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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children

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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children

Photographing Children Can Be Tricky – You may need to use tips, tricks and even some reverse psychology…

By Julie Cruz of Lot 116 Photography.

“You’re like a magician!”
“You have some sort of magical kid magnet powers!”

Those are just a few of the things that parents have told me after I’ve photographed their children. 95% of my shoots include children. Newborns, babies, toddlers, school aged, high school, you name it. I’m lucky enough to be around a pretty broad range of ages personally as well as during shoots. My daughter is 4, and I have a niece and nephews that are 3, 5, 9 and 12. What does that have to do with anything? Well that’s easy. Most kids like the same stuff. For instance, I once photographed a little girl who was 9 (like my niece), so when I told her that I could guess her favorite song, she didn’t believe me. I told her “I bet it’s “Love Story” by Taylor Swift!”. Her jaw dropped to the floor and she let out a *gasp* and said “HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT!??”, with a HUGE smile of pure shock and amazement on her face. To her, I was some sort of magical psychic, to me, I was just an aunt who pays attention to what her 9 year old niece likes.

Here are some tips and tricks to photographing children of all ages.

BABIES – Noises, songs and soft voices. A soft “hiiiiiiiiiii” usually gets a chubby little baby to look and smile at you. They are used to hearing that from their mom, relatives or even the old lady in line at the grocery store, so to them, it’s something familiar. Sure you could use some annoyingly loud maracas or squeaky toys like they do at “those portrait studios”, but unless you’re going for the deer in headlights look, you might want to pass on that. Songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or other nursery songs work well also. Again, familiarity. If you’ve already got a happy go lucky baby, the fake sneeze or the gasp of air work pretty well also if you’re trying to get some big smiles and belly laughs.

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TODDLERS – Ok, this is probably the hardest age. For majority of toddlers, stranger anxiety has kicked in already, so the thing you DON’T want to do is get right in their face when you first see them and say “HI!!!! I’M JULIE!”. Remember that one crazy friend/aunt/uncle/etc of your parents when you were growing up that was in your face every time you saw them? Do you remember how scared and downright annoyed you were with them? Well yeah….similar situation here. I usually just flash them a quick smile and then start talking to the parent(s). For them, they see that “ok, mom/dad is talking to her, she must be ok” and “hmmm, wait a minute, why isn’t she giving ME any attention?”. Soon after, they will be trying to get YOUR attention. If they still aren’t, easy tricks are saying “*Wow, what’s this!?” or “Is there a bird on my head!??”….or of course, peek a boo (mainly just the “BOO!” part). Other quick smile setters are being tossed or lifted in the air by mom or dad…

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KIDS (about ages 3-8) – At this age you will get lots of fake, forced smiles, so this is where being funny really kicks in. Now how do you get kids to laugh? Easy!….be really silly, downright stupid and a little gross. Yep, I said gross.  Disclaimer: Not all of you may agree with this method – and if the parents are conservative or you are unsure, ask the parents if it is ok first. Talking about farts, or making fart noises totally works. I swear. Especially with boys! Asking kids if they farted, or if their parents farted, close to always works. Sure it might not be the most appropriate thing to be “teaching” kids, but ummm…..it’s nothing that they most likely don’t already talk about at school, with their friends or at home. Oh and I’ve never had a single parent complain about it…..especially when they go through their online gallery and see the most genuine and huge smiles ever.

Other funny things besides farts? Cartoon/kids movie voices (Spongebob, Shrek, Mickey Mouse, Alvin and The Chipmunks, etc), pretending like you’re hurt or going to fall, pretending like a bird pooped on your head, etc. Another great thing is REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY. Many times I will tell kids “Hey! DON’T look at me!”….and as soon as they look (because they ALWAYS do), I’ll say “HEY!!!! I TOLD YOU NOT TO LOOK AT ME!!”….which then causes a huge smile and laugh. Then I say “HEY!! NOOO SMILING!!”….which of course causes MORE looking AND smiling 😉

Here are a few “DON’T LOOK and DON’T SMILE” examples……

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Asking them to see who can look the toughest is also a fun one…….

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If all else fails, have a jumping contest!……

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Have mom and dad do something silly or naughty 😉 (if they are behind you, make sure they are RIGHT behind you – HEAD level) – otherwise you’ll get a bunch of photos where the kids are looking up and/or off to the side). The expressions will be priceless!…..

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Kisses causes smiles and laughs as well!…..

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OLDER KIDS and TEENS – This is another tough age. By now, embarrassment is a huge factor in how kids will act. Most already feel like they are being tortured because they HAVE to have their picture taken. The main thing for this age is to photograph them AWAY from their parents and family (obviously besides group shots). No one wants their mom or dad hovering and saying “Eww, don’t do that smile, do your REAL smile” or “Sit up straight!”, etc. In those cases, it will only lead to an annoyed kid who will look miserable in all of the photos. So instead, have the family hang out elsewhere and tell the child to help you pick a good spot for photos. Once you are away from the family, just snap away. You can always pull out the fart tricks (well depending on how old they are) if you need to, but most likely they will be fine. For teens, just simply letting them know that they look beautiful or awesome while snapping, helps to motivate them and feel more confident……

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Jumping works for older kids (and adults!) too….

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Remember to use the comment section and let us know how you connect with kids you are photographing.  What works for you – what doesn’t?

