We’ve all had one of those shoots, whether with a client or your own children. We take the time and dream up the perfect session. Every little detail has been planned and you couldn’t be more excited. You’ve envisioned this session and the way you want to go for weeks. The day comes and the weather is gorgeous and your location is ideal. You’re ready to go. Then, the unimaginable happens…. your children (or quite possibly your client’s children) have other plans. Instead of having a super sweet and girly vintage tea party, your impeccably dressed little girl decides that rolling in the mud and throwing rocks sounds like more fun (this would be my daughter). Or perhaps your sweet children would rather run the opposite direction, away from that gorgeous, gooey setting sun that provides the perfect backlighting. Whatever the case may be, I have learned over the years (mostly from working with my own children) to go with the flow.

Here are a few tips to help you go from this:

photographing uncooperative children

to this:

photographing uncooperative children tutorial

1.  Put down the camera.

Yep, that’s right, put it down and step away from it. If you are working with props on a stylized session interact with your little subjects and have fun for a few minutes. Then, once everyone is into the activity, pick up the camera again and go for it.

2.  Show your children/clients the images you are taking.

Let them chimp after a few shots, this typically gets kids excited to be part of the shoot instead of just your subject. Yes, I know that your camera was not cheap, but you can even let them hold the camera and show them what you are doing. It gets their interest and they are much more apt to working with you and not against you.

photographing uncooperative children tips

3. Engage with them.

If you find that you are losing their interests, engage them: ask questions, tell jokes, talk to them. Get them to engage with you. If you do this you will also get more genuine photos too (a bonus!).   My daughter had on her mermaid costume and when I wanted to take a photo, she quickly clammed up and gave me this face:

photographing uncooperative children advice

After I asked her to tell me some Ariel facts I got this along with a story about how Ariel sleeps at the bottom of the sea:

getting children's attention when photographing them

4.  Breathe.

I tell all of my clients to be prepared for any kind of silly behavior from their children. The worst thing you can do is yell or get frustrated. So like I tell my clients, just breathe. Don’t let the obstacle at hand ruffle your feathers.

5.  Try distraction.

If your little one is having a meltdown try to distract them to focus on something else, point out something interesting or introduce something new.

how to photograph unwilling children

My son was so not happy about me wanting to capture him in his crib but once I reminded him that he had some really great airplanes on the ceiling I got this:

distracting children while taking their photo

6. Bribe.

I don’t typically like to bribe, but I have been guilty of this from time to time when I’m really, really, really desperate. Only with my own children, never my clients. I’ve promised an M&M or cookie here or there in exchange for some cooperation.

7.  Try something different.

If what you had planned really and truly is not working at all… try something different. It isn’t the end of the world. Take these photos for example. These are of my sweet (albeit a little crazy) kiddos. I had planned the perfect valentine’s day themed session… hand made props even. Then when we got to the location my daughter had a meltdown and would not participate and my son picked up a dead mouse. Yep, you read that right a dead rodent. Oh it was so bad. This was all I able to get prior to regrouping…

how to get good child photography

So we re-grouped, took him inside to wash him and disinfect and her inside to chill. Then, 30 minutes later, we went back out, just with my daughter at that point and I was able to get this and it’s now one of my favorite photos of her.

tips for photographing children

8. Embrace it.

If all else fails, you can always just embrace the chaos, and call it documentary.

embracing the chaos in children photography

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