For some reason, people think that just because I’m a photographer, my kids are always ready with a smile when I pull out the camera. Except for a brief window from 6 months to 1.3 years, that has not been farther from the truth. Instead of smiles and cries of delight, I hear exasperated sighs (have you ever heard a four year old sigh? it’s pretty funny) and, “Again???” So I’m forced to resort to bribing, pleading, and yes, even begging. “Please, kids, if you let me have just ONE good picture, I’ll give you both a pony, no wait, unicorns!” Well, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the idea. So I snap away, hoping and praying all the while that I’ll have a few usable pictures.
Well, somewhere around Caleb’s fourth birthday, he turned a corner and suddenly didn’t mind quite so much when mom took his picture. As the year went on, he even began to enjoy it a little. By Christmas, Caleb had realized that not only did he like having his picture taken, but that it was actually fun! These last few months, whenever there is something “cool” or he’s wearing his favorite shirt or built an especially impressive Lego creation, I hear, “Hey Mom, take a picture of this!” And to be completely honest, it’s a soothing balm to my aching photographer’s heart. And I whisper to myself, “We made it.”
We made it through the Terrible Two’s and the Even More Terrible Three’s. All those fits at the studio, grumpy faces, and fake smiles fade from memory and I’m left to just enjoy taking pictures of my little boy. But then I remember….
… Samantha just turned two.
Which means we’re not out of the woods yet. While Caleb now loves having his picture taken and will pose and smile and belly-laugh till the cows come home, Samantha has about a four minute time limit before she has a meltdown, and most of those four minutes are spent wiggling and attempting to stand on her head while still in my lap. She has reached the “silly stage” and while cute and adorable sometimes, it tends to have the opposite effect when attempting to take just one picture of the two kids smiling at the camera.
So what do we do? How do we take pictures of kids on opposite ends of the spectrum with only a few minutes of cooperative behavior?
1. Go with it
If your kids are in the mood to sit and cuddle, go with it. If they’re in the mood to run around and attempt to perfect the summersault, go with it. If they want to curl up on the couch and read books to each other, go with it. You’ll be much happier with the results of it’s a natural expression vs. a forced display. That being said, don’t feel guilty for having the kids sit next to each other and coaching them into giving hugs and kisses. It’s still an extension of their bond and completely natural, just with a little added encouragement. The key is not to be so fixated on this single pose that you feel stressed and pressured, reduced to tears or even yelling and threats when it doesn’t go according to plan. At that point, all you’ll remember looking back is how horrible you felt and how grumpy the kids were. What’s more, it’ll serve to reinforce their distain of the camera and make it even more difficult the next time around.
2. Make it fun
I’ve found that the best method is good picture + silly picture + good picture + silly picture. Kids are usually cooperative for a few minutes to start out with it, and this is the time to get the more calm picture, before the wiggles set in. Then let them be silly, play, make faces, and generally just be happy. Then while they are still in that happy place, coax them into sitting down/standing still while you snap a few frames of that genuine joy. I find that these are usually my favorite shots. Then finish up with some more wiggling and silliness, having them, “Look at Mommy!” every now and then in between the candid moments. Always end on a happy note. It’s human nature to apply our first and last impressions to the whole experience so if we start off with cooperative behavior and end with silly giggles, then the whole experience is a win, regardless of what happened in the middle. So even if we have a breakdown midway (which often happens) if we can turn the mood positive again, then it’ll be alright.
3. Set realistic expectations
You know that saying, “Hope for the best but plan for the worst?” It never rings more true than when taking pictures of your kids. Instead of a “Must-Have” picture, think of it as a “It’d-Be-Nice-To-Have” picture. Each time I take pictures of the kids, either at home, at the Studio, or while out and about, my ideal is to have a shot of them together, but my goal is to simply capture them having fun and good individual shots. By removing the sibling portrait from the “Must-Have” list, I remove the pressure from the situation and am not disappointed when it doesn’t work out or the cooperation window ends sooner than expected. But if by some miracle all the stars align and Heaven shines down on my two kids and they give me real, genuine smiles showing how much they love each other… well, let’s just say I’m ecstatic. Granted, I can count these ideal portraits on one hand, but the point is that they do happen every so often, but because I wasn’t pressured to make them happen every time, they were able to occur naturally and I was never disappointed in my kids or myself.
4. Don’t try to duplicate your friend/sister/Pinterest/Facebook
We all have those friends who kids always seem to be picture-perfect. Every image posted has them smiling and happy and we think, “Why can’t my kids be like that?” Forget them. Pinterest, while inspirational and more than slightly addicting, is a breeding grounds for discontentment. You see, people rarely share their failures. Instead, we celebrate the successes and as moms, when we finally have that amazing recipe, killer hairstyle, or great picture of our kids, we share away, but all the burned casseroles, frizzy bangs, and tear-filled portraits get swept under the rug. Those amazing pictures you saw on Pinterest were the accumulation of hours/months/years of hard work, careful planning, and sometimes, sheer luck. Although we can come close to duplicating what we saw, it will never be exactly the same because it’s different people, different location, different light, different mood. Everything is different. So the resulting shot will be different. Hey, it could ever be better than the original. The important part is realizing that everything we see is meant to inspire us to create our own story and interpretation, not duplication.
So long story short, don’t stress. Enjoy the moment and the time with your kids. If it happens the exactly the way you pictured it in your mind, wonderful. If not, roll with it and create a different kind of perfect moment. And if it’s all a flop, try again tomorrow. But remember that even the outtakes have a special place in our heart.
What’s your ace-up-the-sleeve for taking pictures? Do you find one method works better than another?