FAQ : Children's Photography

I'm incredibly excited to be writing this from Las Vegas for WPPI, where I'll be speaking tonight in the Garden Arena at 4pm. If you're in the neighborhood, feel free to drop on by! I'm hiding in my room most the morning because my nerves are preventing me from holding a coherent conversation, but I'm honored to invite my good friend Amy Wenzel to share tips on Children's Photography. She's incredibly talented and her insight is completely awesome. Seriously...just see for yourself...


From Amy:
People are often amazed at those of us who work with kids- like how on earth do we get them to cooperate or look at the camera, or smile for that matter??? Surely we must drug them with Benadryl or something? I'm sure we have days where we wish we could do that, but most of us have a gift for working with little ones. There are lots of different types of kids, so as a child photographer you have to wear many different hats. Sensitivity, intuition, and patience have been my compass for navigating the many personality types of children and how they respond and engage, but I've also learned some old standby tricks that would be useful to any photographer or parent desiring to capture great photographs. I thought I'd share some tips for interacting with kids that have helped me along the way, and hopefully they will prove useful to you as well!

1. Let Mom & Dad off the Hook

In my experience, the majority of children engage and take instruction better if their parents aren't in the room. I am not a mom yet, so I don't know why this happens. It's just a psychological principle of nature! Kids transform from a whiny basketcase, into totally cooperative, enthusiastic participants when their parents step out of the room. A great way to start the photo session is to explain that kids give more eye contact and take direction better when they do not have a parental audience, and that you prefer to work with kids one on one if everyone is comfortable with that. For a lot of parents this actually lets them off the hook. They are happy to let you do your job without stressing about the behavior of their kids. If parents really want to watch the whole experience, suggest they stand at a distance or look out the window if you are in the yard. I'm telling you, in some situations this makes all the difference in the world between an average session and you capturing your best work!


2. Play "Simon Says"

This game is my favorite technique for engaging kids and getting them into awesome poses without boring them to death. Using a cheerful, high energy voice, I do the poses with them so that they can mirror what I'm doing (especially the little ones who aren't as familiar with the game). I start out with silly commands, "Simon says stick out your tongue! Simon says, put your tongue away." Then I get sneaky and start posing them, "Simon says turn sideways! Simon says put your hands in your pockets. Simon says tilt your head this way." And voila! They are now facing the right direction with the perfect pose. Be sure to throw lots of fun things in the mix, like jumping up and down, shaking their tummy, putting their arms out...things you may not even want to photograph but that keep it fun for the kids so they don't catch on to you!

3. Make Obnoxious Animal Noises (Ages 2-6)

I am very serious when I say OBNOXIOUS. It amuses them to hear me being so loud and goofy and often sends them into hysterics. I've successfully mastered the howling hound dog, the yapping poodle, the LOUDEST bawking chicken you have ever heard, and a horse neigh that puts Mr. Ed to shame. I like to build up the hype about how cool my animal noises are and ask if they want to hear them. They usually do want to hear, so this bribes them into the perfect pose, and then I say, "Ready? Okay! Which one do you want to hear (I list available choices)." They like to continue directing me as to which obnoxious noise I make next. I feel sorry for the neighbors.


4. Compliment Them

Kids are no different than adults - they love compliments. Who doesn't love to be told they are amazing? I want kids to love my attention and love being in front of the camera. I want the experience to boost their self esteem, making them excited for the next time I come to take their picture! It's fun to see the sparkle in their eyes as I let them know they are doing a terrific job or tease them with praise. "You are a great poser! Are you a professional model? How do you know how to do this so well? I loooove your outfit! You have the bluest eyes I have ever seen. Are you the coolest kid at school? I bet you have so many friends. Are you a princess? Do you live in a castle? You are sooo cute! That was such a great face! I love these photos! You are doing such a great job! Your mom is going to love these!"

5. Capture the In-between Moments

Sometimes we'll make a ton of funny faces, and although I may not want a photo of funny faces, I'll wait until they are all done with the hideousness and then when they bust up laughing about it, I'll bring my camera to my face and snap. Or maybe I'll have them twirl or run to get them excited and then I'll yell FREEZE! and snap a few. I'll ask them to tell me a joke (and kids always laugh at their own jokes), and then when they are done I'll get a photo of them laughing at their own cleverness. I'll use anything I can to get reactions from kids and then photograph their expressions.


6. Play the "Take a Bath In" Game

For some reason, kids love to think of disgusting things to take a bath in. We take turns yelling out something gross to take a bath in, laughing all the while. I like to start the game this way, "Hey, I have an idea! How about you have to take a bath in Peanut butter! Gross!!!!!!! Shall we go do that? Okay, well how about you have to take a bath in MUD!!" The list goes on and on, from worms to jelly to maple syrup. You are bound to get a ton of smiles. Encourage them to come up with their own grody ideas.

7. Sing Songs

Kids love music, so I'll sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, The wheels on the bus, etc.. But best of all I like to get on YouTube and learn the intro theme songs to the most popular kids shows. I save it for that perfect moment, and right when I need killer eye contact to match the perfect composition I start singing Dora the Explorer or Thomas the Train or The Back Yardigans. This tactic will stop a child dead in their tracks and make them look straight at your camera!


