Do a lot of photos of your kids look like this?

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Or maybe mostly of the back of their head?  Rolling, irritated eyes?  Fake, forced smile?  Or maybe a blur because they’re always running in the opposite direction.

I get it, I really do: we all want beautiful photos of our children because (an oldie but a goodie) they grow up so fast.

All day long we tell our kids what to do.  Whether they’re toddlers or teenagers, we spend from dawn until dusk telling them what we want, need, and expect.  Pick up your toys, put away your clothes, do your homework, don’t talk to me like that, don’t hit your brother, leave the cat alone, eat your dinner, stop yelling.

Now add in ‘look over here, stop running, turn around, smile at me, look over here, no really smile not that smile’

Our requests for photos blend in with our 317 other demands and understandably their patience runs out.  We interrupt them when they’re having fun or playing with their friends so they can stop and smile;  we stop them from doing a craft or activity so they can smile at the camera; we push them towards the sibling they’re fighting with so we can have a photo of our kids together.

We have an idea in our head of what our photographs should look like but that ideal is doing you a disservice if it prevents you from wanting to take photos or your kids from wanting to be photographed.

People are surprised when I suggest that they stop asking their kids to pose, smile, and participate in photos.  That if they become a silent observer with their camera they are more likely to capture real moments and real emotions than they are by expecting portrait perfection in everyday life.

Real life is messy.  With bed head, kitchen clutter, dirty hands, scowling faces, and chaos.  I expect my photos to look like my real life and they do because I photograph what’s happening rather than what I see on Pinterest.  I take pictures of my kids everyday and the majority of time they ignore me because I keep my expectations and requests low.  Of course I’ll still ask them to look over here or to see what they’re doing but at least 80% of the time I stand back with my camera as an observer.  I don’t expect them to look at me.  Or smile.  To be wearing matching clothes or even acknowledge my presence.

Does that mean you should never ask your kids to pose or smile?  Of course not!  I try to stick to an 80/20 rule: 80% of the time I photograph life as it unfolds and 20% of the time I intervene and make a specific request.

It may take awhile for them to get used to the idea that your requests for photos will be few and far between.  They may even stand, confused, staring at you waiting for their instructions.  Be patient and give yourself time to adjust to observing and photographing rather than trying to stage each moment.  I’d love to hear from you in a month to hear how it’s going!

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