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If you have ever tried to get a three year old to sit still for longer than a nanosecond you know what a challenge it can be to get that “perfect” photo. Well, I’m going to be real here, who wants that perfect photo anyway? Okay, I know you may, but maybe I can convince you to let that go. My favorite photos are always the true ones; the ones that make you smile when you look at them, or maybe even cry a tear or two. Sure, it’s nice to get that beautiful portrait, but which photo is going to help you truly remember the fiery three year old who gave you model-in-the-making poses one minute, and wiped her muddy hands on her white shirt the next?
The first thing you have to do, if you want this experience to be fun for both you and the little one, is to let go of expectations. If you have a certain Pinterest pose in mind, and are determined not to be happy until you’ve forced your little tot into it, you’re both going to be miserable. Sure, use those ideas as a starting point, but then go with what is happening in the moment. You’ll be surprised where your wee subject might take you, and you might like the results much better than what you had in mind in the first place.
Make sure your cute little one knows that you are on the same team. Most kids have no problem being obstinate, just for fun. If she senses that you really want something from her, she may quickly decide that she wants the exact opposite. I try to take the child by the hand often, even if it’s the first time we’ve met (they usually love this) and let them feel that they are part of where we are going, and what we are doing. If she decides that she wants to put on the pretty dress shoes next, then that’s what we capture next.
Bring something for her to do. I prefer not to use props generally, but a few well-chosen, meaningful props can work wonders. This keeps her attention, plus you have the added benefit of capturing those hobbies that she is into at the moment. Let her share her passion with you. Instead of trying to pose her just so, and telling her how to hold the fishing pole, and where to look – ask her to show you “how she fishes with daddy”. Let her be the expert, and you just have your camera ready. Favorite dress-up clothes can bring out the model in lots of kids. Chairs or boxes to climb on, sit on, stand on, and peek through, can be great fun.
Try not to give too much direction or commands. Kids start to tune you out pretty quickly if all they hear are orders barked at them: “Sit here, look there, smile, smile, smile!!!”. When I can tell that my little subject is about done, I’ll just let her totally do her thing, and have my camera ready for when the moment is right. If she wants to take her shoes off and splash in the water, throwing rocks, I see a perfect opportunity to capture her in her element. This is where you might get the most genuine joy shining through.
When your mini-model is done – you are done. Quit before the meltdown, before she decides that this is the worst form of torture an adult ever created. If you didn’t get everything you hoped to get, don’t sweat it. Sometimes when I look through the photos later, I find gems that I didn’t even remember capturing. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many great images you were able to get, even with truly “busy” little tots. You’re not going to get much worth keeping if you try to force more photos. When little ones are done, they are DONE. Try to keep your photo sessions short, even if you have an agreeable little model. I usually spend less than half an hour shooting if they are under five years old.
So, next time you are lucky enough to have an adorable, energetic, little one in front of your camera, remember to relax, breathe, and have some fun. You’ll find that those real photos will be your favorites in the end, and you won’t even miss that perfectly posed portrait with every hair in place.
For more tips on photographing kids check out these: