An Incredible Thought
Expressions sell. You can mess up on a lot of things but if the expression is endearing, it is a winning photo in the eyes of a parent.
We all can enjoy a big, fake, cheesy smile once in a while from our little ones. These are the snapshot photos we often get and enjoy at home. But when it comes to a professional portrait this is typically not the expression we are hoping for. We are dreaming of a nice genuine expression. It does not even have to be a smiling image to be a successful image. As a matter of fact, most of the images I find more endearing are story telling images in which the expression is a bit less toothy and really tells a story.
So before we get to how to get a natural smile or expression, let's review some ways not to do it first. Do not say cheese, do not say smile, or anything else that is that obvious. You know what kind of goofy face you will usually get. If you need to break the ice or satisfy a stage mom go ahead and shoot one or two frames then change your tactics. Even if a person can smile on cue, a genuine expression is always better.
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Also as a sort of side note, do not say So Big. I know parents delight in seeing their kids do this wide arms spreading maneuver showing how big they are. Usually the child will have a fun face that goes with it too. But what you will have in the end is a hard to crop image. The childs arms will be sticking out in not so attractive ways. Arms that you want to crop out but can't because you will be left with partial arms getting cut off on the edges, I call them stumps. Now you don't have as nice of a portrait having to include the arms making the face farther away.
Instead of so big ask them to clap. Most children will mimic you if you do it first. Clapping gives you a moment of their hands together instead of spread out all over the picture.
Okay, let's get back to some ways to get good expressions. Now remember, each family is very, very different. I have some moms that have a lot of great songs they sing at home, I have a family that talks a lot about Disney movies, and some families that do not even know what their kids think is funny.
I start with asking the mom to sing a favorite song. Or maybe they say silly things at home. This is not the time for mom to have stage fright or be embarrassed to sing in front of you! You may have to lead the effort with your own rendition of The Itsy Bitsy Spider. No one cares about how you sound if you get a child to become engaged with having fun and not worrying about the camera. Getting a great image is our objective here, so sing!
What can you talk about with older children? Talk about a favorite animal. Get up to date on your dinosaur facts for little boys and the latest doll craze for girls. What does Dad do at work? Do they have pets? Ask open ended questions that require words. Encourage mom not to answer the questions for their child as they tend to do. The answers are not important, the conversation and the connecting is.
Be funny. Have a puppet run the camera, make a stuffed animal do back flips, or worry out loud that mom is going to tickle you from behind. This works great because as the child is watching mom mess up your hair, they are looking close enough to the camera. Be careful about making faces, they will mimic you. (Which also can be really fun.)
Boys like a little action. I have had the best luck with two stuffed animals in a wresting match. Little boys enjoy a good fight. They also think sticky feet and bathroom humor is funny.
Try using music for children. Or have the parents bring some music the child already knows. Make a photo session feel like playtime not a modeling job. Give them time and some space. Dont rush them.
Try asking things like: Is your momma pretty?, What does Daddy do at work?, What is your favorite food?, and Did you have pizza for breakfast? Ask their favorite color, who is their hero, anything can work that takes the focus off of the actual picture taking.
One of my moms had a brilliant idea at a session. Her daughter was about four and she did not really want to look at the camera or talk to me much. So the mother asked her daughter what color of earrings I was wearing. It worked great! The little girl was so intent on finding out and really gave us a neat expression. And of course it appeared she was looking right at the camera without the pressure of reminding her that she was being photographed.
A lot of the problem photographing children is the pressure we inadvertently put on them. We really want great images. Moms are nervous. They need our help to relax. You have to be patient and confident. You need to be able to sweetly communicate that the mom is not helping matters. The best way to do this is ask her to do something for you. Something like Sharon, how about you stand right behind me and pretend to tickle me. We will see how little Jimmy reacts to that next. Take the positive approach instead of saying, please don't answer the question for your kid. That may hurt her feelings. And working with kids just plain ole takes practice!
My favorite thing to do is tell a story. Young kids 3-7ish like suspense. (But do not scare them.) Be thoughtful about what ages of kids you are talking to. Three to four year olds do not distinguish fantasy from reality yet. They can get rather worried or upset.
Be aware the story you tell may come back to haunt you. I was telling a story I was making up on the spot to two little girls I was photographing. It went something like this, Guess what? I was driving to work today and I saw a bear. Do you know what he did?
This is sometimes a great time to take an image as they respond to the question. They like the suspense at this moment.
Well he jumped in my car and ate my donuts. Sometimes you can get a look of surprise here. I had chocolate donuts. Do you like chocolate? I let the story go where ever based on what they say to me. Drag the story out a sentence at a time, going real slow and taking photos as you go.
When I ask Do you know what happened next? I usually get a great picture at that point too. As the story takes on a life of it's own, I toss Dad in to the story. Kids like to talk about Dad too.
Guess what else? Your dad came to help me get the bear out of the car. He saved my favorite donut for me.
Be careful about scaring kids. If you say the bear chased their dad they may get concerned. A bunny or something cuddlier might work better, you will find out as you practice your own story telling style.
Just don't be surprised when you run into the Dad of your photo subjects and find out they went home and attempted to tell him the tale you have been making up about him!
Concentrate on creating an environment for getting great expressions from children and watch your sales soar.
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Posted in Photograph Post Date 01/25/2016