Photo Peas Classroom: Interacting with Kids

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Posted 2/17/2010 by AmyWenzel in General Photography
 

AmyWenzel
Baby Pea Step

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Posted: 2/17/2010 1:32:51 AM
Hello Everyone!

Thanks so much for having me here on Two Peas! Jami asked me to talk about interacting with kids and helping them open up for the camera. This is obviously a broad topic, especially considering the wide range of ages and how each age responds differently. But I will do my very best to provide insight into how I approach sessions with kids. I'll rely on your questions throughout the week to help guide the discussion and draw attention to any specific areas you'd like added detail.


Interacting with Kids: My Top 10 Techniques



Before I mention some of the tips & tricks that have helped me cajole children into giving me that perfect shot, I want to talk about the most important element for working with a child, and that is gaining their trust. None of these tips will work very well if the kid is hanging onto mom's leg and doesn't want you to take their picture, so allow me to explain the safety measure for how I approach children I've never worked with before.

Okay, so we've all met the kids who answer the door themselves and start jumping up and down in excitement to greet us. They take us by the hand and immediately want to show all their favorite toys and their pretty new princess shoes. But what about the child who instills dread and panic into the heart of every child photographer? The child who is terrified of you and is completely convinced you've come to extract their teeth (no matter how hard mom tries to reassure them you are a nice lady)?

I have found over the years that I need to tailor my approach for different personality types in children. For instance, if I come on too strong in the beginning (too exuberant, bubbly) with a shy child, I could scare them beyond recovery for the remainder of the session. So I always start off very subtle and non-chalant until I can gauge a child's personality and their interest level in me. If I notice they are shy and timid when I come in the door, I start by talking with their mom ONLY and pretty much ignoring the child for about 5 minutes. What I've found is that it gives them time to adjust to my presence before I am IN THEIR FACE, smiling, asking their age, telling them how cute they are and freaking them out beyond measure. Ignoring them altogether helps them relax because they see me chatting away with their mom or dad, which is step one for putting me in their "trustworthy" category. They also get some silent time to check me out before they are forced to make a decision how they feel about me.

For some kids, simply being ignored for a little while feels like an injustice, and they quickly change their tune from "I want nothing to do with you" to "Somebody pay attention to me!" So when I feel it's safe to make the first move, I may start with something simple like eye contact or a smile. If they can handle that, I know it's safe to try to ask a question or give a compliment. I squat down and use a quiet, gentle voice. For some kids, this slow and sensitive approach is enough to win their trust and show them I will respect them and take it at their pace. For other children, they may still not be ready to interact with me. If my attention intimidates them, I make very light of it and walk away to start setting up shots. When I come back, I talk to the mom some more and then see if there is an activity that we all can do together to loosen things up, like playing on the swing set for a while, looking at the kid's room, or watching them ride their bike. Gaining a child's trust can happen in 30 seconds or 20 minutes, but you have to be willing to put the work in at the beginning of the session if you want the big pay off of beautiful photographs.

I've also found that kids who are too cool for school don't want all the oo-ing and ahh-ing that may make another child's day. So for them I have to put on my casual, non-committal attitude so they will respond to me without thinking I'm a total corn ball. Drawing them out might be as simple as conversation and letting them talk about things they are interested in. I have 6 year old child clients who would rather describe to me the migration patterns of wild geese from her biology book than watch me put on the one man circus that might be necessary for a more exuberant child. And for extremely dry children who after 30 minutes STILL won't crack a smile, even though I've tried all my tricks and made an idiot out of myself, I simply ask them, "what can I do that would make you smile?" You'll be so surprised what they may tell you! For one girl it was knock knock jokes. For another boy it was tooting noises. (Yes, I definitely resort to that stuff if necessary! Moms, please don't judge me!) =)

At the end of the day, working with people (or kids for that matter) means wearing many different hats. For me, sensitivity, intuition, and sincerity have been my compass for navigating personality types. As a photographer, it's all about making people feel comfortable, and capturing them at their best - relaxed and beautiful! So now that we've discussed some of the more challenging situations, I'd like to share my general tips that work like magic for the average kid.

