I now enjoy the challenges of photographing children.
Years ago a creative director I worked with kept urging me to promote my work with them. But I resisted because I didn’t want to be branded as a child photographer. I thought it would take away from my ‘serious’ corporate work. To be honest, what I was afraid of was their unpredictability. I couldn’t tell a child what to do and have them follow direction. They did what they wanted to do or they quit. Push a young child too hard and they cry. Although it was wonderful when everything fell into place, it was far too risky to build even part of my reputation on photographing children and then fail. Working with young children involves an entirely different set of skills. Or so I reasoned.
Then on one assignment it clicked with me. Photographing young children required many of the same qualities I used when photographing executives. That’s not intended to be demeaning to executives (or young children, for that matter). It’s just that there are a lot of similarities. For instance:
– Both have a very short attention span, maybe a 3-5 minute window of opportunity.
– Both respond poorly to ‘bribes’. Executives control their time and let you know it. Children focus too much on the reward and lose their spontaneity.
– Both require a genuine emotional connection and interest in them. In truth every human wants that, but most folks will fake their way through to save face. Some CEOs will, but not any of the children I’ve met.
– Neither will remember you unless the experience was bad. Or extremely good.
– Both respond better to women touching them when under stress. I always like to have a female stylist to make adjustments to either men or women executives when possible. Young children also find women more nurturing and safe.
– Both, interestingly, respond well to a mix of serious interaction and off-the-wall silliness at the moment of shooting.
The one major difference is that executives are very concerned with how their image is perceived and young children don’t care as long as their comfort needs are met. Neither group fakes this. At all.
Once I reasoned through the qualities and mind-set I needed to bring to a session with children, my entire attitude changed. It’s still a challenge and there are no guarantees that a melt-down won’t occur, but my enjoyment of working with children has risen exponentially.
So, what have I missed? What would you do to make the experience better for the people you’re photographing?