The white-room studio look has become really popular lately, especially for children. I love it for so many reasons:
Kids are unpredictable, especially when you don’t know them. Removing the element of not only trying to catch the right moment, but also crossing your fingers hoping that the ‘moment’ happens in the right position within the frame of ideal natural light (while chasing them around) gives me more energy to actually focus on the child.
It is a more affordable option for clients who can’t afford to hire you for a location shoot. I spend about 30 mins with kids in my studio.
The lighting set-up is easy and optimal for whatever the kids decide to throw at you (sometimes literally!)
There are, however, a few drawbacks
If you’re not a pretty decent photographer, it can be hard to produce the type of images you see in your head and without the element of a location/surrounding (sunny day in the park?) the only emotion you will convey through this style of photography is that which comes directly from the kids and you have to be pretty darn good to get kids who don’t know you who feel a bit strange in a white room filled with big flashing lights to open up and show you emotion. And then when they do, you have to be ready to catch it in a split-second.
The right equipment can be really expensive. There are some really cool and clever ways of doing high key studio without any lights at all, but they’re not at all ideal for children as they involve staying in the same place within the set-up and kids never want to sit in the same place.
You need quite a large space for this type of set-up
So once you’ve got your set up and your subjects, then what? Last week, I wrote an article called Helping Your Client Prepare for Their Shoot – Dress to Match the Sofa. Step one to making it a colourful shoot is helping your clients prepare. Something I forgot to mention is that in terms of clothing, especially for boys, shirts with collars are great for the close-up.
With a stark, bright white background, how do you make the shoot colourful? Obviously the clothing is important. After that, you just have to have a few tricks up your sleeve to get the kids to loosen up and have fun.
Having an enthusiastic assistant is a must. Someone who can stand behind your and interact with the kids in a way that will engage them and make them laugh. Sometimes the parents can be helpful and sometimes they can make things more tense. When the family comes in, I can usually tell right away what type they are and sometimes I offer them a cup of tea and a comfy chair to relax during the shoot and sometimes, I even direct the parents as to what side from which they should be engaging the kids to get them to look in the right direction.
Things I do in a typical shoot:
I get down on the floor, laying on my belly, and I encourage them to do the same. They put their face in their hands, lean up on their elbows, feet up, feet down, roll over.
We then both sit up cross legged and I show them all the poses to do. The posed shots aren’t always the best, especially the first sets, but it gets them in the frame of mind to be thinking of cool things to do and from there, they usually direct their own shoot!
My assistant once found a big bag of ball pit balls in a location I was hiring for the day and whispered in my ear ‘get ready’. He opened the bag and dumped the entire 100 balls onto the floor and the baby (about 18 months) went wild. The shoot when from tense to full of life immediately and turned out really well.
Give them something to keep them still for just a moment – like an entire cake! I love love love the messy sessions! You get tons of smiles and the kids are engrossed in something for a while, although not sitting in a tense, forced pose.
When you have siblings, getting them to interact well on camera can sometimes be tricky, but mostly if you just let them go for it (and have all ofyour lights insured against getting knocked over by wrestling boys!) then those can be so much better than when kids are on their own.
When kids are reluctant, I sometimes start by photographing their parent(s) just so they can see it’s all ok. I also let them push the button to trigger the lights or push the shutter to take a photo. The strobes can be scary when you’re little so knowing how they work helps when kids are apprehensive.
I always have a ladder handy to get some down shots to convey a sense of smallness (hey, kids are little!) or get them from another angle. Getting them to jump up towards you with their hands raised while up on the ladder is wicked cool, especially with a fish eye lens and a kooky angle.
Running. Seems easy but not really so easy! Get the child to stand at the back of the room or background and run towards you. The strobes need a second to recycle, so you can’t shoot 10 frames as they’re running. I wait until the split second they’re in the right spot running straight at me and fire the trigger. We can do that up to 10 times and the kids absolutely LOVE it. It’s a great thing to start with because they loosen up.
Screaming. I mentioned this once in an article about tips for photographing children. But a kid will be your best friend the moment you allow them to scream their ever-lovin-head off indoors! This would be great from up on the ladder as I mentioned earlier. Tell them certain things to scream “I love poo!” You might get tense looks from the parents, but they will love the photos in the end and that’s really all that matters!
Before starting my studio, I was really nervous about the part where I had to interact with the kids and help them along in their shoot with poses or just fun ideas in general but it came so naturally and after the first couple shots, the kids often take over and come up with tons of shots. And if you’re confident, the parents will be confident so don’t let on if you’re secretly crapping it!