You won’t be surprised if I say that most kids hate to pose for the camera.
Frankly, who could blame them? We hate it too, right?
The secret to getting natural, happy images of children is simply to forget about making them pose. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be guiding them at all, though. It means that instead of telling them how to sit or stand, you are going to give them something to DO.
You know how much kids hate it when they don’t know what to do (Mom, I’m boooooooored!). Let’s follow their natural attraction for being in action!
1. Let them be wild
This is the #1 rule to get joyful, authentic images of children: make sure they are actually having fun.
It might sound obvious, but your main role when photographing kids isn’t to get good exposure or compose a great frame, it’s first and foremost to create the conditions for the kids to be happy even though you are shoving a camera in their face.
I love uninhibited joy so I will let the kids get pretty wild when shooting, but even if you are not a huge fan of such crazy behavior and prefer a softer kind of joy, allowing the kids let loose is a great tool to get the images you want. As long as they are in a good mood, their smiles will be authentic and infectious so don’t forget to let them be slightly wilder than usual.
One of the common threads between kids all over the world is their incredible level of energy. If you truly want to get natural, real portraits of children then let them show you how energetic they are!
Life (and especially childhood) is full of motion and action, this is what you want to document. Running, twirling, making little sister swing… anything can work, as long as they move!
If you’re familiar with my work, you might have seen this one coming. I’m pretty much obsessed with making kids jump and there is a reason for that.
First, because they love it, so I know I’ll always be successful when suggesting this kind of challenge. Second, because bouncing will help any child, even the most shy one, loosen up. And finally, because the resulting images can be crazy fun and full of impact!
It’s a wonderful trick when you need to get uncooperative siblings in the same frame. It’s such a fun, irresistible activity that they will totally forget that you are actually photographing them together.
Doing something that is usually forbidden in their everyday life will bring a huge smile to any kid’s face. It doesn’t have to be overly crazy, juts a little bit of mischief in the air is enough to jump-start the fun. Dancing on the kitchen table, using Mom’s make-up, dressing up with dad’s clothes or pouring whipped cream straight into your brother’s mouth… the sky is the limit!
Your kids don’t want their picture taken today? Catch them at their own game. Make it a challenge: let them literally hide from you (behind the couch, behind the curtains, under the sheets…) and chase them around. It’s suddenly much more fun to be photographed!
6. The best props are already at home
I mentioned already that I’m not a fan of making kids pose. Well, I’m not a fan of using props either… Unless the props I’m using are already in the natural environment of the kids.
Children have this fascinating ability to find joy in the littlest things – use this to your advantage! The most boring household utensil can become a fabulous toy if you look at it the right way. The insane belly laughs you can get out of a toilet paper roll or a cardboard box are beyond belief!
7. Upside down
Even the most grumpy kid won’t be able to keep a serious face if you hold him upside down.
If you don’t have a helper available to hold the child for you, don’t worry, most children will be delighted if you ask them to do it by themselves.
8. Let’s dance
There’s nothing like good music to set a happy mood. I have a special Deezer playlist on my phone with my favorite music for photo sessions.
I’ll also ask the parents before the session which song is their children’s favorite at the moment to make sure I include it beforehand (if you’re photographing your own kids then you already know!). Then, when I need a little help to get the groove on, I’ll simply press play and watch them have the time of their life!
It’s unbelievable how a little bit of music can completely change the mood of a session. You don’t even have to make the kids dance – just listening to music will bring a smile to their face!
9. Funny faces
If you ask a kid to smile for you, you will usually get an ugly funny face instead. However, if you ask the kid to show you his best funny faces, there’s a good chance you will capture a perfect smile in the process. Especially if you laugh really hard and express very loudly how awful those faces are!
10. Being messy
Being messy is always fun, but being messy TOGETHER is simply irresistible!
You might have some serious tidying up to do after the fact, but I promise the giggles alone are totally worth it. Make sure to keep this special trick for the very end of your session!
Now, let’s spread the fun! Share your favorite non-poses with us in the comments!
Need more tips for infusing happiness and laughter into your photography sessions? My Capturing Joy workshop starts on June 5, click here to learn more and register!