Well, I'm here to rescue you. I'm not a professional photographer or anything, but I've been taking pictures of kids for years. Here are my top ten tips for making photo sessions fun for kids.
1. Make an idiot of yourself. Kids love fart jokes. If you can let one rip or pretend to, you'll get that smile you wanted and their grandmother will never know. She'll just think your kids are delightfully charming and happy all the time. When the fart jokes get old (although they never do), move on to something even more stupid. Tell them their dad wears diapers and sucks his thumb. It'll be a laugh-fest. Just make sure you have your finger on that shutter button and snap away.
2. Shoot shoot shoot. Shoot a hundred pictures. You'll get at least one good one.
3. Get in the thick of the action. Get close. Shoot at weird angles. If they're in the water, get yourself a waterproof camera and dive in. If they're at the park, go down the slide with them. Cameras are expensive, but they're meant to be used. They don't get nice pictures sitting safely in your camera bag or on top of the refrigerator. Get close to your kids and play with them. Invest in a nice strap and always have your camera handy at your hip. Make sure you've got your settings ready at all times, because you never know when you might get that million dollar shot. Also, if you have your camera on you all the time, your kids will get used to it. Before you know it they'll be yelling at you to take their picture instead of running away from you when you pull it out.
4. Break the rules. Shoot into the sun. Shoot upside down. Shoot through your knees. Tilt the horizon. It's okay. Just because some teacher in your Photography 101 class told you to use the three-quarters rule when you frame a photo doesn't mean you have to. Those rules are made for people who have hours and hours to compose a shot. You don't. You have a kid who's active, so shoot away before you lose your shot.
5. Go ahead and photograph them when they are being bad. If it's a family portrait session and they're picking their nose, take that shot, too. Capture that moment when they kick their feet up in the air on stage and show off their panties. These are moments that make the best stories and you are going to want to remember them -- even if at the time you want to crawl under your chair and pretend they aren't your kids. These are the photos that will have you laughing into old age. Treasure them.
6. Make them chase you. Sometimes when my daughter has had it up to here with posing for photos, I tell her to try and catch me. I run backwards shooting her the whole time. Sure, it takes some coordination not to run into people behind me, but I get the best shots and it gets the wiggles out so she's more inclined to be still in other photos.
7. Keep an eye out for great locations. An old brick wall with pretty peeling paint, a funny structure to climb on, a pretty park ... I keep a running list in my brain of great places to take photos and when we need to mix it up, we take a little ride in the car. Sometimes a new location is the best antidote for those rolling eyeballs when you announce it's picture time again.
8. Take advantage of that self-timer and jump into your own shot. Kids get tired of being the only subject. Get in there with them. Make a fool of yourself. It provides great comic relief. Then let them view the photos on the back of your camera so they can see what works and what doesn't work. You'll be surprised how quickly they can get the hang of not looking stupid. Some cameras even let you flip the view-finder around so kids can see themselves while they pose. Take advantage of that natural vanity and use it in your favor.
9. Bring unexpected props. A pink parasol, a giant cheesehead hat, funky glasses, a mustache or a giant lollipop ... sometimes throwing something unexpected into the mix can really make it fun. They never know what you are going to do and that takes away the boredom factor. Let them wear something you never let them wear. A snorkel with mittens -- why not? Chances are they'll abandon the silly props in half of your photos, and you'll get that shot you really wanted anyway. Bringing a sense of playfulness to the session will make it last ten times longer, and you won't have to bribe them with candy.
10. Let them be them. If they're having an off day and they really don't want their photo taken, let them be. If you respect their limits they'll probably come back later when they're feeling better and ham it up better than ever. Kids really do want to make you happy. Make a big deal out of how great the photos turn out when they do and when they don't, shrug it off. Everybody has off days.
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