These days I’ve been passing a little time working in a photo studio. It’s a fun job and I work with cool people who are mostly much younger than I am. I’ve learned some neat stuff about portraiture, and a bit more about Photoshop, both which will serve me well as I embark on starting my own photography business. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ve sort of had a rant building up, and working today I had one family who refreshed the rant in my brain. They were otherwise very lovely people, a family of four. Dad, Mom, and two kids — a boy of about 13 (and all the requisite fun and angst that comes with that age) and a daughter of about eight or nine, who was seven different ways of adorable and missing her two front teeth. The parents were obsessed – OBSESSED – with getting these kids to smile just the absolute perfect way that they wanted them to. But of course, the 13 year-old was, well, a 13 year-old, and the daughter was obviously self-conscious about her gappage.
These parents were militant crazy about it. Which I don’t necessarily begrudge them — portraits at my studio are not cheap, and I know they, as every parent that comes through, wants to leave with pictures they can display and show off and that truly capture how beautiful their family is.
Luckily, I and the other photographers I work with are pretty good at pulling that off. For babies, we know the sounds that get their attention, and that jumping up and down is almost always a surefire way to get a few smiles. For toddlers and kids through about seven, pretending to tickle their parents is like smile gravy — and the parents always love to play along. Shit, the parents would donate a kidney if it meant their kid would smile. Tweens and teens nearly always can talk about video games, or the last movie they saw, and once they relax and realize I’m not as dorky as their parents are, they are usually eager to smile for me. (Even though, yes, I’m a parent myself and in a handful of years I’ll be reduced to complete dork in my kids’ eyes.) Older kids want to be treated respectfully, and they respond beautifully to it most of the time. The point is, there are lots of ways to get a kid, nearly any kid, to smile for a picture. Sometimes it’s being goofy, sometimes it’s building trust, sometimes it’s being chatty, and often it’s a combination of all that and more.
But there are things that definitely, most assuredly, do not work. Yelling at your kids to smile will never get them to smile the way you want them to. Telling them that’s it, we are NOT going to Chuck E. Cheese after the pictures will not get them to smile at all. Threatening them with grounding will not get them to smile, for sure.
So, here’s a bit of advice for parents. Once your kids are old enough to follow directions, try to relax a little. If you let your kids relax and have a little fun, your pictures will turn out great. If you relax and have a little fun, too, they’ll turn out even better. Try your best not to get frustrated — or at least, not to show your frustration. It will unsettle the more resilient kids and irreversibly stress out the more sensitive ones.
Then…. there’s the other side of the coin. The parents of the babies. Most of the time, they hover and coo and apologize profusely when their baby isn’t the Gerber baby 100% of the time. We love these parents. They keep their babies happy, and safe, and they are ten shades of thrilled when their beautiful baby makes us look like photography geniuses.
Of course, not every parent is as easy to work with. There’s the moms that decide feeding their baby after the shoot is wiser than feeding him before the shoot. There’s the parents that don’t consider naptimes when they schedule their shoot and, halfway though, say something like “he’s usually so happy, he must be tired, usually he’s napping right now.” And then, there’s the glaring example of stellar parenting we witnessed recently: a couple came in with their baby, got her set up for the shoot, and then DISAPPEARED FOR A HALF HOUR. Without a word, they left and went to get lattes and left their baby in the hands of people they’d never met before. The photographer started taking pictures, turned around to ask them something, and they were gone. (The shoot did not continue any further.)
For the two-and-under set, the hints I can offer are simple. Bring in a child who’s been fed (or even bring snacks with you – I’ve had more than one parent feed their kids Cheerios or Gerber puffs in between pictures). Make sure your baby isn’t tired or sick. Then once the shoot begins, pull out all the little tricks to get your baby to smile.
Oh, and if you really want a latte, get it ahead of time.