two or three shots and then repose the family or give them something to do.
After, move from that spot into a new one. Keeping things moving along keeps the children from getting restless. Restlessness brings about meltdowns.
8. Encourage the Children Throughout the Whole Session
Encouraging children throughout the entire session is like giving them a gold star each time you take a photo.
Using their name, make sure to shout “great job/you’re awesome/wow you’re doing so great!”
You might also have to do this with older siblings. They can sometimes feel like they get ignored if a younger sibling is around.
Shifting the attention among siblings and saying things like “wow you’re so good at this, I see you! Where is your smile (child’s name)? Is it hiding?”
A simple, “I see you (child’s name) and you’re doing so great!” can be the ticket to a great smile and fun experience.
9. Be Willing to Act Silly and Sing Songs
Children love to be silly, sing songs and make funny noises. You shouldn’t be afraid to act accordingly if you want to get their attention.
Anything from animal noises to wheels on the bus for the 100th time can make a child warm up to you. They’ll give you that fun and authentic smile.
Ask the parents for what songs the child likes best and go with that. If not, then you can try animal sounds, or car sounds, anything that will grab the child’s attention.
From there, they’ll either sing with you or laugh at you and this is where you get your shot!
10. Talk About Something That They Love
Not all children perk up to encouragement, silly noises, or songs, so try and find one thing that they like.
It could be that they watch Paw Patrol every day and love how the pups save the day. Or it could be another child loves legos.
Ask the parents what the child likes and try and talk about how you like that activity as well.
Older children, from five years to 10 years, have lots of things they like to do. They love talking about them or telling stories.
You can also ask the parents to chime in and bring out what favorite things they like to talk about, read, watch, etc.
Getting them talking about something they like will open them up to you. Eventually, they won’t even notice you’re taking photos.
11. Use Props and Toys
You might try all of the above tips and still not be able to get the child(ren) to cooperate. Try bringing out some of their favorite toys, or toys that you have brought along.
This can get them talking, playing, exploring, and interested in the session. It can also get their attention, especially if they are two years old or younger.
Props can also give the whole family an activity to do. Like bringing books, a picnic setup, or some toys to dig in the sand can all make for more lifestyle photos.
They’ll give the children something that they like to do.
It also helps to break up the session so the children don’t start to get bored. Older children, those 10 years and further into the teenage years, get bored as well.
Since they are generally more self-conscious, an activity like a football can help take the nerves out and relax everyone involved.
12. When All Else Fails, Try Bribery
There is nothing more effective than bribery. But this trick can wear out pretty quickly if you start with it.
Bribery, with the approval of mom and dad, can include candy, ice cream, tv shows, or even getting to splash in the water rather than just touching it.
Bribery means you’re withholding a treat until they do what you’ve asked. If you keep doing this, they may get tired of the withholding part quickly.
This should be used as a last resort and always with the permission of parents. It might not be okay for a child to eat sweets or within a parent’s plan to stop for ice cream.
Either way, this can work wonders in getting those smiles out and toward the camera.
Children aren’t used having to stand still for long periods of time. They can be a bit unruly when it comes to portraits.
With these 12 great tips, you can bet that you’ll get more smiles than tantrums.