They say you should never work with children, small animals and drunks. Well, they don’t say that exactly, but definitely we are often warned about the first two. So what do you do, as a photographer, when you are offered a job photographing a Mother’s Group and all their collective kids? You jump at it. That’s what you do. Well, it’s what I would do, and did.
I have previously worked with children as a director of a stage production and very quickly discovered the challenge of coordinating 8 or 9 young people whom are easily distracted, bored and restless. You can do one of two things I find; Lay down the law and allow no distractions (I promised to kick any kid off the production if they didn’t cooperate) or you work with them. I ended up doing a little bit of both, and it worked well enough.
I think it is a very different situation when photographing children. You are not so much creating something but finding something. Best to allow them to give you the opportunities rather than trying to keep them in line. Sure, you have the family posed shots, which you need to take pretty quickly before they start wriggling out of mum’s arms, or their smile starts to become something more like a grimace or warped facsimile of a smile. I approached the session more like I would approach a theatrical performance, that I am not particularly familiar with; you take what comes and work with it. Be prepared to move around a lot and forget the tripod.
Some of the best shots, I feel, were those that were completely unplanned. Take the image of young Will above. Poor chap was not very confident about the whole thing, was a little scared of me and the camera but put a few toys in front of him and wait a few seconds, and the smile came out. The mothers were a great help all trying to keep the kids happy and “distracted” from me. The Peek-a-boo started as a game between mum and daughter across my shoulder. It was all in the timing after that. So rather than insisting that everyone butt out, as I have heard of other photographers doing, get everyone involved and make it a team effort.
They say don’t work with children. I say don’t try to get them to work with you.