11 November, 2013

Boys don't smile: some advice

How many times have you been in a group photograph with kids and had lots of trouble getting everyone to smile? With three boys, we have terrible trouble! I remember a family situation about four years ago. It was one of those rare times when all the kids and adults of a certain part of a family were together and a photograph was "required". One family, who've only got girls, couldn't understand why one of my boys wouldn't cooperate. It was nearly a very nasty situation!

We have a friend who used to be a photographer, well she still is, but not so much professionally these days. She's taken a a couple of great portraits of our family in the last 12 months and one day some time ago, she wrote the below (yes, she's also a writer) in a Facebook comment. I thought it had some useful insight that might benefit others.

When it comes to younger kids, I have found that every girl secretly (or not so secretly) believes she is a star. A princess. A diva. She *loves* the attention of the camera because it fulfills this desire to be paid attention to and adored.
Here is a classic case of a photo gone wrong (aside from
from it being out of focus). Clearly our eldest son
was "done" with photo taking that day.

Boys see it as an obligation, and obligations are not fun. So they don't cooperate as well until you make them forget there's a camera between them and the photographer. Get them to enjoy themselves/have the photographer say and do silly things with them, and they start to smile. That's why "fart" and "boogers" works best with them. They're not supposed to say those things, but they all find it funny, and so receiving permission (even encouragement!) to act a bit silly makes them happy... and they forget about obligation that comes with a camera.

It's not as easy as kids get older. They become self-conscious. They know people will see these photos and make judgements about them. Girls try really hard to make it perfect—perfect hair, perfect make up, perfect clothes, and yes, perfect smile.

Boys believe doing those things will make them sissies. And they are NOT sissies, believe you me! 
So they will do the opposite. They will not smile. They will be present if obligated to, but they will not engage.

There are exceptions to both genders, of course, but this is the general way of things. The trick, again, is to make them forget about the camera and all it entails. This is true for both boys and girls (since girls who try too hard look stiff), but especially for boys.

Appealing to their inner child works with some... again, "fart" and "boogers" were my best tools as a photographer to get people to smile, even grown ups.

Another option is to engage their creativity. Once they're involved, they'll forget about "the obligation of a camera and all that entails" and start to have fun. And THAT'S when the smiles happen.

How you tap into their creative, fun spirit depends on the kid, so you'll have to try a few things before you find what works. Perhaps make them the photographer, even if you use the timer. Have them decide what people wear, where they pose, what is to be said just before the shutter clicks. They may get a kick out of making everyone do goofy things, or perhaps they'll thrive on taking the role seriously.

Maybe letting them show off will work. Handstands, playing an instrument, flexing their muscles, beat-boxing, popping wheelies on their bike, whatever it is they're proud of. Let them try several variations/candid shots before settling them down for a posed shot. They'll be more relaxed by then.

For almost any age and any gender, giving the person something to do will usually loosen them up enough to produce genuine smiles. A task, an object in their hands, etc. It gives them something to focus on other than the camera in their face.

You'll have to judge based on your child's personality what will draw them out of their shell. One of the above suggestions might work, or maybe none. Keep trying... but above all else, remember that if the he/she is done taking photos, you stop. Even if you didn't get the picture you wanted, stop. Even if your hair is perfect today and tomorrow your schedule is full, stop. You will just have to try again another time. You will NOT get a good picture if you twist your child's arm. That's true for any age.

Hope that helps, rambling and long as it is!

The wisdom of the advice about having something else in your hands or doing something else, we clearly demonstrated yesterday. Our boys were cuddling our friend's baby and were very happy to pose for photos with lovely smiles: a rare event (the happily smiling bit) for at least one of our boys.

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