Donna Green Photography 5

My son glowered sullenly at me. Stuck out his tongue. Defiantly folded his arms and scowled at me from beneath lowered brows. 

Then turned his back and ran away.

Just because he saw my phone in my hand, poised to photograph him in his new kilt.

Damn, but it was annoying.

Jeeze, all you’re trying to do is take your children’s photos, yet they act like you’re trying to sell them off!

family photographer Edinburgh - 2 year old boy in blue trousers striding away

Surely it’s not too much to ask for them to just crack on with what they were doing and let you immortalise the important moments in their lives? In your life? 

When all you want is …

You want lots of lovely photos of your children, documenting your daily life and all the happy memories which you work so hard at trying to give the little blighters darlings.

You don’t have all the time in the world together either – they’re in nursery or school and you’re at the day job, so not only do you want the evening and weekend times to really count, but you want to record them.

For after all, aren’t you your family’s memory-keeper? You know you’ll all be glad of these photos in years to come, that they’ll be treasured by all of you, don’t you?

Admit it, you feel a bit shit about it sometimes, don’t you?

But right now, their utter lack of compliance and obvious irritation at you makes you feel like you’re a bad mother. A mean old bag, haranguing and pestering them so you can catch all these moments which you know are so fleeting.

The trouble is, the way you’re making them feel when you go about it is in complete conflict with what you want to portray in your photos: harmony, peace, individuality of the whole cast of characters, and the love you all share.

Little girl sitting in wildflowers against a wall, looking bemused

You feel torn – you want to get these photos, you think it’s the right thing to do in the long run, but in the process, in the short-term, you’re making them fed up and resentful of you.

I’m going to help you with this

I know you feel like this, because I too am my family’s memory-keeper. We mothers always are, aren’t we? And I’ve had a few years of practice at it under my belt, so slow down and listen up.

You CAN get this right, because I did. And I’m going to show you how.

1) Listen to them, and be respectful

If he asks you to stop photographing him, you know, you really should. So you’ll miss out on a shot, yes, but compared to riding roughshod over his feelings and showing him his voice doesn’t matter, well, that’s a high price to pay.

And the upside is, when they know you’ll respect their wishes, there’s a much higher chance that the next time they won’t really care if you’re photographing them because they know that if they really wanted you to, you’d stop.

stop annoying your children with your camera - Glebe Lochans, Kingussie - little girl sitting at picnic benchOkay, so I admit, I found this hard. But when I’m utterly desperate to get more photos I just imagine my husband taking a picture of me when I’ve just woken up in the morning and posting it to Facebook without my permission. It’s just not fair. (Difference being, my son can’t divorce me!)

2) Stick to an agreed time limit or shot count

Say your daughter’s got a new outfit which is simply fabulous, and you’re dying to show everyone how smashing she looks in it. Or your son’s got a new haircut which makes him look completely different. You’ll probably want to catch these on camera, won’t you?

So ask them for their help. Say you want to take some photos of them but “I’ll set the timer for 4 minutes, and when it goes off, that’s us done”. Or ask them to let you take 10 shots, no more.

Your chances of co-operation rocket if they see light at the end of the tunnel of boringness. As long as you keep your promise and don’t try to wheedle more time or shots out of them, this tactic will yield exponential success the more often you employ it.

Because they’ll trust you.

And of course knowing you’ve only got a few minutes or a set amount of frames available to you fair focuses your mind, so you’ll probably come up with some pretty good shots!

3) For the love of goodness, if they’re engrossed, don’t interrupt them!

You know they say “let sleeping dogs lie”? Well you need to let an engrossed kid crack on. If she’s concentrating on something at the same time as being in a lovely pool of light, just let her be.

As quietly as you can, get your camera or your phone and just take what shots you can without disturbing her.

After all, how irritating would YOU find it if you were doing something fun and someone came and told you to “smile for the camera! Left a bit! No, right a bit! No, turn round … This is the last one, honestly!” Yes, that.

Glebe Lochans, Kingussie - little girl sitting on picnic benchAnd what you’re capturing is a more “real” record of the moment anyhow. So just go with it. Just let her play.

4) Whisper their names dead quietly

It’s all very well taking shots of them so deeply engaged in something they’re oblivious to you, but part of the whole story you want to capture is what their faces actually look like!

To get them to look up towards the camera/phone really naturally, just whisper their names very, very quietly once you’ve got the shot ready to go. So all you have to do is press the button.

The look you’ll get won’t be pained, won’t be irritated, won’t be angry or pissed off. It may be very slightly curious, but it’ll be more beautifully natural than any deliberately posed picture you could take of them. It’ll show the real person.

5) Cheese is for mice

(And people like me who can eat my own bodyweight in the stuff in one meal alone.)

Just don’t get them to say cheese. EVER! The way it makes them pull their teeth back like a rabid dog looks simply horrible and is as far from natural as you could ever get.

Read my blog post on “Can you really banish death stares from your family photos?” to find out what to do instead. (It can involve cake.)

6) Kinder Eggs or more telly time? Oh okay then!

I may or may not have gone down this route before. I may or may not have gone so far down it that my daughter actually asked me to take her and the camera out for a walk so she could have another Kinder Egg. On a Wednesday. A “non-Saturday sweetie” day!

I’m not proud of it. But hell did it work!

little girl in stripey pyjamas lying on couch wearing headphonesJust don’t overuse this trick. Because the children will get so mercenary that before you know it they’ll be demanding a roof-top swimming pool, unlimited cake, and a home entertainment centre in the east wing of the house you’ll have to buy them.

7) Thank them for their time (particularly if they gave you it for nothing!)

Treat them like you would anyone else. Thank them sincerely and say something nice about the “modelling” job they did for you. Tell them how happy it made you feel and how grateful you are. Even if they’re really wee, they’ll remember all this positivity the next time you want to photograph them, and they’ll be a ton more amenable.

Your turn!

The next time you know you’ll have your phone or camera out, pick one of these tips and see how you get on with it.

Then over the course of a week or two, try the rest. See what happens.

little girl in garden, backlit by sunshine, with crossed arms
Thinking about how she can extort more reward from me!

Now you won’t have a skewed version of their childhood in pictures where all they do is scowl or turn their backs. They won’t be narked with you constantly being in their faces.

Your phone won’t be clogged up with hundreds of disappointing images which don’t even tell the story of what you did and how you all felt that day.

You’ll get beautiful, natural photos

Instead, they’ll be fighting over who gets to be in the picture first, and you get the beautiful, natural photos which tell your story over this year, next year, every year.

Use these tips to stop feeling guilty about pestering your children for photos and being disappointed that you just can’t seem to document their days effectively – be the memory-keeper who captures the golden (and mucky!) days of their childhoods and who makes it fun at the same time.

As for my son in his new kilt, well, he was 11. Too old for tongue-sticking-out, but it worked.  I gave him an hour’s x-box on that school night. I know. Weak, right? 

But oh, he DID look the business! And no, I didn’t manage to get a decent photo. But at least he was still speaking to me afterwards.

Let me know how you get on!

Do these pointers work as well on your children as they do on mine? Let me know in the comments below how you get on!

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