In the past couple of years I’ve been photographing more families than ever. For a non dad landscape photographer that doesn’t know all the good “tricks” to interact with little kids, photographing families has been simultaneously terrifying and exciting. Kids aren’t mountains. They don’t sit still while you fiddle with the settings on your camera. Photographing them is a mixture of luck and skill, since you never know when a hand will be up a nose or a smiling face will suddenly turn into a crying one. Here are 5 tips and tricks that have helped me out.
If you’re not trying to travel light to a shoot, there’a no reason why you shouldn’t have a bag in your car with, at the minimum, a nice blanket in it for a family to sit on. Even if you are traveling light, you can throw some bubbles or stickers in your camera bag. If you have the room you can bring along a baseball, tiny stuffed animals, princess crowns, or even seasonal things like pumpkins or bunches of wildflowers. Stop at CVS or the Dollar Store right before the shoot and pick up a few things. Kids love gifts. That small monetary investment will save you loads of time becoming their friend during the shoot.
2. Remind the parents to look at the camera too
Honestly, this is one that I wasn’t prepared for. The kids are one thing. They’re all over the place. You’re mostly worried about them. Getting them to smile, not pick their nose, not yawn. But, parents are parents, and naturally concerned with how their child is looking. As much as you’re trying to make funny noises and get the kids to look at you the entire time, you really can’t forget to keep the parents engaged. A simple “Mom and Dad look up here at me!” is enough to remind them that they’re part of the shoot too.
3. Keep the conversation flowing
Unless you’re a natural, and most people aren’t, this one takes some practice. You need to keep the parents engaged and direct them how to pose and stand. But just as important, you need to keep the kids engaged. If they’re old enough to understand what you’re saying, talk to the little girl and tell her she looks like a princess. Ask her if she loves the movie Frozen. Ask her which Disney princess is her favorite. Ask the little boy to do a crazy pose. “Put your hands in the air for me! Jump!” This will really help to relax the kids in front of a stranger, and their facial expressions will show it. The more family shoots you do, the easier this becomes.
4. Use a long lens
When I talk about a long lens I’m referring to anything greater than around 100mm relative to a full frame camera. For a micro four thirds camera like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 that I’m using, the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 is a 150mm equivalent, which I would consider a long lens. A long lens will give you a few things. First, for portraits or group shots of the family you can get a nice shallow depth of field with beautiful background blur and natural looking facial features. The second, which I think is really important, is the ability to let little kids have the freedom and space to run around while you sit back and grab their photo from afar. When the parents let them do this, you’ll immediately see the child become more relaxed since no one is telling him or her to sit and stay in one spot. You can let the child roam a bit, get some beautiful action shots, as well as some nice candids when they look back in your direction.
5. Stay Positive
This is one that I’m constantly working on and I can’t stress enough. As photographers we love to shoot in the perfect settings with the perfect light. Often when you’re doing a family shoot that you planned a month ago, that perfect light may not be there. Or the family is late to the shoot. Or it’s a really windy day. Or it’s a beautiful blue sky day but you’d rather have a nice softly lit overcast day. The list goes on. The point is, you must stay positive. If you’re finally getting some great shots, but the light changes unfavorably, don’t say “Wow, these look great, too bad this light stinks right now.” No one wants to hear that. I’ve heard it come out of my own mouth and I don’t want to hear it. If you stay positive, the family will stay positive, the shoot remains fun and upbeat and everyone looks better and happier in the photos.
Do any of these work for you? Have you been using tricks like this for your own family shoots? Let me know in the comments!