Each year I get the pleasure of photographing little ones at their playschool. Its not an easy age group to photograph since they are all usually rather frightened of the strange person holding a camera and flashing lights at them. But they are an age group that is full of character. Each one is different (some more challenging than others). When I am able to make a connection though, it is hugely rewarding.
This lovely young lady knew exactly what to do and I was able to capture loads of her. She gave me that beautiful serious face as well as loads of happy smiling ones. I'm actually a really big fan of the serious ones so she was a dream.
Although these portraits are different to my studio portraits I still always try to bring out the best in the children with a little of what I put into my studio work. For me posing, lighting and styling are still important elements. I just can't take the time to do as much as I would for studio portraits, nor is it possible to consult with all the parents ahead of time to learn of their preferences. For future reference though, for anyone sending their children to playgroup for portraits, please choose clothing that is more simple with less going on. Overly bright and busy patterns are often a big distraction in portraits.
Where I can I like to include things that the children like. If a child brings a favourite cuddly toy they are welcome to have that with them in their photos. In some cases I can't always convince them to leave the toy out of the photo anyway. I believe that if something is that important to the child then it will make a fantastic memory for years to come.
In the case of this young boy, he loves books and it was the perfect way to get him to sit and interact with me. This too is a wonderful memory for his parents because they said this is exactly what he is like at home too. It worked a treat when wanting the two boys to sit next to each other, a task that is difficult more often than not when working with small children.
So what is the very important lesson I speak of? The lesson is this. Please do not practice smiling with your children before photo day. This is rarely a help to me and more often than not makes it difficult for me to get natural smiles from them. They will often sit in front of me and put on a very cheesy and false smile that they believe is what they've been practicing. They think they are doing what you have asked of them but it looks very unnatural. It then takes me considerably longer to work them out of that smile, if I can at all. Some kids won't do anything but what they believe is the smile mum wants to see. Its wonderful that they want to try but not wonderful when parents are disappointed that I didn't get a natural expression. Please don't make a big deal about photo day at all. Its just another day at playschool. They don't need the worry about the unknown. And they don't need to practice smiling. With the right interaction they are pretty good at that all on their own.
I pride myself on the patience I have with these children. And its not that I have the patience of a saint. Its just that I know the more patient I am the better the results. I really do like photographing children and I want to do the best I possibly can. That's not to say though that I don't have moments when I am screaming on the inside. Its just that I've learned to never let them see me sweat. I have worked out that if I remain calm I can almost always get what I need. During playgroup sessions where there are fewer children to photograph than a full sized school I can take my time and work with them and hopefully create beautiful portraits of every child.