When to stop photographing a child is not always apparent right away.
This one sighed, scowled, and gave me the evil eye.
Then rolled over and rubbed his face in the earth.
“Just one more!” I wheedled.
Golden shards of evening sun set his blond hair on fire. His skin glowed – or at least it did, before he deliberately face-planted in the dirt.
“NO” he shot back at me.
“Humph”, I thought, and wandered off. Ostensibly to do something else more interesting, but really with all senses on hyper-drive to determine when my long lens could catch the perfect moment of him absorbed in poking the earth for worms suicidal enough to come near him.
In all family and children photography sessions, there comes the point when you just know your wee subject has had enough, and you quite simply have to cease and desist.
When you’ve been doing this job for a while you get better and better at sensing when this moment is imminent. So you, well, cease and desist.
Some children are happy to be photographed for quite a while, playing to the camera and thoroughly enjoying it, whilst others would rather just run about and play, completely oblivious to me following after them catching all the action.
But whether they actively engage with you or prefer to ignore you, there comes a point where they’re going to be narked that you’re pointing a camera at them and there’s no going back. They wilt, the shoulders slump, the corners of the mouth turn down, and if you’re lucky they’ll just deflate and you know it’s game over. (You can read more on what we do in those situations on my FAQ page here.)
If you’re not lucky? They’ll get belligerent and pissed off.
Very often, well-meaning parents scold their child at this point, ordering him to co-operate, smile nicely for the camera, behave yourself can’t you?!
Then I have to tell them we need to either take a break or it’s time to stop, because please believe me, it’s daft to expect beautiful photographs of a pissed off kid. (Well. Unless your definition of “beautiful photographs” is pretty different from mine.)
Because all children are different (yes! really!), I try to work fairly quickly right from the start so I can catch as many great images as I can before they reach the wilting or belligerence stage.
That way, if we do really have to stop it’ll be fine, I’ll have caught what I needed on camera. And the child in front of me is still happy and not annoyed at some woman bugging him for more photos.
It’s not my child, I’ve probably only encountered him fairly recently, he won’t know me that well, and … Well, he’s not my child. Pissing him off by continuing is something I am NOT prepared to do. Ever.
I have various tactics up my sleeve to amuse him when I suspect he’s on the verge of getting fed up but I will never, ever push him, and I won’t photograph him if his parents are badgering him to perform for the camera and he doesn’t want to.
But you know what?
The boy scowling and giving me the evil eye?
That was my son.
Because we’re due compensation for all the sleepless nights, the tantrums in Sainsburys, the food-covered walls, and the endless laundry, we photographer parents are more than prepared to push the wilting and belligerence stage to its very limit. We can see it’s coming, but damn it, if the light is right, Mammy’s going to get Just One More Shot.
Just turn your face aside dear, so the evil eye and scowl won’t be in the frame, ‘kay? And THEN the camera goes away.
Sometimes it works. Often it doesn’t. But if it’s your own child in front of you, one you know infinitely well, show me a photographer parent who could resist going for that last shot.
On this occasion with my son, the worms disappointed me. They didn’t come up to the surface as instructed, so my boy took the notion that if he blew warm air into a hole he’d poked into the soil, they’d all come swarming up from the frozen depths (this was August, I recall!), attracted by the heat of his breath.
Lying prostrate with his face in a worm-hole really wasn’t making for a good photograph, and he absolutely knew it. I was foiled by a 5 year old.
Does your child ever get fed up of your phone camera in his face? Or are you a lot more restrained with the camera than I am? Let me know on my Facebook page!