Tuesday, January 1, 2013

SHHHH! for Smiles (Photographing 6 Month Olds)

    I've always been a "kid-person." Always. When I was a little kid myself, I wanted to hold ALL the babies I saw. I babysat all the little ones in my neighborhood and then nannied through college, worked for a childcare referral agency, and then I taught elementary school for 5 1/2 years before embarking on my dream career of being a child photographer. Don't worry, this isn't an "all about me post." But I do want to explain why I think I know a little something about working with children. I'm no child psychologist, but I've always felt like I kinda "get" them which I think has helped me in this business tremendously. Maybe I'm still a child at heart, and maybe I shouldn't admit that? ;) But anyhow- my point is that to truly capture any subject of any age, I think it's important to feel comfortable with them and for them to feel comfortable with you. To get those natural smiles, they have to be, well,...natural.

   One of my favorite ages to work with is the 6 month old. Actually this tip could apply to most of the smiling stages in the first year, but it's been almost fool proof for me. And honestly it's going to sound a little obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't do this. And the big secret I have to share with you if you want to get that baby that's just sitting there looking at you like you're crazy to start smiling at your camera is to:


Yes moms (and sometimes dads), hush. Stop that peekaboo, song singing, five people jumping around at once nonsense. (side note- this stuff also DOES often work, but IF it's not working...just stop).

    I'm sure there's some cool scientific info on this somewhere, but one day while trying to get a 6 month old to smile with 2 parents standing behind me acting as crazy as possible, it hit me. That poor kid had no clue what to think of all of our antics. And every time he would start to try to "talk" (or make any noises in response) someone would switch songs and start doing a different dance while dangling a teddy bear over my head.

     So I did it- I told everybody to just be quiet. And since then I've been known to send them away altogether because you see, we have to give these babies more credit. They actually have stuff they WANT to tell us. They may not be able to to tell us much, but when they get a chance to mimic us and gabble back at us they appear to get a big sense of pride out of their abilities to make some noise too. And this is what I believe gets them smiling. Usually once they start this and get a few squeals, or other cute sounds out, I peek out from behind the camera and reply to them like I would anyone "What's that? Oh yeah?" I think this works sometimes because again, they think you are understanding them and are taking the time to try, plus they like that big smile that (quietly) peekaboo-ed from behind the camera.


If you have a baby who's face goes blank when you get behind the camera...try this. Just have a conversation with him/her, but with very delayed pauses in between b/c it takes them longer to figure out how to get what they are trying to get out even just to make that little squeal sometimes. So be patient, don't yell cheese, and just smile back at them. :)

One last thing: 
Sitting there doing nothing is not my usual strategy when photographing a more cranky baby (though some appreciate the silence then too). IF I am trying to get a baby who is very unhappy I try a few different things:

1- distraction---with toys or walking around for a minute to look at trees, etc. I will often do this myself just to add me as a new distraction too. 
2- snack break- 
3- all of the things that I said to stop doing above---like I said these DO often work, but they get overwhelming after some time too.

Also- many times at this age your baby may be teething. For this, it helps having something they can hold and (safely) put in their mouth that is still somewhat photogenic, ie-blanket- cute stuffed toy, or vintage rattle, etc

    But remember. although smiles are always precious, in the end your goal should be to capture your baby as they are and if they aren't smiling and all of your attempts are failing, it's ok---document some of those sleepy, calm, or even those cranky moments. We all know they don't stay little like this for long!


  1. Great post and even better advice! I know you are so great with the kids all by yourself, and I LOVE when you take my Jack-Bo away for your own little sessions b/c that is how I know you are getting the best shots!

    1. BTW - the pic with the little girl in the green bow - were you in a room with purple walls or a purple background? I just love the color on the left side of that image and I am curious how it got there...

  2. Thanks Brooke! Love those sweet kids of yours!
    The picture was taken in Roswell- outside (VERY cold day-hence the pink cheeks;) But the building behind them is where the purple is coming from. :)