Natural photos of children - or not?
“Loaded like a freight train* …” my ten year old screamed, “FLYIN’ LIKE AN AEROPLANE …” as he catapulted himself out of a tree, swinging like a hyperactive gibbon on one of the lower branches to add flourish to his descent.
“Feelin’ like a space brain ONE MORE TIME TONIGHT!!” he snarled proudly, feet planted on the ground, as I yelled “Yes! Freeze! That’s it! Look up!”
My elation was short-lived. My heart sank as his lips curled back over his teeth and his eyebrows shot off the top of his head. His neck seeped into his shoulders, and the shutters clanged shut over his eyes.
It was as if I’d dumped a handful of salt in a bucket of lemonade. The fizz just … melted.
Before I even bothered looking at the back of my camera, I knew my intervention had murdered the moment I’d so badly wanted to keep.
THIS, my friend, is exactly why you should shut the hell up when you’re photographing your kids. Use your eyes, not your mouth!
What not to do
It took a while to dawn on me that I was on a hiding to nothing.
Whenever I saw him doing something so entirely “him” like this, I’d grab my camera (or phone, whatever), then run over and get him to smile for me and completely destroy the moment.
It was the only way I knew how to capture the moment, record it, preserve it, share it. Remember it.
The sight of me with a camera in my hand became a negative thing for him. A warning. A signal to stop playing, to stop having fun, to take himself out of the moment and do what the grown-up said. Like “look up and smile”, or “Stop! Look at me!”
The smile became a pissed off grimace.
And that was just on him.
Definite lose-lose situation
I was getting fed up of the huffing and puffing protests whenever I tried to capture beautiful photos of all the funny, every day goings-on.
I knew these photos would only become increasingly more precious as the years flowed by. So damn it, why couldn’t he just co-operate?
My spectacular failure rate at getting the photographs I so badly wanted resulted in me getting narked and humpty with him for not complying when I interrupted him so I could take a picture.
Narked and humpty?! I didn’t want to be that person! I didn’t want him to run the other way when he saw me with a camera! I didn’t want him to feel like a performing monkey (gibbon?) for me!
How to do it differently
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting the same results, and I absolutely saw that as my approach to photographing him wasn’t working, something had to change.
What the hell, I’d try candid. And just not bother him when I was capturing his antics on camera.
Sneakily, though. “Oh wow! How the heck did you do that?!” I’d gasp, getting him to repeat the action as I slyly photographed it.
“Aye, aye, very good … That was actually amazing! Bet you can’t do it again though!”, I’d provoke him. And he’d oblige. Every. Single. Time.
Capture the personality
And his personality really started showing through in these photos.
He was happy because I was an admiring rather than interfering audience for his antics, or event silent, and I was happy because I was getting all sorts of pictures of him which were a genuine record of who he was and the atmosphere of what was happening.
I was just letting him be himself, and it was paying off in spades.
It CAN be more difficult than just getting them to face you and smile. You have to really think about where you’re standing, where the light’s falling, and how to get them in the frame.
You start looking at light and shadows and seeing how it relates to what they’re doing, you start focusing on different areas in the picture to bring out different stories.
You realise there are technical things to take into account, like movement blur in low light. If it’s not very bright, if your kid’s moving at speed, don’t expect him to look sharp and clear in a phone camera snap.
It's worth it!
Master these things, though. It’s so worth it.
When you look through the pictures later, there are only so many “standing smiling at the camera” pictures you can sit through. They get very samey and boring after a while, and whilst they often show very clearly what your children look like at that given moment, they often don’t show who they are.
A blurred photo of my boy hurtling through the trees at freight train speed speaks volumes more about who he was back then than a close-up of his face.
After all this observation of the moment, you’ll find yourself noticing more and more picture-worthy scenes.
You'll see things differently
Then instead of your kid getting pissed off because you keep interrupting his play to get him to look at you and smile, your husband will be getting pissed off because you keep wanting to stop the car to get out and take a photo of the way the light is falling on that hill, or how the sun’s just setting over those buildings and making the roofs sparkle.
* "LOADED LIKE A FREIGHT TRAIN ..." ??? Eh?
Ummm. From this. Below. (But if you knew this already, please can we be best friends?)
He MAY have heard me playing GnR a few gazillion times ...
Want to find out more about how to take great photos of your children?
Have a read of my free guide, "5 Secrets to Taking Fabulous Family Photos - Even with your Phone", and find out how to banish the Death Stare of Doom and Silly Simper forever!