Some kids are naturally assertive, and will walk into your studio and jump in your arms the second they arrive. Some aren’t. They are timid and hang back, needing a few minutes to warm up to a new setting before they smile. And then you have the child that bursts into tears, and simply wants nothing to do with the entire situation.
What do you do?
Take a look at these 10 tips for a great portrait session when the child is crying.
1. Give the child some time and space. Especially with children, you should never book sessions close together. Allow some time at the beginning of the session for a child to warm up to you and the environment.
2. Set up a 30 minute get to know you session. Have the child come in earlier in the week to “play” in your studio. Have a few toys and/or books in your studio space, and invite the mom and child to play for a while. Sometimes all a child needs is comfort and familiarity. Look at this as an investment. With a small child, you may end up photographing this family for years to come. So a 30 minute investment upfront in time may help create a raving fan that will come to you and promote you to family and friends for years.
3. Sit on the floor and play. Instead of hovering over a child with a large camera and lens, set it aside and play with a few toys and props first. Show the child you are a friend first, picture taker second.
4. Separate the mom and the child. Sometimes parents can bring on more tears without realizing it. Have a special chair for her in a corner of your studio, and put yourself between the child and her mom. Talk softly, and speak directly to her about something that interests her. Never force a separation – only coax the child over to your shooting space.
5. Change the scenery. If a child is overwhelmed in your studio, head to the great outdoors. A local park can provide instant smiles. Or just let her run through the grass and trees. Play kid friendly games like peek a boo, and she’ll quickly be laughing and smiling.
6.Change the focus. If a child will not let go of mom, why not create beautiful mother and daughter/son portraits? Once a child sees it isn’t a scary process, he/she may even come around and want his/her own portraits taken as well.
7. A bribe can always work. Remember going to the doctor when you were little? They always had a big tub of toys, stickers and small candies – something to look forward to even if you did have to see the doctor. You can do the same. Buy small prizes at a party store or Oriental Trading.
8. Bring in a favorite toy. Does the child have a favorite doll or blanket? Parents often try to pull these security items for the portrait. Explain why it’s better to sometimes include them. And in just a few years, the parent will treasure these images – after all, “blankie” undoubtedly was a family friend for a while.
9. Act silly. Andrew is the king of silly in our studio. He always drops down to a child’s level, and holds out his hand for a “high five”. The minute they high five him, he swings his hand and hits his forehead with a silly sound. The giggles begin, and he has made a forever friend.
10. Reverse psychology may work as well. “I bet you can’t stand still for five seconds.” “Simon Says touch your toes.” “Oh look, now my baby doll is crying too.” You can use all kinds of games and tricks to turn the focus off of crying and being scared, and get them into what you hope to accomplish.
And if all else fails, reschedule. There’s no point in continuing with a shoot if you can’t get cooperation from the child. Maybe it’s just a bad day. Again, if you’re patient with the child, and work with the parents on creating the perfect environment, you will create a client for life.