Tips for Working With Children (and Parents)

Tips for Working With Children (and Parents) with Ana Brandt

Photographing newborns is one thing, but photographing children requires a whole lot of knowledge about child development, bribery, and cognitive behavior. I have been photographing children since I became an aunt 26 years ago. I remember when I first started observing my nieces and nephews, I was in love with their every move. I could quietly photograph them and it seemed so easy. I wasn’t their “parent” or their “paid photographer”—just Aunt Ana with a camera.

Once I turned pro, it seemed to completely change! Now I have a child to photograph that I don’t really know that well—plus client expectations and payment for services rendered—and it adds a whole other amount of pressure.

I have a baby plan; many of my clients sign up at the newborn session, then come during milestones and each year following the first-year plan. I love watching children grow up in my plan because I can actually get to know them. Then, photographing them is so much easier. I suggest that clients stick with the same photographer from babyhood to childhood because you need to foster that relationship to truly capture great images. Some children work great with strangers, others do not. I have three children and all of them—as many kids—need “warm-up” time.

I do provide mini child sessions and general family sessions where there is no time limit for those not inside my baby plan. For mini sessions, if it is a “theme,” then I can usually have fun, have high energy, and take amazing photos. Our “Holiday Tree Farm” photos were some of my favorite this year. We had so much fun with the children and the sessions were only 20 minutes. I had props hidden in the trees, Christmas music playing, candy canes for bribes, and I can honestly say it was one of my most successful holiday mini sessions ever. I was well-prepared with the staff needed and prepared the tree set in advance.

Tree Farm Tips

1. You will most likely need to pay the tree farm and book well in advance. We booked the tree farm in the spring! We sold out all 4 days and this year we need to extend that. We also originally only planned on shooting 2 hours before sunset. Because of the demand, we had to start at noon! This required getting very large scrims, very large diffusers, and it was like a movie set! Wranglers, spotters, assistants to hold the scrims in the wind—it was a full-on production crew, but we did very very well with this promotion!

2. Store little sets in between the trees for various age groups. We had from newborn through college age! Big chairs, little chairs, wagons, benches—be prepared! My clients came in Jimmy Choo shoes, so we had to remind them to bring their shoes and wear boots— because it is a tree farm!

3. We had candy canes for the kids and little gifts which they absolutely loved.

4. We played Christmas music on bluetooth speakers and we all wore Santa hats.

Chargers, batteries, water, food, blankets, chairs, props, wagons…be prepared! Tree farms are usually in remote areas and you can’t just run to the store!

General Tip: Kids love to see themselves. Show them photos on the camera or shoot to the iPad. They will love it. (see photo)

Should you Shoot Inside or Outside?

My clients can choose studio portraiture or on location. I often advise for children who are not walking yet, or who are more sensitive with their surroundings, that they opt for studio pictures. If the children love to run, play and explore, then location is ideal. Of course, it really depends on the “look” the client is looking for. When a client asks me if they should stay “inside” or go “outside” for their child’s pictures, there are a few factors I keep in mind before answering.

1. If they are on my baby plan and we have been doing studio pictures for each milestone, it might be ideal to also have 1-, 2-, 3-year studio images to complete a gallery wall for their home. That way the “look and feel” of how they lay the images in their home is similar.

2. If the first year was outside and the clients loved it and the image will work well in their home, then I tell them they can easily continue the tradition and go outside each year.

I have some clients that love to do beach sessions each year and the sessions are usually very relaxed and fun.

When working with children you need to be prepared. In our studio, we have lollipop trees (see photo) as well as M&Ms, Goldfish, and organic options as well. You want to make sure you always talk to the parent quietly before offering a child a treat or a bribe—especially if you are unsure if the child has allergies. I also highly recommend an assistant, and not just any assistant. If you have an assistant who is amazing with children, you have the golden ticket! As a photographer who has to worry about light, camera settings, and safety while wrangling a child, I know by experience that if I have an expert wrangler at my side, my job will be 500% easier. If you have ever worked on a commercial set where there is a professional child wrangler, you know what I mean! Child wranglers to me are just as important as the photographer. If I have an awesome assistant who is a fabulous child wrangler, it will be the best session ever—even if the child is not so easy. Few children can resist someone who knows how to work with them and make them laugh, it is a special gift! While I think I am pretty good with children and I can work alone—and I have—I prefer to have an amazing child wrangler by my side because I know we can get great images. After all, your clients are paying you to do your job. They don’t want to be bouncing up and down and singing toddler songs and working up a sweat. If the parents can relax and watch my gong show, they will be hugging me as they leave. I know this because it has happened! I have had some frustrated parents come my way and I tell them to just sit and relax and please do not stand next to me taking pictures with their phone. I ask them to just let me do my job, and then my assistant and I go to work. We will do whatever it takes, to blowing bubbles while singing “ABC’s” to playing peekaboo. Once the parents see this, they are far happier and will thank me when they leave.

Some of the must-have tools when working with children are:

  • Bubbles
  • Tickle monster (ours is a feather duster with an extra-long handle) aka tickler
  • Ladders (toddlers love to climb)
  • Little seats or benches, age height
  • Stickers
  • Sweet rewards (organic options as well) M&Ms, Goldfish, lollipops, etc.
  • Noisemakers
  • Elmo for the little ones or other popular characters
  • Music is also fun if you have a bluetooth speaker (most parents have favorite songs on their phone for their kids that they can then send to your speaker)

I always talk to the parents before the session to find out what are the “must-have” images they are looking for. For some, it’s a particular outfit they really want the child photographed in; others may say they want photos that capture their personality. Whatever the parent is looking for, you want to understand before the photo shoot. If they want candid images, running around the beach will be super easy and fun. If they want a formal photo of a child sitting in a chair, for example, it might take a bit just to keep that child on the chair! Any parent who has a child, especially one under 5, knows that the behavior is often unpredictable. Therefore it is super important to manage expectations and have a clear idea of the images they are looking for. Once you know this, know you need to work for that child. I work harder for 3-year-olds than any other age! I get down to their level, I talk to them, play with them, and get to know who they are before I stick a big black piece of equipment in their face.

I think at the end of the day, if you are photographing children, you should probably love them. I mean truly enjoy working with them and playing with them. I truly love and adore children and I love all of the ages and the personalities that go along with it.

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