“You will never ever hear me tell your child to say cheese” – Skye Hardwick
I love photos of non-smiling children. Most of the images I have displayed in my home are of my kids not smiling. But the difference between a beautiful, serene expression and a grimace is a very fine line. I’m encouraged to see many child photographers out there experimenting in this way, deviating from the typical forced smile. Or even real ones.
Yes, children are carefree and happy little souls. But they are also deep oceans – far more than we give them credit for. And so while parents have become pro at taking photos of their children laughing or smiling (be it real or posed), I feel a responsibility to also capture their deep waters when working for them as their photographer.
So how do I do this without crossing the fine line between grimace and serene? Here are a few ways I get those real, honest and deep looks from kids I barely even know:
- I Let them get the fakies out of their system. Let them get comfortable with the fact that someone is taking their photo without imposing too many orders or new ideas on them from the very start.
- By all means, go for the gusto. Laugh. Smile. Run, skip, jump. Feel the child out and see if their authentic expressions come quick and easy or if they will need some encouragement from you.
- I’ve taken this cue from Skye Hardwick: I never ever tell a child to ‘say cheese’. You’ll be setting yourself up for a session full of painfully forced smiles and it can be hard to get out of that flow once you get started.
- After setting up a shot with some posing and getting comfortable in the moment, we (hopefully) have some smiles, some laughter and then I just sit there. After a laugh, children sometimes give a very authentic look which is non-smiling, yet still joyful – basking in the little moment we’ve just had.
- I find it useful at times to ask parents to take a few steps back and allow me to spend some time alone with their child (yet within sight for obvious reasons). Parents can get overbearing in their excitement to make the money they just paid ‘worth it’. More often than not, it’s fine, but if I find that their hovering is unhelpful, I will ask for some space.
- At times, when the expressions just aren’t flowing and aren’t authentic, I will guide them in shaking it out. We jump on the spot, shake, rattle, roar. And then we take a deep breath and start over.
- When everything looks forced or tense, I will guide them in taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out with their mouth only opened a tiny bit. This will help them to naturally open their lips a little and prevent a pursed-lip, tense face. This goes for grownups, too. Opening your lips a little will prevent teeth clenching, lip pursing and the overall impression of being uncomfortable or tense.
- Body language! The position of the entire body – head to toe – will have a great impact on the face. When shooting head and shoulders, I still pose the rest of the body all the way down to foot placement. Keep this in mind when trying to capture honest facial expressions that have authentic body language to match.
And #9, the most important thing of all: some kids just won’t fit your plan so be flexible. Some are calm and deep, others are buoyant and giggly. You don’t want to make portraits that aren’t honest to their character, but I alway try to get some of both sides of their personality because you never know which is the ‘real’ them the way their parents will. And you want to wow them by being able to present them with images that they look at and say “wow. I love that expression. That’s HIM!”Pin It