In no particular order....


1. Playing Simon Says

Playing Simon Says works great for cooperation and posing! For me it's the fastest most effective way to position and pose a child exactly how I want them. For those of you who aren't familiar, it's very easy to play. You just give commands starting with the phrase "Simon Says." So for me it generally sounds like this. "Simon says stick out your tongue! Simon says, put your tongue away. Simon says turn sideways! Simon says put your hands in your pockets. Simon says tilt your head this way." And voila! They are now facing the right direction with the perfect pose. I use a VERY cheerful, high energy voice, and I always do the poses with them so that they can mirror what I'm doing. I also throw lots of fun things in the middle, like jumping up and down, shaking their tummy, putting their arms out...things I don't want to photograph but that keep it fun in between. I definitely sound like a kindergarten teacher on crack and am usually terribly out of breath by the end of the shoot, but kids respond really well to the energy that I put into each session and I find that as long as I am giving my all, they are willing to match me.


2. Making Obnoxious Animal Noises

I am very serious when I say obnoxious. The idea is to let the kid see how weird I am. This never fails to get them laughing hysterically. I have successfully mastered the howling hound dog, the yapping poodle, the LOUDEST bawking chicken you have ever heard, and a horse neigh that puts Mr. Ed to shame. I like to build up the hype about how cool my animal noises are and ask if they want to hear them. They usually do want to hear, so I bribe them by getting them into the perfect pose, and then I say, "Ready? Okay! Which one do you want to hear (I list available choices)." They like to continue directing me as to which obnoxious noise I make next. I feel sorry for the neighbors.


3. Talking Their Ear Off / Telling Stories

Sometimes all it takes to keep a kid engaged is constant conversation. I'll tell them stories about the stuff I did when I was a kid on my Grandma's farm. I'll make-up my own crazy version of Goldy Locks and the Three Bears. This can alleviate the performance pressure from the kids, especially the ones who won't stop posing and giving you that heinous forced smile while yelling CHEESE! (because you know their parents coached them how to do that for a month before you showed up). On that note, I always let kids know that they do not have to smile for me. I tell them to only smile if something makes them laugh. I like to work for my smiles.



4. Complimenting Them

You are a great poser! Are you a professional model? How do you know how to do this so well? I loooove your outfit! You have the bluest eyes I have ever seen. Are you the coolest kid at school? I bet you have so many friends. Are you a princess? Do you live in a castle? Are you my fairy godmother? You are sooo cute! Can I tickle you? I am GOING TO TICKLE YOU IF YOU SMILE AT ME! That was such a great face! I love these photos! You are doing such a great job! Your mom is going to love these!

If you are excited, they feel excited. Who doesn't love to be told they are amazing? I want kids to love my attention and love being in front of the camera. I want it to boost their self esteem and make them excited for the next time I come to take their picture!


5. Capturing the In between Moments

Sometimes we'll make a ton of funny faces, and although I may not want a photo of funny faces, I'll wait until they are all done with the hideousness and then when they bust up laughing about it, I'll bring my camera to my face and snap. Or maybe I'll have them twirl or run to get them excited and then I'll yell FREEZE! and snap a few. I'll ask them to tell me a joke (and kids always laugh at their own jokes), and then when they are done I'll get a photo of them laughing at their own cleverness. I'll use anything I can to get reactions from kids and them photograph their reactions. This also includes dumping water on my own head.


6. The "Take a Bath In..." Game

For some reason, kids love to think of disgusting things to take a bath in. We take turns yelling out something gross to take a bath in, laughing all the while. I like to start the game this way, "Hey, I have an idea! How about you have to take a bath in Peanut butter! Gross!!!!!!! Shall we go do that? Okay, well how about you have to take a bath in MUD!!" The list goes on and on, from worms to jelly to maple syrup. You are bound to get a ton of smiles.



7. Singing Songs

This works especially well for ages 1 to 4. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, The wheels on the bus, etc.. But best of all I like to get on YouTube and learn the intro theme songs to the most popular kids shows. I save it for that perfect moment, and right when I need that killer eye contact to match the perfect composition I start singing Dora the Explorer or Thomas the Train or The Back Yardigans. This tactic will stop any child dead in their tracks and make them look straight at your camera!



