Kids and pets are in charge of photo shoots. Period.
I once attended a class by Doug Weittenhiller of Twig and Olive Photography. Doug explained that we would be doing a live photography demo and then come inside, and he would edit. He had a family with 3 small children who had volunteered to model. What we didn’t realize was we were about to see a magic show.
I and about 100 other curious photographers cautiously trailed outside behind the hotel into a drab, frozen, trampled winter grass, trash in the weeds vacant lot. NOT picturesque. What happened next was pure chaos. The children proceeded to start running in every direction possible. Doug chased around after them WHILE shouting his lesson to us. Those sweet babies were all over their parents, up in their arms one minute, then wiggling to get down the next. When he DID get them all into one area, that looked like a mess too. They were showing off for and making faces at their audience, running, wiggling and doing anything other than what looked like a photo opportunity.
Doug kept shooting, talking and laughing with the kids, instructing the parents and teaching us. It was a crazy juggling act for sure and it did not look successful at all. At about the 10–15-minute mark, Doug announced he was done. Several of my classmates and I looked at each other with bug-eyed, pursed lips skepticism. “No WAY he got ANYTHING out of that,” I said. We all trailed back in shaking our heads.
Next Doug loaded the images, and they began to appear on the conference room big screen. The images were absolutely amazing. Little moments of pure joy and love between a family. Effortless and natural, the whole session captured their true essence in ways posing never could have done. Can you just imagine what would have happened if the children had been forced into a posed portrait? Tears, pouting and even less cooperation.
That class has proven to be invaluable. Doug explained that children are in charge of photo shoots and that parents should play along. Let it unfold. Magic happens.
Since that time, I have used this technique for all my children’s sessions. I have also learned that the same is true for pets. We follow them around or even take breaks if the pet (usually cats) says, “this ain’t happenin’!”
One session I remember a family with 4 children, ages 2-13. Two children and dad were doing a great job of posing. The baby was crying, and the teenager was mad about being at the shoot and was rolling her eyes the entire time while mom was trying to wrangle the two-year-old. Finally, the baby farted, and everyone burst out in laughter. I fired away with a rapid volley of photos and we created wonderful images.
Recently I was doing a branding session and my client, Justine, who wanted to photograph hiking with her cat in the new cat carrying backpack they’d gotten for Christmas. Justine was excited for it as they had already spent many hours together on the trail. Do you think her fur baby would stay in that pack for the photo session? NOPE!
We actually DID get a couple photos with him in the pack, but all of the ones of him wiggling out and running off were so much more hysterical and CUTER. As far as social media posts go, those are also the ones that will engage her audience and stop the scroll.
My own cat, Tommy refuses to be in set up photos UNLESS I am setting up for a product shoot in which cat hair is unwelcome.
So. If you are planning a session with your children, pets or BOTH and worried about them behaving, don’t.. I’ve had plenty of sessions in which everyone does behave. If they don’t, remember that even if things go off script, we are likely to get BETTER photos than if it did go to plan. It’s important to let things happen and not try to force. We can guide or corral, but otherwise we will let the magic and story unfold!