Q. Do you have any tips for shooting naughty, uncooperative children that just DON’T want their photo taken and all the bribery in the world just wont work! And also families? There is ALWAYS one who wont smile or look at the same time as everyone else. It drives me bonkers!
A. Well for the first question, I don’t find that children are truly naughty. I do find that they act out when they feel that they’re on stage. They can feel crowded and threatened. I mean how would you feel if someone twice your size (who you didn’t know) was holding a gigantic black camera in front of their face and giving you orders? Children often take their queues from us as to how to behave and they often misbehave during photos just because they’re feeling out of control. I play a game where we take one pose they want, one pose I want. One spot they want, one spot I want. I give them some control and treat them as an equal and that usually heads off the whole thing from the get-go. Also, asking the parents to give you space is helpful. They’re probably standing over you shouting for them to smile or whatever and it puts them off. I place a couple chairs and a coffee table outside with a coffee or tea so they know that’s where they can sit while we walk around in their sight but gives the parents the message that I need some space.
If a child is being entirely uncooperative and does NOT want their picture taken, I would explain to their parents that it’s just not ‘working’ and you can either reschedule or give them a refund and wash your hands of the whole thing. Or you can say that there’s no refund when the children are unwilling because I’ve still blocked a whole session out of my diary.
It can be very helpful to ask questions during the booking conversation to help you feel the child out and know if maybe, you should even pay them a visit a few days before. Such as “do you take lots of pictures?” If so, this will mean that they probably have a cheesy smile ready for you and you’ll have to get them truly laughing instead. Get some jokes ready! Ask if they even like having their photo taken. Some of the worst sessions I’ve had were with children whose parents were ‘photographers’. You can tell that they’ve been abused with daily photo sessions since the day they were born and so you just need to appeal to them in a totally different way.
If it’s a family, I sometimes use reverse psychology and say “it’s ok we don’t need you” and keep shooting the family, ignore them and they’ll come back. When there’s an adult in a family who is being a brat, I will joke and say “uncle joe is the only one not smiling! If you hate these, you can blame it on him!” I’ll pick on him while I continue shooting. I’ve had plenty of men who were forced into it acting like sulky babies and you just have to take control and acknowledge that there’s probably a football game they’re missing or something and see what you can do to get them to loosen up.
It’s important that you be prepared and try all the tricks in the book to give them a great session because you’re a professional and they expect you to know more than they do about dealing with their kids during photos than they do. You have to be able to say that you tried everything you can to give them exactly what they expected.