Let the Kids Be Themselves (or Why I Don’t Work in a Studio)
I often get asked if I have a studio. The answer is yes and it’s huge. It’s all around you. Wherever there is a spot of magical light is where you will find me, camera in tow. The stunning backdrop of our beautiful Welsh countryside is my studio. Why? Just look around you. It’s a bit of a no brainer for me. But there are other reasons…
I’m a mum and I’ve been photographing children for 10 years. I get it. Kids will be kids. They can be hard work at times especially if they know something is important to you. How many time have your children played you up something rotten when they know there’s a big event happening? I know mine have. Many times when children are being photographed they often feel under pressure to perform. Kids don’t tend to like that very much especially when they are little.
This following scenario is based on real life experience (experienced by me many years ago and one of the reasons I do what I do now). It’s safe to say some children might not be phased by such a situation. If you have one of these (lets face it, you are VERY lucky) then I am sure you’ve heard similar stories. Let’s see if this sounds familiar…
I’ll set the scene. Mum has taken Timmy* (aged 3) to have his photos taken in a studio. He’s never been there before and it’s all a bit new. He knows it’s important though as Mum has put him in his smartest clothes and he wasn’t allowed a drink in the car. They walk in. There is a smily lady with a big camera. She seems nice. There are big lights and a box for him to sit on. He sits down.
Mum: “Smile for the camera Timmy we want a nice picture for Grandma.”
Timmy pulls a silly face. He’s not sure about this. The lady with the camera has a chat to him and he feels a bit better. He left his favourite toy in the car and he’s not happy about it.
Mum: “Now come on. This is important. Will you just smile for the camera and you can have some chocolate buttons. Say cheese.”
Chocolate buttons thinks Timmy. This is getting interesting. Timmy smiles his cheesiest smile. Timmy gets a chocolate button. Hmmm. The lady with the camera shows Timmy a nice teddy and he has a quick cuddle.
Mum: “Smile again Timmy but nicely this time.” (At this point mum has gritted teeth as she tried to hide her embarrassment at having the most badly behaved child in the actual world. He’s usually so good.)
Timmy wants more chocolate buttons. He’s not working for nothing. No way. He wants the whole bag or the deal is off. He’s getting a bit fed up of sitting on this chair. He wants a wee wee.
Mum: “You can have the rest when we are done … now smile for Grandma. We’re running out of time.”
No. Timmy wants the rest and he doesn’t want to do this anymore. He REALLY needs a wee wee.
Mum: “Right! That’s it! You are being REALLY naughty now. There are NO chocolate buttons and if you don’t smile you will be going straight to bed when we get home. SMILE!”
Timmy melts down.
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Let’s turn this around…
Timmy is playing on the beach. He loves the beach, it’s his favourite place. He’s collecting shells in a bucket. Timmy knows that today is different though as he’s wearing nice clothes rather than his usual shorts and t-shirt.
“There’s a lady with Mum and she’s got a big camera. She helped me find shells and I found a really big one with pink on it. It was amazing. She asked to take a picture of it as it was so good. She wanted to take some pictures of me holding it, I was very proud.
“We played a game. Who could find the smallest shell. I was having a good look and she took some photos of me looking. I took my shoes off and she rolled up my trousers so they wouldn’t get wet and I put my feet in the sea. It was cold and the sand tickled my feet.
“The lady with the camera started lying on the wet sand to take pictures and she got a soggy bottom. It was so funny that I couldn’t stop giggling. Mum was laughing too. Then she started making noises like a chicken. She was so silly.
“I’m a bit tired now and I don’t want to have my photo taken anymore. Actually my tummy is rumbling and I’m thirsty. The lady with the camera says we should take a break and I had some juice and a biscuit. I had a play whilst the lady with the camera chatted to Mum.
“Mum had brought my favourite toy in her bag. I gave him a big cuddle and showed him my shells. I then buried Ted in the sand. I think he liked it.
“The lady with the camera thought it was very funny that I had buried Ted. She asked if it was OK to take some photos. I said yes. I gave Ted a big cuddle and showed him my shells. The lady showed me the photos on the back of her camera.
“When I had finished looking for shells the chicken lady said I should have a nice cuddle with Mum to warm me up. I was a bit cold actually and the cuddle was nice. She took a few photos and then we went for ice cream. I had chocolate.”
I’m not saying it’s always this easy (it really isn’t) but you get the general idea and this is the key reason I do not (and never will) work in a studio. Don’t get me wrong. I have many friends who are exceptional studio photographers but this way suits my style and it suits my personality. The children I photograph tend to like it.
For me they key to any successful photo session is to get the kids to think that this ‘event’ is happening on their terms (it really isn’t), they are calling the shots (they really aren’t). They clearly know that they are having their photo taken but they’re actually having quite a nice time thank you very much. I don’t profess to being some kind of child expert. I’m just a Mum who has been photographing children for a long time. I have patience. Lots of it and I love what I do.
At the end of the day every child is different. You know them best. You know what ticks their boxes and pushes their buttons. I’m not saying it’s my way or the highway – it might work for you or a studio setting might suit your child more. They are two very different experiences and result in very different types of images. It’s all down to your personal preference and style.
But my experience has led me to believe that every photoshoot should be filled with fun (wherever it takes place). Not just for the children but for you as parents (and for me!). This shouldn’t be a chore this should be an adventure, an experience. Something you look back on with fondness.
My mantra? Let the kids be themselves (even if it does result in me getting a soggy bottom!).
Until next time,