Tag Archives: toddlers

Say Cheese!

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.

Sesame Place, Day 1

We got to Pennsylvania at about 2:00 p.m.  It was expected to be really rainy, so we’d sort of planned to play the afternoon by ear.  We could maybe go down to Philly and check out the art museum, or a cool children’s museum called the Please Touch Museum.  Or we could take advantage of the hotel pool for the afternoon, or hit the local mall and just stroll around.  Options abounded.  But once we got here, our room was not yet ready, and the rain seemed to be holding off for the afternoon, so since we have season’s passes we headed over to Sesame Place for a couple hours.  The kids got to go on every ‘dry’ ride once, we saw the Abby Cadabby show, and Lane got to hug Zoe and Baby Bear and Grover.  Just a generally smilific afternoon.  (And, let it be noted, you may only use the word “smilific” if you’ve spend the day in a place like Sesame Place.)

Then we came and checked into the hotel around 5:00, met up with Dave & Renee and the twins, who are in the adjoining room, so we got to enjoy a few minutes of toddler & preschooler screeches as they scurried through the adjoining room doors and discover the identical rooms on each side.

Once the novelty of the screeches abated, we headed out to dinner.  In some crazy hallucinogenic state we decided to take the whole crew to TGI Friday’s for dinner.  Yep, four adults and four short people.

Actually, it was good.  Once we sat down.  The restaurant’s promise of a 30 minute wait somehow became nearly 70 minutes, and if you’ve ever tried to entertain four very short people for that long just outside a TGI Friday’s…. well, it ain’t no picnic that’s for darn tootin’.  But once we were inside, we got the kids their food stat, ours came shortly after, we actually enjoyed a bit of adult conversation (smattered with the occasional talking-by-spelling-and-acronyms that seems to happen more as your kids get old enough to hear you speak a hundred words and zero in on the only word you don’t ever want them to repeat, EVER).

After that, we got a quickie dessert a la the McDonald’s drive-thru, and are now on to the oh-so-tantalizing fiasco that is Putting The Kids To Sleep In A Strange Place.  Has anyone figured this out?  Because I sure haven’t.  Right now it is after midnight and both kids are still awake, which on a normal night actually isn’t that obscene for our family, but they were up earlier than normal this morning and had a pretty busy day.  Naturally it doesn’t help that right after dinner, during the three minutes I ran into Target to get a couple snacks and a couple drinks that Frank let Jake fall asleep in the car.  Nor does it help that when I wanted to start bedtime, despite strong suggestions from me that Frank postpone or relocate such activity, that Frank insisted on studying in the room with a light on.  Can you tell I’m trying to pin this all on Frank??!  Well, I am.  I mean, come on.  Help me out a little here, dude.

So a bit ago, I literally threw up my arms in exasperation, gave both kids to Frank, and am sitting here on the hotel’s WiFi writing this and stewing in my own annoyance.  And Frank’s getting frustrated with the whole situation because he’s now personally vested in trying to get them to sleep.  Imagine that.

Assuming any of us get any sleep tonight, tomorrow should be a day filled with rides and water slides and lunch with the Sesame Street characters and hopefully more smilificness and not so much of oh-my-gosh-these-exhausted-kids-are-making-me-craziness.