Maybe you can work a few of these tricks into your arsenal if you aren't using them already. Or if you are a Mom wanting a good shot, hopefully these will give you something better to pull from than the old, "Say Cheese!" Happy Bendaryl-free shooting!
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Romeo KOB - Thank you for your kindness to share your experience and suggestion to other people..really appreciated   05.19.11 - 11:25am
OJ Photo - Wow, thanks so much! I picked up a few great tips!  03.01.11 - 6:50am
Skye - Lovely post. That little girl is cuddling the monkey from Mr Magoriums Wonder Emporium. My daughter has been asking for it since I bought the DVD!!!!  02.27.11 - 6:23pm
Carl Reid - Great post...I use similar tactics when taking pictures of my kids. But I guess that's a life of children whose parents are photographers. Regards, Carl from T.O.   02.26.11 - 11:43pm
Juli L. - What wonderful ideas...thank you so much! I never thought to have the parents out of the room, but that is so true. I tend to loose eye contact with them when the parent is there, they are always looking at the mom or dad in the room. Thanks again!  02.26.11 - 3:48pm
Hilary Mercer - Wow, these are some awesome tips! I cant wait until my next kiddo session now!  02.25.11 - 10:19pm
Naomi - So rad! Thanks for the introduction to Amy Wenzel's amaziness. Will be sure to input these tips and trick into my next session. Thank you.  02.24.11 - 4:14pm
Sara Mac - Epic! Love these tips. Of course, now that I have decided to mainly focus on music photography! hah Thanks for this Amy and J*!  02.23.11 - 9:41am
Rebecca - what great advice! I love the "take a bath in" idea..so fun!  02.23.11 - 8:44am
Feuza - great tips, thanks Amy  02.22.11 - 11:21am
Taryn - these tips are awesome! I am always trying to find different ways to help me improve me children sessions. Amy is awesome!  02.22.11 - 8:05am
Gisela - Jasmine, I have been an admirer of Amy for years, love what she does for her children's sessions. Thank you so much for featuring her here and thank you for all those useful tips. Have a great time at WPPI  02.22.11 - 7:25am
Samantha Pearce - LOVE Amy, so inspired by her work! Would so love to get to one of her workshops oneday.  02.22.11 - 2:00am
Girish - Some great notes here. Thanks for the wonderful tips.  02.21.11 - 11:37pm
Petra Cross - I am used to photographing dogs, and I noticed that similar techniques work on little children. You simply need to start making funny faces and sounds. If you are a mother, you know exactly how to make your baby laugh.  02.21.11 - 9:44pm
Lawrence Siow - Nice blog. Learnt a lot from this article :)  02.21.11 - 8:58pm
Sarah - *love*  02.21.11 - 4:33pm
Elizabeth C. - Awesome post! I love the tips and know that I will definitely use some of these. They make photography sound like fun. I'd also love some tips for working with newborns/younger kids.  02.21.11 - 2:57pm
Carmen Whittaker - As a "want to be photographer" (lol) these tips will be put to practice with the grandchildren as soon as I see them in a couple of weeks. Thanks Jasmine for allowing me to reconnect with Amy  02.21.11 - 2:06pm
Erin - Kansas City Photographers - Love the post! Chin up Jaz. You will be great!!!! There isn't anything you can do to take away Gods grace, I think that you could fart in front of everyone and somehow, while the rest of us would be mortified and criticized, you would be endeared. You will be great!!!! Loved the kids post we are currently working on a new senior website and will then expand into kids, the tips are fun. Thank you  02.21.11 - 1:59pm
Jenny - thanks for this post!   02.21.11 - 1:59pm
Stacey - Total City Girl - Thanks for the tips Amy! I have a few sessions coming up and I'm sure these tips will come in handy. Jasmine - you're going to do an amazing job - you always do!!  02.21.11 - 1:48pm
Omar Gonzalez - The "Simon Says" idea is great! I've had kids "catch" cakes and pies I "throw" at them. They love it.  02.21.11 - 1:38pm
Mona Alicia - Wow, that first shot is killer! Great suggestions Amy, I think I've read them on your blog before but I am so happy that I reread it today because a refresher is always appreciated!  02.21.11 - 12:21pm
Edouard Montfort - Nice & joyful pictures  02.21.11 - 11:51am
Niki - Okay...I LOVED that article! I am totally going to try the whole, have the parents go somewhere else thing. That has been my biggest issue and never considered that possibility! I also love some of the game ideas.... Thank you!  02.21.11 - 11:48am
Molly Kate - Amy, your work is beautiful. Thanks for the tips!  02.21.11 - 11:24am
Tracy - Love this post, it is right up my alley! Thanks Jasmine and Amy!  02.21.11 - 11:22am
Jill - FNA Photography - Jasmine I'm sure you will do great tonight - however, I know how yucky it feels right before speaking so I will say a prayer for you! As a mom of 9 I use all of these and the kids LOVE IT! Simon says always works! Joke telling rocks and so does singing songs! Get the wiggles out is the funniest thing with children 2-10 yrs of age! Thanks for sharing this and know that I am praying for you today! Hugs, Jill  02.21.11 - 11:20am