8. Giving Them a Job

For kids who are still in that helper stage, they like to be given a job. Of course, I make it sound like the most important, special job ever and let them know how much it will help me out. Well, lucky for me the job usually consists of them coming over to a designated location, sitting a certain way, putting their hands just such, turning their head a little this way, and looking straight into my camera lens. I give them these instructions like I am a fairy godmother who is filled with magic and wonder. As soon as they hit the pose, I gush forth the compliments as seen in number 4 above. How can they NOT find this fun? haha. I think the key to anything like this, is that you have to SELL it. It must be fun, because listen to that amazing, wonderful voice she is using!!


9. Asking for Pose Ideas

Kids also love to give input and be involved! I've found this works great with boys, especially. Even if the pose isn't something that will make the final cut, I usually cater to it anyway and show them the shot on the back of my camera. I want them to feel like they are contributing and aren't just a puppet in my show. This is one way to keep them interested and engaged for a longer session. And sometimes they suggest really cool things, like jumping off curbs or skateboards. You just never know what you are going to get!


10. Excusing Mom and Dad

This probably should be listed as number 1 on the list. 9 times out of 10, the child will react, engage and behave better if their parents aren't in the room. Children literally transform from whiny, blubbering messes, to totally cooperative and enthusiastic kids when their parents leave the room. I am not a mom, so I do not know why this happens. If someone could explain it that would be great. =) Some photographers feel shy asking parents to "be excused." But I think that honesty is the best policy. A great way to start the session would be to explain to the parents that in your experience you've found that kids give you more eye contact and take direction better when they do not have an audience and that you prefer to work with kids one on one if the parents are comfortable with that. Usually the parents give HUGE sighs of relief and are MORE than happy to let you do that. It alleviates the pressure off of them worrying about their kids behavior or wondering if they are supposed to be helping you or just standing there. Parents are usually a bit nervous and want their kids to do well for you, so just tell them you are going to keep it fun for the kids and you want the parents to go relax. If they really want to watch, have them watch from a distance or out the window if you are in the yard. I'm telling you, this makes all the difference in the WORLD!


I hope these tips are helpful! I look forward to answering questions this week.

Thanks so much!


Amy Wenzel

www.blog.amywenzel.com
www.amywenzelworkshops.com

amarvel
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Posted: 2/17/2010 1:38:38 AM
thank you so much for coming here and doing this topic! I didnt get a chance to read it yet, i just printed it off to read in bed so glad i saw this right before i turned my computer off!


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Kim M.
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Posted: 2/17/2010 1:47:37 AM
Amy, thank you so much for taking the time to share your tips with us!

I don't do a lot of little ones, so when I do I am totally stumped on getting the great expressions out of them. I could have totally used this list on Sunday with a 2 year old! These are great suggestions and I hope to use them really soon!

Thank you again!


Kim

dunno2
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Posted: 2/17/2010 2:08:21 AM
Amy
Thank you so much for sharing! Great info!

-Amy

swisskris
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Posted: 2/17/2010 2:36:49 AM
Thanks for sharing such great information.
I especially love the Simon says one and can totally seeing that work even for my daughter too who usually takes over the shoots we do together and tells me how she wants to be posed - she is only 4.


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Posted: 2/17/2010 4:43:37 AM
Amy thank you so much for sharing such wonderful tips and techniques for getting kids to relax and have fun!


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fosteranders
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Posted: 2/17/2010 5:29:58 AM
Thanks Amy!! What great tips!

Julie

Molly C
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Posted: 2/17/2010 6:37:38 AM
Man, I am going to try these on my own kids, aged 4 and 2 (well, except for the one about excusing the parents, lol. Hard to take photos of them if I am in the other room. )

I can totally see how these would work really well, though.

Thank you very much for this lesson. It is greatly appreciated.


Molly

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DJPPhotos
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Posted: 2/17/2010 6:57:26 AM
GREAT lesson! Thank you so much for taking the time to do it!!!



