One of the most common comments I receive from photographer moms and non-photographer moms alike is how they would love to have their kids wear the outfits they want for photos and pose/act out the scenes – but they simply won’t be willing participants!
As a mom I know there are no surefire magic bullets to getting children to do anything – but I do have a list of things that you just might not have tried yet and that may just be the key!
I’m starting with the obvious here. Now we all have tried to bribe our kids to do things, but I have a couple twists on the way of the bribe. Often, parents with use the “if you do xxx for me we will go get xxx later.” Younger kids minds work much better on tangible-right-now things. So I find that having the bribe right there with you, whether it’s a treat or a toy, creates a much better sense of urgency.
One way I love to use the bribe is to actually incorporate it into the session. I’ve used giant lollipops, picked up small milkshakes, cute vintage glass bottles with pop & straws, or new fun-vintage-looking toy airplanes/cars etc. These things I will have right on-hand and I tell my kids I just want them to do a few things first, and then they can have the treat/toy right away. Then I will continue to photograph them as they enjoy the bribe! Sometimes, I even like the photos with the bribe in them the best of the set!!
2. Ask their permission to get your camera out.
Now, I know I don’t like someone in my face taking my picture when I am not ready for it or in the mood for it. If I’m having fun editing in my pyjamas I definitely wouldn’t want my kids to pop up at all angles taking my photograph! So for my littles, when I want to do some home-lifestyle pics I’ll usually get something new (like a new paint set, or blocks – see Bribes) and then I’ll ask them if they’d like to use this cool new set while I photograph them playing with it. Usually they get excited about the whole thing and I get the best mood in my shots!
When we are in our usual day-to-day routine, I don’t photograph them. I let them be. I capture those moments in my heart and in my mind. This way they aren’t feeling my camera is a constant intrusion.
3. Plan “Photo-Adventures”.
This is what I call most of our little sessions we go on. I ask them if they want to go on a Photo-Adventure to a fun location, which might be a beach, or a trail, or a park, or the library, or a museum. Anywhere can be a cool location, but this gets them excited to see somewhere new and gives me permission to photograph them. I definitely style them for these adventures but they know this is part of the deal. They put on the gear for the adventure, I bring my camera, we go somewhere fun! Which leads me to:
4. Let them feel they are part of the styling.
When I choose my kids outfits I usually put together a few options so they have a say in what they’re putting on. Maybe it’s even just one outfit I definitely want them in, but a choice of different underwear, different socks, different hats, with which boots or jacket. Everyone likes to feel like they have a choice. I give them the options so they feel they’re in control too. Then, I really praise them on their great style and choices, and I thank them for helping me out with styling.
Even my son at 2 years old loved to decide which things to wear!
5. Get their help on creative posing and ideas.
When we arrive at our location or even in my studio I always ask my kids to think up fun poses and moves and activities to do. Even if they’re terrible and silly (which more often than not they’re so amazing and natural!) I just photograph them doing whatever they like, and then I’ll pipe in with “oh I have a great idea too! Would you guys do xxx?! I think it would look so cool!” They’re more inclined to do what I want as they’ve been encouraged and praised to do what they want.
6. Let them know that they are helping you to succeed.
If you’re a photographer and you use your children’s photos to promote yourself and your business, or if you’re a hobbyist and just love to create portraits, thank your kids for helping you to do your job, play with your passion or hobby, and for helping you to grow and to be successful at photography. I find my kids really love when I tell them that without them and their beautiful photos I couldn’t be doing what I love so much!
7. Share your social media with them.
After I post my kids photos on Facebook or Instagram, I love to call them over and show them all the love their photos are getting. I will read all the comments to them and show them how their images are making their aunts and uncles day, that their grandparents love their outfits, that they are inspiring other photographers, and that they are encouraging clients to book their mommy for paid sessions! They love hearing and seeing the impact their images are making, and this helps them want to be in more.
8. Go through your images with them.
I’ll often be editing and I’ll get my son up on my lap to show him what he was doing at our session, or bring my daughter over to show her the silly faces or moves she was doing, or if I have two photos that I think are both great I’ll ask them which is best. Again it’s a lot of making them feel really involved in my process.
9. Keep it short.
Kids attention spans and patience is short. In studio I expect about 10-15 minutes tops to get the shots I want. I don’t need 25 shots to be great. I just want a few. Once they’re done being photographed in one spot, or for one day, I don’t continue to push it. Yes with clients kids I will push a little more as our time in finite, but not with my own. I know I can try again tomorrow, or next week.
10. Reward them.
This is different than a bribe. This is more of an “out of the blue” show of appreciation. Like if I have a session that’s really successful as far as social media feedback, (maybe I receive a feature on a website or a client books me based on their photos) I’ll bring them a little gift or take them for lunch and let them know that when I’m successful I like to pass on the reward.
Bonus: Have fun with them!
If you’re stressed and impatient while trying to style your children, they will feel that and in turn they won’t be happy. I like to tell myself beforehand that I’m ok with them getting dirty, exploring, playing, and that I will make sure above all that we have fun. That I will take some time to let my camera just hang from me and explore with them. To make sure that they’re getting something out of it too.
If I’m really getting to the end of my rope trying to get them dressed and together and out the door, then I know maybe it’s just not a good day to attempt a styled shoot. I can just leave it for another time!
At the end of the day, there are times you could lasso the moon and not convince a child to put on what you want and participate – but by employing some of these techniques over time, I’ve found that my kids and my clients kids generally really respond to my little techniques!
I’d love to hear from you if you try any of these, and how it works for you!