Taking successful portraits of children
I enjoy photographing children for various reasons, but perhaps one reason is more important than all the other.
It’s how a good photograph can so positively influence a child’s self-esteem.
Parents often tell me how difficult it is to capture a photograph of their child. For example, it’s common for a child in the presence of their parents to react the moment a camera is pointed in their direction. This can sometimes be the sticking out their tongue, or else running away, or at least behaving differently to how the parents would like the child to pose. So the parents are the first problem! Hence the need keep them at an appropriate distance and, for appearances sake, apparrently distracted elsewhere.
My intention is to get to know the child. We become friends. We are equals. There’s no pressure to become friends. I am simply ‘there’. I take an interest. I follow their pattern of playing. I slowly make it clear that I know what being a child is like. In other words, I gain their trust and a genuine relationship between us occurs. This takes surprisingly less time than I often think it will. Part of the problem to be solved is to get them involved with the camera itself. The camera becomes a play thing in its own right. I want them to feel in control, not out of control. As adults we all know the discomfort of a ‘bad’ childhood photograph. Perhaps there’s an photograph(s!) your parents or other adults framed or stuck in an album and which you instinctively felt or feel repelled by. Photographs can distress or comfort and many other things besides. A principle reason for a less than perfect image is that we all tense when a camera is pointed in our direction. Perhaps we don’t know whether to smile or not and, if we do smile, all our confidence, or lack of it, is on view.
People wear masks intentionally or otherwise. It’s the same for children. Except a child’s mask can slip more easily. Where an adult’s mask might potentially be painful or almost impossible to let slip, a child may more readily reveal their true essence, and in an instant.
I tell the child that if they don’t like a photograph of themselves they can command me to delete it. And I do delete on command! I show the LCD presentation, and if they say ‘delete’ then that’s what happens. That’s unless I believe they are making a wrong decision, in which case I reason with them. Indeed, I am constantly surprised at how open they are to discussion, when an adult they trust explains why the image in question is worth keeping – or, if imperfect, how another approach (yet another photograph or pose) might be better. It occurs to me that children are truly effective art directors if only because they are so honest.
In other words, honesty pays. A point most children instinctively know.