Today’s Guest Blogger is Julie Cruz of Lot 116 Photography. Make sure to check out her site and blog for some inspiration. In this article, she is discussing ways you can connect effectively with the children you are photographing. After reading her article below, please add a comment telling us how you connect with kids.  What works and does not work for you.  This way everyone will have an even greater resource and list of ideas.

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54 Comments

  1. Crystal ~ momaziggy
    November 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm —

    Fantastic post. Funny thing is I somehow stumbled across her blog last night and was looking in awe. Then come on here and see her shots…which are awesome. I love the tips and tricks. Kids are kids and you have to let them feel like them to get the best shots. :O)

  2. November 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm —

    Thank you for the great advice. You sound like alot of fun!

    I attach those fuzzy feathers to pipe cleaners and wrap those around a scrunchie I’ve put around the lens. The feathers move in the breeze and the children look at the lens. I bring my 8, 6, & 4 years olds with me to shoot and they run around behind me and make the family laugh.

  3. November 5, 2009 at 11:31 am —

    Great article Julie! I am looking forward to meeting you in January when you photograph my family.

  4. November 5, 2009 at 4:25 pm —

    Awesome tips, thank you so much!!

  5. November 5, 2009 at 11:22 am —

    Great advice. I love the farting noises. I have a 3 year old girl and 4 year old boy, that stuff totally works. One thing that works for me is whistling. I can make a bird sound when I whistle and I tell little kids that there is a little birdie stuck in my camera. It gets a direct look right into my lens and usually a good smile or amused look. Sometimes kids just react by looking worried or confused though.

  6. Jen Jacobs
    November 5, 2009 at 11:20 am —

    This was great!! this was exactly what I needed, it had me laughing!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. November 5, 2009 at 11:16 am —

    I ask if daddy wears diapers – gets a huge giggle every time. 🙂

  8. November 5, 2009 at 10:57 am —

    I have three boys, ages 20 months through almost 8, and I am nodding in agreement with everything you said — great guest post! Here’s a similar trick I use: I say, “Don’t you think about boogers. Please, whatever you do, don’t think about boogers!” and then, when the first smile cracks, give a giant theatrical groan and say, “Oh no! I *told* you not to think about boogers!!” Works like a charm!

  9. Elaine
    November 5, 2009 at 10:50 am —

    Awesome!! I use many of the tricks you have stated – especially with the baby and toddler ages. The babies, as you said, the quieter the better. The more you stimulate them, the worse it is!! Sometimes it’s best to photograph them away from the parents as well. My worst sessions have been when parents stand behind me, nearly yelling at their kid to get them to smile, sit up, look here, etc. What you end up with, is one very confused, overstimulated baby!!

  10. November 5, 2009 at 10:40 am —

    The farting trick. . . .it WORKS. Every time. Toots, farts, butts – all hilarious for boys. I use the stinky feet line too. First I ask the child to say “stinky feet” – not only does it cause the mouth to form a natural smile, it also surprises them and ususally gets them to giggle. Playing more on stinky feet – – “do you have stinky feet?” child says no. “i bet your mommy has stinky feet, should we check”? Then I pretend to go get mom – that works as well for smiles. To get serious faced close ups, I get in close and ask them “do you see a dinosaur/princess/dragon in my camera? look realllllly close” and snap the shot – working along the same line, I back up and say, “you didn’t see a dinosaur in there?? he must have escaped! let’s find him. . .” running/playing = fun and smiles.

  11. November 5, 2009 at 10:20 am —

    Mostly, I do everything I just read about. Great minds think alike! I use reverse psychology a lot, too. “Don’t smile. I told you not to smile! Why are you smiling?” Oftentimes, they will ask me again and again to tell them not to smile. I also like a little joke for kids – “Guess what? Chicken butt!” They love that one, too. And with boys, we run around and play tag and red-light, green-light. That helps them burn off some steam and when they stop and rest, I get them:)

  12. November 5, 2009 at 9:42 am —

    Ohmigod this is FANTASTIC! The farting noises idea made me LAUGH OUT LOUD and I will most definitely be using it next shoot… I am so not scared… 🙂 For kids that are just a little older than toddlers, pre-school age, I get them to look RIGHT into my lens so they can see themselves, upside down! And then I say, “Hey! Why are you hanging upside down?!” I’ve also found the skinniest tree and “tried” to hide behind it… kids think that’s hysterical. I can’t wait to see what other people do!

  13. November 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm —

    this is great, thanks!

  14. Rebecca Timberlake
    November 5, 2009 at 9:05 am —

    Bubbles always work with toddlers…the only trouble is trying to put them away.

  15. November 5, 2009 at 10:38 am —

    Great suggestions for different ages. Now if only I can remember them all when it counts.

  16. November 5, 2009 at 9:54 am —

    I have worked with many toddlers and young children, and one trick I use to get them to warm up to me is to get them involved in the picture taking. I let them come and see a picture of themselves, or even let them "help" me take a picture of mom. That gets them familiar with the camera (which can be a very big scary piece of equipment to young kids), and keeps them excited about each shot.

  17. November 5, 2009 at 9:41 am —

    Thanks for the insightful networking again!

  18. November 5, 2009 at 9:32 am —

    i also use the "don't smile" or "don't laugh" and works the majority of the time. this was very helpful, thanks!

  19. November 5, 2009 at 9:28 am —

    Thank you Jodi =)

  20. November 5, 2009 at 9:09 am —

    There are a lot of great tips in there. Thanks for sharing!

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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children