Gina_MI
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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:08:09 AM
Great ideas. Thank you so much for your input. I especially love the idea of talking with the parents at the start of the session about not being right there during the shoot. The wording you used is perfect and I've struggled with this.



flute4peace

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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:11:55 AM
Wonderful information! This is a subject that I could use some help on so I'm delighted to read it. Thank you so much for taking the time to come here and share your knowledge with us!!

I have a question for you. Twice a year I do a local preschool, which is a herd-em-through type of thing, and I'm curious about your suggestions on winning a kid over/getting a good expression in a hurry. The goal is a natural smile, but not necessarily a candid-style portrait. The older class knows me, and sometimes that's a drawback because they're "too" comfortable, KWIM? And the younger class have that plastic deer-in-the-headlights look that is typical. Most often, the teacher (who is wonderful) will come and help me and she does an amazing job of drawing real, natural smiles out of the kid. However, occasionally I'm stuck on my own. I do have some things that work for me, but I'd like to hear what you would recommend in that sort of a situation.


Nikki

thevalerie
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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:16:28 AM
Thanks for this Amy! Great info, and it all makes perfect sense.



paintedmoon
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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:25:47 AM
Oh my goodness, these are all such great, great techniques! I really love all of your specific ideas - thank you for taking the time to write all of that out.

I especially need to work harder on those first 2 minutes (getting to know the child). I'm a mom, but I think my nervous energy at the beginning of a session makes me too exuberant and eager to get started. I need to be more conscious of being calm with the child at first.

We ALL really appreciate you coming to our board and sharing your experience. I have admired your work - the color, the styling, the style and the FUN that leaps out of your images! We are honored to have you share some of your knowledge with us.

Anne

rachag03
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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:30:17 AM
Thanks so much for coming to share these tips with us, Amy! These are such great ideas. I agree with Molly, I'm totally practicing these on my own kids.



40something
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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:31:46 AM
Great tips! Thank you so much for sharing this!

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Posted: 2/17/2010 7:46:38 AM
Amy, your tips are fabulous! Thank you for taking the time to write this up for us!


Becca

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Posted: 2/17/2010 8:02:12 AM
Thank you so very much for coming to our little community to share your knowledge and tips with us. It's greatly appreciated.

This was a wonderful read and made me want to go find some kids (besides my own) to shoot.


Blessings, Rebecca





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Posted: 2/17/2010 8:02:48 AM
Wow! These are some amazing ideas, thank you so much for sharing with us!


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karene
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Posted: 2/17/2010 8:07:23 AM
Amy, wonderful information!! Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us. Your work is amazing and your sharing some behind-the-scenes stuff is so appreciated!

Thank you!


~ Karen


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Posted: 2/17/2010 8:14:30 AM
I'm sure this is wonderful information! Thank you so much for posting this. I had to print it off so I could read it on the train home since I'm at work. Thank you again!!!


Cheryl

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DeAnna A
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Posted: 2/17/2010 8:41:13 AM
Thanks for the great tips Amy!



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Posted: 2/17/2010 8:53:32 AM
Amy,
I'm such a fan of your work!
Thanks so much to teaching us Peas!--You've got a lot of great ideas!


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Posted: 2/17/2010 9:04:20 AM
Amy, these are fabulous tips! Thanks for taking the time to share with us.


~Steph~

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Posted: 2/17/2010 9:41:32 AM
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience!

I have two children ages 3.5 and 1.5 and I'm totally going to try it with them. With your tips I think there's a good chance that all 3 of us won't be in tears by the end the shoot.


Amar
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Posted: 2/17/2010 9:54:04 AM
Thank you so much, Amy!!! These are fantastic suggestions! I love and admire your work so much, I really appreciate you coming here and sharing some techniques with us!


~Jami

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For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone. - Audrey Hepburn

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Posted: 2/17/2010 9:54:49 AM
Thanks for sharing all of this! these are some great tips.


~Lori
My blog


scrapmingo
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Posted: 2/17/2010 9:57:16 AM
Thank you so very much Amy, these are so helpful! Some kids I click with right off. Others it is a battle to banish the look of terror and find the relaxed fun expressions I strive for. Though I have to say, I find kids easier to relax than adults! lol

Alison



toyjsu
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Posted: 2/17/2010 10:18:51 AM
Those are great tips. I'm tempted to borrow the kids across the street to try these out on them.


