As a photographer whose clients are mainly kids and families, I've seen a common theme over the years that occurs in nearly every family I shoot: the non-compliant child. The non-compliant child (NCC for short) can strike at any moment of the photo session, including before you even arrive to the session location. See, they're sneaky like that. They don't play by the rules and don't really care what you want. This child can be perfectly content in the car ride to the session, perhaps even pleasant in the beginning of the session, but one wrong move on the part of the parent or photographer, or if the wind happens to blow in the wrong direction that day, and the beast will emerge.
The non-compliant child can reveal itself in various forms at the photo shoot. Here are some examples and tips for the parent/my fellow photographers on how to handle which type of NCC you have on your hands.
The runs-everywhere-and-wants-to-explore-child. This one will make the photographer earn every penny you pay her, and she'll be sweating by the end of the session. In this situation you just have to go with the flow, chase the kiddo down, find something to distract him to get a brief pause to snap the pic, and overall try to be one step ahead of them to capture something decent.
The won't-smile-for-squat-child. This is a tough one. For the photographer, they need to be looking in the camera to make sure the composure and lighting is correct, so its hard to be the entertainer as well. I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I pull out in these situations, but sometimes they just aren't having it. So this NCC often needs the parents to help out. As a parent you know what will make your kid smile, what song, saying, etc will make them crack a smile. And if all else fails, tickle them till they scream. Sometimes screams look like open-mouthed laughter in a picture ;) Also, if the child won't smile but they're actually looking in the direction of the camera, consider it a win!
The squirmer. You finally get this child to sit or be held and as soon as the camera shutter starts snapping, they try to squirm out of their parents laps/arms/etc. They have about a 1 minute or less time frame for actually staying put. For photographers, your shutter speed needs to be high and you need to be on your toes. Also, if doing a group pose, don't make the child join the family until the very end. Pose everyone else and then toss them in there and be ready to snap the picture immediately! And parents, just have a tight grip on them once they're in your reach.
The throwing-a-fit-but-can-eventually-recover-child. With this NCC, the parents will know best if the child will recover and you can still take pictures. Usually this one just needs to be given some time. Try to distract them, put the camera away for a minute, take a little walk, whatever they need in order to forget what you're there for! Then regroup, and try again.
The throwing-a-fit-but-cannot-recover-child. This means the photo shoot needs to end, and soon. Ideally, this NCC will appear towards the end of the shoot. If its at the beginning of the session, you can treat it as the above situation and give a little bit of time for them to calm down. If you're near the end of your session, its usually best to just call it a day, toss them in the car as fast as possible and enjoy the ride home ;)
The needs-a-nap-and-is-crabby-child. This one usually a combo of the throw-a-fit-but-can-recover kid plus a won't-smile-for-squat kiddo. It can also be the opposite and they could have fallen asleep in the car on the way to the session, were woken up to start taking pictures and aren't having it. Whichever version you get, they're usually crabby, don't want to smile, will take longer than usual to warm up to the photographer, and will give the photographer the middle finger with their eyes. If they haven't had a nap they will also fall asleep within 2 minutes during the car ride home. This NCC is to be treated like the combo it is: give them some time, take pictures of other family members who will smile, and come back around to them after a little bit.
Now, you can do everything possible to bribe those little suckers before the session starts: ice cream afterwards? Sure! Candy, yes! Money? Why not?! Whatever it takes, friends, whatever it takes. I'm all for using bribes to get a smile on the kids faces, whether its genuine or not. When you're paying someone to take your pictures, and you've actually gotten children bathed and dressed and you've also managed to take a shower, brush your teeth and put on makeup, you better get a good picture, am I right?
However, bribes often work for kiddos around age 3 and older. They can usually handle delayed gratification ("if you smile big for Miss Ellen, you'll get ice cream afterwards!") and have caught on to what the photographer wants from them. The NCC is typically a toddler that's under 3 years old, so its a whole different ball game. They are essentially like ticking time bombs and inevitably, something will happen that will set the course for the whole photo shoot, but you just never know what it will be. Super fun! With these time bombs, there's less ability to rationalize with them, bribe them or make them care one bit that you want them to look in the direction of a camera. While I've given tips above on how to handle these lovely toddlers, in reality, sometimes they just can't get their act together. When this happens, the most important thing is that you and any other cooperating members of your family keep smiling and looking at the camera! You'll see examples of this below.
Here's the hope that I promised to bring at the beginning of this post: YOU ARE NOT ALONE!! Parents, you are not the first ones to have a non-compliant child, and you won't be the last! This issue is SO common and just comes with the territory of having little turds, I mean children, that can turn on you in a matter of moments. Your child is normal, you are normal and it is *totally* normal to have a difficult photo session when you have young children. I've seen so many parents get flustered (totally understood), impatient (umm, of course) and apologize to me (completely unnecessary) for how their NCC is behaving. Hopefully my clients have experienced nothing but empathy and grace from me, because I know better than anyone there is sometimes nothing you can do in these situations. As my sweet friend Andrea said after one of our sessions, "I have to remember my kids aren't robots!" So true! Unfortunately, Pinterest has created unrealistic expectations for how your children should behave in a session. If you've happened upon a picture on Pinterest where there was a toddler who was smiling, standing still and not blurry, looking at the camera and overall was a decent picture, that was basically a miracle. The hard part when your shoot doesn't turn out that way, is everything leading up to it: you've taken time out of your family schedule to get dressed up, travel to a location spot, gotten really excited to have your picture taken and are even envisioning the Christmas card you're going to send out. Then, the NCC hits and you have this awful realization that you've just paid a lot of money to have professional pictures of a tantrum.
(If you are reading this and have done photo shoots with small children and they were well-behaved, smiled and gave you Pinterest-worthy pictures, count yourself lucky, thank the Lord in heaven above, and just wait, your time is coming.)
To prove you're not alone, I will share with you some photos from our family session we did last month. These were taken by a professional photographer (shout out to Marla Sgarbossa Photography who is our neighbor and has kids so she gets it) and I am a professional photographer, yet the NCC still occurred in the form of my little 2 year old, Shay. (Please note that Shay is the perfect age for an NCC: toddler, under 3, not easily bribed, does not give a rip what we want her to do) How it developed for us: when we were on the way to our photo shoot she was playing in the car with a toy phone, that she affectionately calls "hello". Once we got to the location, we had the audacity to take 'hello' away from her and not let her have it during the shoot. Big mistake. Huge. But people, 'hello' is neon green. I don't want 'hello' in my pictures. This is what happened when we didn't let her have it:
Just wait, there's more:
Now if you look closely at the picture below, you can see that wretched 'hello'. Sometimes you have to give in and realize things might be in your pictures you would rather do without, but overall you just want them to calm down and participate. Blasted neon green toy phone.
Hopefully, no matter what has happened in your photo session, you can laugh about it and know that not one single family has a perfect session, or perfect children or a perfect life. (that's why we need Jesus, aaaaamen.)
Happy Holidays, everyone!