Thursday, August 21, 2008

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too

What's better than photographing kids? Well, at the risk of sounding like a grump, many things.

Young kids are tough. I'm talking about those of the one, two, three, or four-year-old variety. When shooting them, you have these (potentially) awesome subjects who, more often than not, are going to become decidedly uncooperative. And, they're going to become that way fairly quickly. Sure, most of them are okay with the process for about the first two or three snaps but then it starts going downhill.... quickly downhill. From where I shoot, two or three snaps ain't gonna hack it.

When you're trying to make eye-contact-pics with rug-rats and/or pre-schoolers, the trick is too devise strategies designed to keep them otherwise occupied and distracted, their attention focused on things other than the thing you're trying to accomplish-- namely, photographing them. Then, when they least expect it, you do something, anything, to grab their attention and focus it on your lens.

Simple, right?


Kids are clever. A little too clever for their diapers or whatever they've grown into. There's lots going on between those cute little ears. While you're creating strategies to trick them into giving you those adorable expressions and oh-so-sweet and lovable poses, they're developing counter-strategies to foil your best attempts. It's a game. And you, the photographer, are only going to win that game by being smarter and quicker-to-adapt than your adversaries-- the kids you're shooting.

That's where using the same techniques animal trainers use to get seals to balance beachballs on their noses and dolphins to fly out of the water and perform one-and-half-gainer back-flips comes into play. You need to provide a Pavlovian, "conditioned reflex," reward system.

A great way to get that "conditioned reflex" is to offer up something the child wants. And what's the one thing most young kids want when they're being photographed? Well, besides being rescued by their Moms or Dads from the horrible photographer person, they want almost anything and everything within their fields of vision: They especially want want things that are colorful, messy, interesting to look at, to touch, and to taste. You know, things like birthday cakes, as an example.

When photographing young children for their upcoming birthday events, we've come up with a theme we call, "Trash the Cake." ("We" being my partners and I in a family and event photography business.) Yep, it's like what all those wedding photographers shoot for their "Trash the Dress" stuff only, instead of a wedding dress, we're having our subjects trash birthday cakes.

Here's what you'll need: A rugrat or pre-schooler, a birthday cake, a camera.

From there, all you need to do is give the kid the cake--no plates, spoons, forks, or napkins--and let them eat it too... and, of course, you need to begin snapping away. (Note: Don't feed 'em their lunch or dinner just before shooting. The hungrier they are the better!)

The sample "Trash the Cake" images are from sets we shot of my grandchildren. I snapped the image of my grandson at the top. Leesa, one of my partners in our family and event photo business, snapped the shot of my granddaughter down below it. Both images were captured on a white seamless but any sort of shooting environment or background should yield cute and engaging results. When these photographs were captured, each of my grand kids were approaching their second birthdays. My grandson will be four this week and my granddaughter, well, she's still two.

Both images captured with Canon cameras: Image #1 with a Canon 20D w/28-135 IS USM, Image #2 with a Canon 5D w/28-135 IS USM. Two light sources, same for each pic: 5' Octodome for the mains and a small umbrella for the backlighting. Reduced resolution and artifacts courtesy of Google's Blogger.

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