Children are my main subjects when it comes to portrait photography.
In my experience, very few children are totally keen and relaxed and eager in front of the camera. Ideally, their parents are in the adjacent room sitting on the couch very relaxed, flicking through my photo books and product displays, while I start my little routine, where I take the children into the studio and ask them to help me set up this and that and move a chair and turn on the studio lights.
But even so, most children can feel very ‘put on the spot’ in that situation. And I am supposed to, within minutes, make them totally love the situation, me and the camera. I do admit that I am struggling with this part of my job.
We may use the big mirror to check their hair and practice silly faces. I have some props, sometimes parents bring a book or a toy, but mostly their brief is to have the child smiling their happiest, most natural smile and looking fully into the camera.
I find that even the very shy, fearful or grumpy children do everything you ask them to, but they will not look at me or the camera and they certainly will not smile a natural happy smile. I have gotten some very odd looks by parents while I go through my repertoire of children’s songs or nursery rhymes where I appear to make silly mistakes with the words, I’m getting inexplicable hick-ups, speak in animal language and have even resorted to the fart-app. I know, I know.
Most children will eventually laugh, but they will not look at me or the camera, even if their life was to depend on it. I have tried lens buddies, frankly I’m not a fan, they may work really well with very small children but with the 3-5 year old-ish ones I’ve used them for: no such luck.
Eventually I realized I have to sweeten the deal. I’ve heard of photographers who use M&Ms as bribe, but I’m not sure I want to photoshop chocolate off teeth in post production, plus, these days a lot of children are allergic to chocolate.
Years ago I found an article and had made a note about it. Finally I have re-created this great idea. It’s pretty self explanatory: buy Pez dispensers, use scissors to cut a slither off their feet on either side, slide into flash hot-shoe of camera.
Because it’s such a small item (unlike most lens buddies), the children will have to focus to really see it. And Pez lollies are gluten and lactose free, therefore not an issue with food allergies. And no chocolate teeth, yay.
So there’s my 5 cents worth of wisdom when it comes to photographing children: sweeten the deal