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Learning Week - Day 1: Guiding Lightly | Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Family Photographer

Updated: Jul 17, 2018

Hi everyone and thanks for tuning into the Week of Learning – a week of blogs with the aim of providing you with some useful input into YOUR relationship with photography.

You might even learn something new, or feel encouraged to learn more!

First things first: these ‘essentials’ and their utilisation are purely my opinion!

There are some ‘rules’ in photography, which I will mention, where appropriate, but I find that the best way is to know the rules and then adapt them to suit your style/eye (even if by breaking completely!).

So let me start off with what I consider to be one of the main themes in successful photography: The Subject.

Specifically, my approach to capturing the most authentic presence.

My personal style is relaxed.

I like to offer an experience in my sessions and my absolute dream is for a family to walk away thinking what a great time they had, instead of feeling exhausted, emotionally drained and sore-cheeked.

So my approach is to pose a little and let things run their course a lot – I also apply this when photographing my son (who is 22 months and, to be fair, taking direction isn’t high on his agenda anyways – but I can tell myself this is through MY choice).

What you want to do is let children run free, let them come to you, play a little game with them.

I have discovered that saying: ‘show me your teeth’, usually gives me The Smile Portrait (albeit, what I call ‘The Cheeser’), complimenting them on their teeth or making a silly comment gets you the more relaxed, coy smile, which you are probably going to end up using in portfolio and giving back to the parents!

In general, being silly with children is the best tactic: they will see you as a friend, they will tell you their stories, they will show you their treasures, they will come to you and by the end of the session, you’ll be getting your prized shots without even asking!

This cool dude had arrived straight from his Martial Arts lesson and was keen to show off the moves!

Getting children on your side makes moms and dads more relaxed, setting up a relaxed atmosphere and making it feel more like a fun outing, as opposed to a structured, formal photoshoot, leads to those gorgeous, precious memories being captured in photos.

Parents often don’t particularly want to be there – which kills me.

I forever want to remind them that this is (unfortunately?) not a VOGUE photoshoot and the main goal for the session is to capture some memorable imagery for them and (crucially) their children to cherish in years to come.

Chances are, when you think you’ve got some baby weight to lose and hair to grow, in a few years’ time, you will look through these images and think you looked amazing (as well as admiring the look your child is giving you and the fun you are all having), so don’t procrastinate, just get in the frame!

As I mentioned above, once the children are relaxed and having fun, parents often don’t need guiding, they will give you the loving smiles without prompting, because they are watching their babies do what they do best: enjoy the simple things in life.

They will likely relax and start cuddling and holding hands while taking in the moment (this is when you snap, because parents’ love is so beautiful).

Of course, even the most relaxed session will need to produce at least one posed image (for the grandparents –  everyone sitting together, smiling into the lens).

Make sure the subjects are all close together and the way they are positioned ‘flows’ – you don’t have any drastic changes in height, unless this is your style and the way it looks works for you.

I usually tell the group to get closer, closer, closer, to ‘pretend they love each other’ (because this gets the giggles and gets rid of the stiff backs), then give me ‘The Cheeser’ and then maybe ask the parents to look at each other, at the children, at each other, at the children, at me... (there go the giggles again!).

The more people you have in the frame, the harder it is to catch everyone smiling and looking at the camera at the same time, so I always tell the adults and older children to pose themselves and let me grab the littler ones’ attention.

I don’t usually use any props, as my photography is natural, however, there are some ‘props’ that can be introduced to encourage play and interaction without looking out of place. If you’re going to the beach, take a bucket and spade along, take a looking glass to the woods, one workshop I attended (with Eilidh Robertson Photography), our models were given ribbons to run around with and this created some beautiful imagery with movement and the girls loved the play too.

Bubbles are always a winner too and, of course, nature is the best natural larder of props – sticks, stones, shells can make little minds wander and add sparkle to the eyes, filled with imagination!

Make clever use of props, turn the session into a fun game

I know the above is centred mostly around my professional approach, but the same applies for photographing my son.

I either just observe and let him do his thing and capture this, reminiscing of these special, everchanging moments days/months/years later… or I go straight in and ask him to ‘show me his teeth’ (if he isn’t doing this already – boy loves camera!).

And then there is the ‘undesirable’ – the image, which is not the traditional kind, this is the opposite of ‘Grandparents’ Money Shot’ – it is a picture of children not willing to cooperate and, while I do not take photos of children being genuinely upset, sometimes, tantrums make for the best photo – because it is REAL LIFE. They were back to their usual happy children-selves within moments of this image being taken, so I don’t feel terrible loving it so much and using time and time again.

So embrace the ‘lippy’ – moments before the waterworks are about to break, the muddy knees, the cheeky face. Sometimes true beauty and emotion and reality of your child’s childhood is just at that!

One thing I have found with guiding children is that as soon as they get fed up with you, they will cooperate less and less, so the best technique is to let them play, let them run wild, encourage their imagination.

The fun you will have will enhance the resulting images you capture.

Happy child = happy parents = happy photographer!

99% of the time (verified stat (maybe!)) children do not need any guiding - they are naturals when it comes to portraying pure joy:

This is my take on it.

How do you get the kids to pose?

What do you find works? What doesn’t?

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