Check out my blog- http://thescrappersescape.blogspot.com/

squaek
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Posted: 2/17/2010 10:41:35 AM
Thank you so much for this incredible info..I can't wait to try some of it out on my own kids!


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Posted: 2/17/2010 12:09:56 PM
thank you so much



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pj_sprocket
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Posted: 2/17/2010 12:17:22 PM
just wanted to stop by again and say "THANK YOU" for this great guide to kids!!! I just read it on my lunch break

I find it difficult sometimes with the younger shy kids because I haven't been around them much growing up and don't have kids of my own. So it's hard to know what is overboard and what is too adult when speaking to them or trying to be friendly with them. This is great! Thank you again!


Cheryl

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mommy2katia&karyme
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Posted: 2/17/2010 12:30:26 PM
Thank You so much for taking the time to come and do this for us.


shawkrem
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Posted: 2/17/2010 12:37:41 PM
Amy - Thank you so much for coming to 2Peas and sharing your tips I must confess that I've been one of your blog stalkers for over a year now. You're such an inspiration to me in so many others ways besides photography. I love how open you are about your faith and your everyday struggles. You are truly an amazing person.


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debbib
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Posted: 2/17/2010 3:54:15 PM
Amy,
Thanks so much for taking the time to share this great information. I have been a huge fan of your blog/work! Your pictures are always amazing

All the best to you and your hubby....


Debbi


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Stacey Anna
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Posted: 2/17/2010 4:16:40 PM
Thank you SO much, what fantastic information!
Stacey



nicolefoot
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Posted: 2/17/2010 4:31:55 PM
Wow Amy, those are some wonderful ideas. I love how you are silly with them and not afraid to say things.



jerih
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Posted: 2/17/2010 6:14:09 PM
Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us, Amy. Much appreciated!!!


Jeri

pezjunky
PeaNut

PeaNut 405,752
January 2009
Posts: 421
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Loc: Washington State

Posted: 2/17/2010 6:23:22 PM
Thanks for sharing these great tips!


Desiree
My 'Adventures in Photography' Blog
"Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language." -Walt Disney

My Crafting/Scrapping Blog

Canon 60D with kit lens, 50mm 1.8, 28-75mm, & 75-300mm
PSPX3 & LR4

TraciS
PeaNut

PeaNut 291,713
January 2007
Posts: 11
Layouts: 0
Loc: Indiana

Posted: 2/17/2010 6:59:25 PM
Thanks so much, Amy! I'm signed up for your workshop in May, and I'm so excited to see you in action!


Nikon D90
Nikkor 50mm 1.4
www.tracishupertphotography.com

_Shanna_
I pea a lot...

PeaNut 345,407
October 2007
Posts: 9,468
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Loc: Australia

Posted: 2/17/2010 9:35:12 PM
Thank-you so much for sharing Amy! I feel so honoured that you came to our little board and gave us a free mini workshop. You rock!


Shanna

FLICKR

MATERNITY & NEWBORN PHOTOGRAPHY:
WEBSITE | BLOG | FACEBOOK |

PIN-UP & BOUDOIR PHOTOGRAPHY:
WEBSITE | BLOG | FACEBOOK

bvb
PeaAddict

PeaNut 151,070
June 2004
Posts: 1,147
Layouts: 13
Loc: Colorado

Posted: 2/18/2010 9:40:43 PM
Great tips Amy! Thanks so much for sharing with us. Your sessions sound like so much fun. Makes me want to borrow someone's kids so we can play

-Becky

tifftiff2
StuckOnPeas

PeaNut 283,357
November 2006
Posts: 2,300
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Loc: Idaho, USA

Posted: 2/18/2010 11:50:03 PM
Wow Amy! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for coming and sharing such awesome tips with us here! I can't wait to put these into practice, I learned so much!


