How to photograph ‘difficult’ children

On Saturday I photographed an extended family of 10.

It included two rambunctious children and one very grumpy one.

Nightmare huh?

No – I love a challenge.

It gives me a chance to show off one of my photography skills that’s not often talked about…

…how to photograph difficult children.

Every photographer needs to understand their subject.

Just like wildlife photographers need to be understand wildlife behaviour, family photographers needs to understand child psychology.

And adult psychology for that matter!

The praise and sincere thanks I received after Saturday’s session was far greater than when I photograph an easier family.

They were amazed I could get the children to do what I wanted after they’d failed so miserably at the start of the session.

When they tell their friends about the session they’ll be praising my patience and ‘toddler whispering’ skills more than my actual photography.

There are lots of good photographers, but parents will hire one who’s be proven to be great with difficult children.

After all, how often has a parent told you ‘good luck with my children, I can never get them to pose nicely for a photograph.’

OK, so here are some of my favourite tips and tricks.


Ask the parents to take a back seat

During the consultation and again at the beginning of the session ask the parents to let you do most of the talking. I’ll often joke that “It’s a sad fact of life that most kids will be happier listening to a complete stranger than their parents anyway.”

Too many voices distracts and overwhelms the child.

Parents tend to order their children to do things, while I tend to be more subtle. Plus if the parent is speaking with their child then they’ll be looking at them rather than the camera.


The child whisperer!

With the grumpy child I just asked everyone to let me have a go for a second and got some distance from the rest of the family.

I sat on the floor next to him and whispered very quietly ‘do you want to see me do my funny face’.

He smiled and nodded.

He was absolutely fine 1-2-1 when he was quietly and calmly asked questions, rather than being bossed about.


Betting on children!

With the two crazy kids I took a different approach. I bet they couldn’t climb a tree.

This achieved two things.

It instantly got them to climb the tree.

Secondly, it prevented them from running around so much, making it easier to get a nice photograph.


Competition time

The family wanted me to get a photograph of all 3 difficult children together.

It can be tricky when you have different personalities to photograph all at once, because what works for one may not work for another.

So, I made  it a competition.

Whoever could stare at the camera longest without blinking got a chocolate.

This got them all smiling and looking at the camera at once.

By the way, they all got a chocolate just to avoid tantrums!

Oh and beware – bribes are best used as part of a competition rather than to try and force a child to do what they don’t want to do.

Competitions are fun, bribes are transparent and only gets underwhelming, grudging obedience.


Let kids be kids

I often let them do what they want and capture natural photographs of whatever they do. If they’re happy and doing what they want you’ll always get better photographs.


They’re the boss

Children love being in control.

Ask them what they want to do.


Show, don’t tell

Never ask anyone to do anything you’re not prepared to do yourself. Children understand better when you show them. Plus it’s more interactive and fun, especially if it means I have to climb a tree of jump in a puddle!

It’s much more entertaining for them than having someone order them about.


Don’t push it

If a child tells me they don’t want to do something I won’t push it. I’ll move onto something else and then maybe come back to the idea. They key is to keep them onside and let them know this is meant to be fun, not a chore.


No time limits

Nothing adds stress to a situation more effectively than time constraints. I very rarely do more than 3 sessions a day: morning, afternoon and evening. That way you get a natural break for meals. It gives me more than enough time to get great photographs without putting stress on me or the parents.

They’re just a few of my favourite tips.

If you photograph weddings then check out our complete list of tips, tricks and phrases that guarantee amazing group photographs that guests will actually enjoy!