What Makes Kids Tick

Parents who hire me to photograph their kids always want me to capture their children at their best with natural, truly happy looking smiles. And yet in their quest to get just that, their efforts often backfire. I find that the more we try to manipulate kids into a frame that we’ve imagined, the more resistant (or at least grumpy!) they become. The trick is to meet kids where they are and consider our photo session to be a chance to play.

My most successful photos of kids have come when  their parents have taken time to prepare in a number of ways. Most importantly they’ve had conversations- first with me, about what their kids love, so that I can find some common ground right away and allow the children to teach me about what they love, and secondly with their children about what we will be doing and what to expect. (ie “We’re going to the beach to play, and meet a new friend who will be taking some photos of us playing. Then we’ll get to hang those photos on our walls). They’ve picked out clothing that both they and their kids are comfortable with (and have a backup!). Often this means giving the kids a choice between two options that are agreeable to the parent. They’ve also brought along something that their kids love; maybe it’s their favorite lovie or toy, or a jar of bubbles, or something completely new. Finally, if the child and I are really clicking and she’s having fun, they step back a bit and let me document this time. Often, despite best intentions, when parents hover with lots of directions, kids feel pressured to perform, and their faces reflect this anxiety. And almost as a rule, kids are way more willing to cooperate with a new adult than with their parents… at least mine are!

My guess is that in the long run, you’ll want to remember you kids just as they are, not necessarily sitting with their hands folded in their laps. You’ll want to remember what made them tick at this moment in time. It’s so hard to let go of the image that we have in our minds of the perfect shot of our family; ironically, it’s when we let that idea go that we end up with the strongest photos.

And the best part? Those kids who are given space to play during their sessions predictably love and look forward to their next picture day, as they see it as a fun, special day, where the focus is right where they want it- on them!

(Below is Ben, who’s mother told me that “Ben wants to know why you’re not in the pictures with us & when you’ll come over to play cars with him again!”)


  • August 6, 2015 - 11:44 am

    Theresa - That’s a mobkelr-ader. Great thinking!

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