~Tiffany


5D Mark II
50mm 1.2L | 100mm 2.8 | 135mm 2.0L
AB800 | Pocketwizard Plus | LumoPro LP160 | iMac | CS5

amy lynn
PeaNut

PeaNut 71,075
February 2003
Posts: 65
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Loc: Utah

Posted: 2/19/2010 12:51:12 AM
Thank you for taking the time to share this great info with us!!! I do have a quick question. I love the great mix of patterns and colors of clothes the kids in your photos are wearing. What kind of advice about clothes if any do you give your clients?

Thank you!
Amy

shantel7
To pea or not to pea that is the question.

PeaNut 355,331
January 2008
Posts: 11,548
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Loc: utah

Posted: 2/20/2010 12:38:22 AM
Fantastic Amy, thank you!


Shantel
Nikon D90
Nikon D50
50 mm 1.8
Nikon fisheye 10.5
Nikon 85 mm/1.8
Tamron 17-50 mm/2.8
18-55 mm
70-300 mm
SB800
My blog: Whatever
My Etsy: My Etsy

traciegibbs
Thinking Hap-Pea Thoughts

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January 2003
Posts: 8,903
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Posted: 2/20/2010 12:48:07 AM
Thank you Amy, this is amazing information!


Tracie

I'm a Nikon Girl!
D300s
50mm 1.8

















TrUcksR4CowGirlS
The important thing is not the camera but the eye.

PeaNut 214,042
July 2005
Posts: 6,406
Layouts: 91
Loc: California

Posted: 3/2/2010 11:23:38 AM
Nothing short of all I learned as a preschool teacher! LOVE it! The take a bath in, is a new one to me, what a FUN idea. Great ideas and insight, so very timely in our culture, and to be aware of the many different facets of children's personality, the same can be said of parents too!





Staci
Staci Brock Photography

What's in my Crumpler bag:
Nikon D200; Nikkor VR 18-55mm; Nikkor 70-300mm; Nikkor 50mm 1.8; Tamron 28-75mm 2.8; .5 Wide Angle with Macro

On My Computer:
CS4, Imagenomic: Portraiture, Noiseware, Real Grain


TrinaRN
AncestralPea

PeaNut 262,177
May 2006
Posts: 4,753
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Loc: Suburb of Vancouver

Posted: 3/3/2010 7:12:33 PM
Thank you so much Amy!!!!
Such great suggestions and I can't wait until my next session when I bust out the singing and jokes!

Your work is amazing!


~~Trina~~



Website | Blog | Facebook

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nikon D700 | Nikon D300 | 24-70/2.8 | 70-200/2.8 | 85/1.8 | Sigma 105/2.8 macro | SB900 | Apollo Westcott 50x50 softbox | AB400
CS5 | LR 3
Calibrated with spyder 3 PRO!
On location photog, wishing for a studio soon!

MrsDarcy
PeaNut

PeaNut 426,809
June 2009
Posts: 129
Layouts: 0
Loc: Missouri

Posted: 3/3/2010 9:25:25 PM
Thanks, Amy! Fantastic ideas that will definitely help me. I know my nervous energy has made shy children back away. Now that I have that knowledge maybe I can be more aware and be laid back to meet them where they are.

Very helpful!!

Kathy


Nikon D60, 18-55mm VR, 35mm 1.8

SJ Photography
PeaFixture

PeaNut 311,426
April 2007
Posts: 3,782
Layouts: 7
Loc: Michigan

Posted: 3/4/2010 7:30:35 AM
Thank you so much for taking the time to write this all out! It is so thorough... And it really shows how much fun you have during your kid sessions!


Susan

Canon 5D, 24-70 mm 2.8, 85 mm 1.8, 50 mm 1.4, 100 mm 2.8

My Blog

holpolmac
PeaAddict

PeaNut 35,372
April 2002
Posts: 1,069
Layouts: 42
Loc: Southern California

Posted: 3/7/2010 6:14:48 PM
Amy, thanks for compiling this list. I shoot kids all of the time and your suggestions are great. Tried and true. When shooting families with kids, sometimes the adults are the bigger problem. They are always looking at the kids to be sure they are smiling/behaving. Consequently, they are thee one ruining the shot!

Hollie


holpolmac
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