When I was a kid, I was shy and quiet. Loud noises were overwhelming. Interacting with people made me feel anxious, especially if you had a boisterous personality.
Being around 4 years old I remember attending a family get together. EVERYONE was there, close relatives and extended. My mom’s side is italian, so naturally you can imagine how busy and loud the house was. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but someone in the family wanted to do a group photo in the living room. I absolutely refused to get in this photo. I still have a memory of me sitting at the dining room table, just crying and saying that I didn’t want to do it.
At that moment, I couldn't find the words to express how I was feeling. It also didn’t help that family members would try and convince me to go in the group photo. At four years old I didn’t know how to say “I am feeling overwhelmed and want to go home.”
Honestly, looking back at that moment when I got older I thought I was maybe just having a bad day or I was tired. It wasn’t until I really started getting into photography that I realized what I was feeling that day. I remember going to shoots when I first started out and meeting with the families. I didn’t know what to do when the kids would start crying or when they had so much energy that no one could capture their attention. I had to think of ways to connect with the kids, but how? How do I make a crying child happy again? How do I take an energetic kid and make them sit still?
The answer was a photo session in summer 2019. During that summer I got hired to photograph a few extended families. The one family said they wanted photos done in their living room as they had the space for it. I went over and there was this little boy, about 4 or 5 years old. He sat off quietly in the corner and didn’t say too much. The rest of the family was gathering the others and moving furniture around to accommodate everyone. When it was time to start photographing this little boy just started crying. It didn’t matter if it was photos with his siblings or his mom. He just didn’t want to smile. The mom asked if we do the group photo so they can put him down for a nap. He was still crying and would turn his back so he wasn't facing anyone. Then I realized….this little boy was me during our group family photo. He wasn’t tired. He was feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Yes, he knew his family but I am a stranger coming into their home and telling everyone what to do and where to stand. I had to do some quick thinking on the spot. What can I do to capture this little one's attention? His dad was holding him and I asked him if there is anything his son likes. His dad said lately he thinks the word “cantaloupe” is funny. Hmmm that could work. I looked at the family and said that on the count of three we are all going to shout “CANTALOUPE!” I started counting down and the whole family did it and sure enough the little boy turned out and started giggling and went “cantaloupe! I love cantaloupe!” It was something so incredibly simple but it worked.
From that day on I started researching and figuring out ways to interact with the kids to make the experience fun for them. It was anything from telling a joke, to bringing bubbles to a session.I then started asking the parents what their kids are interested in before the photo session. This gives you something to talk with the kids about and really connect with them on a personal level. It will make them feel like you are listening to them.
When I first started in photography I thought that all sessions had to be somewhat proper for poses. That's not the case. Photographing families isn't about posing, it's about capturing the energy and personality of that family. It's about capturing candid moments of them laughing. It's about telling jokes to get genuine reactions. When working with kids, let them lead you. Let them pick the flowers they want to stand next to, let them tell you about their favorite movie. ALWAYS have your camera at ready, you can capture some pretty amazing moments.
Tips and Tricks
Let them pose their family!
Kids want to know what you are doing. They are naturally curious and want to learn! Ask them if they want to be your assistant. That's what's happening here. Lily was full of smiles when I asked if she wanted to pose her family.
Incorporate their toys and favorite things
Liora and Micah brought their favorite stuffed animals to last years fall minis. They insisted that they get a few photos with them.
Learn about their interests.
Before we met at the park, Zella and Aliyah's mom told me what the girls liked. One of there interests was Harry Potter. They were running around and picked up two sticks and said they wanted to play "Harry Potter." I then asked them to cast a spell on me and then cast a spell on each other. Here you can see them showing off their dueling skills. A Hogwarts letter will most definitely be delivered to them!