Great comments @bennett-family! True, @esther, the kids are expressive in the photos, but that’s only because I chose the ones that were expressive to post. 🙂 They are shy and don’t want to smile at the camera and want to go do something else just like any other child. Like I tried to show in the video, I spent a lot of time with the kids getting them warmed up and used to the idea of their pictures being taken. They knew Uncle James was going to be taking pictures because their mom had told them, but when I arrived I took the time to explain the lights, what I was doing as I was setting up, answer their questions about EVERYTHING, let them play with the camera and take pictures themselves, etc. This was all done in the room where I was going to take pictures, of course, so the transition from the camera being in their hands to my hands would be almost unnoticeable. They started doing their schoolwork and seemed to forget I was there; the flash was still going off and the sound of the shutter was still there, but it had been going on like that for the past half hour, so for it to go off again was normal now. For the older kids, I would frame up a shot, get it just perfect, then quietly ask “Can you smile at the camera for me?” and immediately snap that first big smile that they gave (if they gave one). I’d check to make sure it was good on the camera screen, then say “Thank you, SO MUCH!!” and they would probably want to look at the photo too. Then I’d move on to the next child and do the same thing a couple rounds.
But it isn’t about doing exactly what I do. The goal is NOT to follow a certain process or to get a child to do something for you. The goal is to get a child to do something THEY want to do. I can’t stress this enough!! If the child WANTS to smile and look at the camera, then you will have all your problems solved. The trick is getting there. And to get there, it often takes TIME, PATIENCE, and CREATIVITY! And it’s not just taking pictures of what the child is enjoying doing. You’re still in control. It’s you getting them to want to do what you want them to do. (I’m talking about children over the age of 2 or so; it’s different for babies who don’t really understand what you’re saying.) I tend to want and snap the very first hint that the child gives of a smile. But I think that’s too early. They’ve got to be enjoying what they’re doing enough to be smiling even when they just glance in your direction. Some kids are really good about it and have been taught by the parents to smile nicely as soon as mom says “smile at the camera.” But that’s a rare child. Sometimes, when mom tells them to smile at the camera, they take it as another command that they don’t want to obey. Other times, they give a very unnatural smile or some strange expression because they feel insecure.
So, to get them to WANT to do what you want them to do takes creativity. I’m just learning how to do this (and you don’t always have time to do it), but here are a couple of ideas:
* During the homeschool shoot, I didn’t just let the older ones play with my camera….I TAUGHT them a thing or two about it. Every picture they took wasn’t just “awesome!” I showed them how to focus. I showed them how to point the speedlight. I taught them how to play back the image. They saw a blurry picture turn to be in focus. They saw a dark picture become bright. They saw how if they obeyed what I said, the picture would be better. The rest of the photo shoot, they obeyed what I said (for the most part :))! They seemed to understand that if they did what I said, the pictures of them would be better looking.
* During a family photo shoot a couple of days later, I asked Sauntina if there was any place around outside that she would like to have her picture taken. She didn’t suggest any place, so I suggested a place with flowers. She literally ran ahead of me to get there! She wanted to have her picture taken there.
* A swing was wrapped around a pole. I could have easily freed it. Instead, I asked if Jason could free it. It was a challenge. It required climbing around to get to it. What was I doing while he was climbing around?? In his mind he was on a mission. I paused him along the way to “look at the camera” a ton of times (I didn’t have to ask him to “smile” because he was already “smiley” on his mission), and asked him to re-climb things, etc., but every time we had eye contact, I wasn’t the “guy with the camera”….I was the guy he was accomplishing a great mission for.
* Cadance is super shy! I sat her in a swing and Mom told her to smile at the camera. Didn’t work. At all. I took her off the swing and asked if she could hold the swing “super still!” for me. It worked! She was no longer thinking about me or Mom or smiling….she was transfixed with steadying a swing so that it wouldn’t move a single milometer! When it was still, she looked at me with incredible glee in her face! Was I ready to snap it? Of course I was! That was the reason I gave her the challenge. 🙂 I did a few other things with her too, like while sitting on the swing, I asked if she could push the chains away from her as far as she could. Mom thought “that is a weird picture!” but it wasn’t WHILE she was pushing that I wanted, it was when her arms got tired and she released them and looked at me with this like “can I do it again?” expression on her face that I was snapping photos. Of course, I snapped a couple with her arms outstretched too, but they aren’t the ones I kept.
Like I said, I’m still learning this. But the more you can control directing the kids to do what you want them to do in a way that they feel like they are doing what THEY want to do, I think it will help bring out those natural expressions.
Anyway, that’s what I’m learning at least!