Kristin Nicole - Such great tips!  02.21.11 - 11:20am
Jen Rice - @ Jasmine ~ thanks so much for introducing us to Amy!!! @ Amy ~ THANK you soooo much for being willing to share :D Fabulous work and funtastic technique, can't wait to try them myself! ♥  02.21.11 - 10:56am
Angela Kirker - LOVE these tips. Great ideas  02.21.11 - 10:55am
Shannon Wilkinson - These are great suggestions! Good luck with your talk today. You will do great. Wish I could be there to hear it.  02.21.11 - 10:07am
Erin Johnson - Great tips!!   02.21.11 - 9:53am
Johanna B - Agh! LOVE!!!   02.21.11 - 9:46am
Emily Dobson - Thank you for the SPECIFICS! So often I hear, "You have to think like a kid." Or "Do the things kids like to do." which does absolutely nothing for me. These practical tips are AWESOME!   02.21.11 - 9:44am
Alex Cooke - This is awesome. Actually they usually get a kick out of me telling them you don't have to listen to mommy as long as you're here with me. Now I need to learn to sing :)  02.21.11 - 9:32am
Julie P - Since I am waaay bummed I can't be at WPPI I am sending major hugs your way for posting this today! Thank you Amy & Jasmine! As always, you will rock it! I come to your sessions every year at WPPI.  02.21.11 - 9:30am
Jessica Burner - Thank you, thank you, thank you! This post is exactly what I have been looking for.  02.21.11 - 9:29am
sarah - perfect!! totally usable!! thank you!  02.21.11 - 9:27am
Danica Clark - Just FANTASTIC ideas, thank you Jasmine and Amy!!! :D I'm all excited to get out capturing more great kiddo shots! :) I'm an oldest of 7, so this does come natural to me, but these tips encourage me beyond words! :D  02.21.11 - 9:27am
Heather Brandt - amy--how do you nicely convince parents to step away & stop making faces behind you (they say they are trying to make their kids' smiles more natural) and trying to hard to "pose" their kids or get their kids to do a certain way. When I've had hands off parents who only help as I ask them to help, the photos have been mucho better than this controlling parent-style....Just not sure how to convince them all to be more hands off so I can do my job....Any tips???  02.21.11 - 9:26am
Jim Denham - Great tips! Will definitely bookmark this post!  02.21.11 - 9:25am
whitney elizabeth - great post, i love amy wenzel! :)  02.21.11 - 9:11am
Allison - Thank you, Jasmine & Amy! Love the photos, and the tips are just what I need to stick in my pocket :)  02.21.11 - 8:45am
Kare - Some kids are crazy tough to capture - these tips are sure to help!  02.21.11 - 8:17am
michelle - Thanks for the great post! I love all the tips you've provided - can't wait to try them out!  02.21.11 - 8:14am
Jessica Williams - Hi Jasmine! I read on Amy's blog that she sets her AF point to a single point of focus rather than allowing the camera to auto detect the focal point. Do you do that as well? I've always thought it's best to have all set, not for a particular reason except I assumed it would give me a sharper image. What do you do? Thank you!  02.21.11 - 8:11am
LEOLAK - THANK YOU JASMINE!! THANK YOU AMY!!! I love Amy's work! Kids are my thing...and I have such a joy and passion about photographing them..I can't wait till I'm taking pics of them ALLLL the time! =) A couple things I already do...but definitely can use the new tricks and tips for sure. Thanks so much Amy for sharing!   02.21.11 - 7:36am
Tova - Such helpful tips!! Thank you so much!!  02.21.11 - 7:27am
Laura Stricklin - These are fabulous tips!!!!! Thanks J and Amy!  02.21.11 - 7:09am
Megan Shontz - THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!! Jasmine, I am so in love with your style, but would really rather take pictures of kids, so this post was exactly what I needed. You (and your friend) are the best!!  02.21.11 - 7:02am
Brad Halladay - Thanks Amy! The other day my wife and I had our 2 year old daughter sold on the fact that there was a 'birdie' inside of daddy's camera! I can get her to do anything to 'wake up' the 'birdie' inside my camera! Great tip on the 'Sing Songs'. This even works on my 6 month old son.  02.21.11 - 6:50am
ellie - wow these are amazing pictures + tips. being 17 and really starting to solidify my photography business, these are excellent. thanks!   02.21.11 - 6:44am
Adriana Morett - Wonderful photos Amy!! These are great tips, thanks a lot!  02.21.11 - 6:14am
Columbus GA Photographer - Awesome post. Thanks Jasmine for having Amy give us some tips on how to work with kids. That's one area in my photography I haven't really jumped into yet and still not sure if I will. However... If i do dabbling in child photography I'll be sure to revert back to this post b/c it was definitely helpful. Thanks!  02.21.11 - 6:14am
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