Do not be deceived by appearances; this child is searching for candy in his mom’s hair.
I’m sorry, did I say “manipulate” children into taking an adorable holiday photo? I meant “convince.”
…Bribe with treats and the promise of being allowed to make gross sounds and not get in trouble?
Some children, when faced with a camera lens, are instinctively angelic. Others children are like mine, and are immediately consumed with the need to make vomit sounds (charming). And while personality-full candids are great and all, sometimes you all poured yourselves into matching onesies and marched out to a Christmas tree farm to get ONE. EFFING. PHOTOGRAPH for your holiday cards, and the kids are refusing to even show 10% of their faces to the camera, and whyyyyyyyyyy can’t you just make my life easier for JUST ONE SINGLE MINUTE, GODDAMNIT EVAN WILL YOU LOOK AT THE CAMERA?
(I do not do Christmas cards myself, because everything about it – from the family photograph situation to the affixing of stamps – sounds miserable, but I also appreciate it when my friends and family members put in the effort, so to those of you who send me cards: thank you and I love you and I’m sorry that I will never reciprocate.)
Which brings me to the point of this post: My friend Kim Ebbets, who’s taken many of the lovely photos you’ve seen on this site, is an actual Jedi Master when it comes to convincing children to be non-insane (while also being, you know, themselves) for a family photograph. Kim has been one of the top family photographers in the South Bay for years now, so she comes by this wisdom organically, and the tips that she’s personally taught me during our sessions have been so phenomenal that I asked her if she’d be willing to share them here.
Because Kim is wonderful and wants you, too, to have a totally wonderful family holiday photo wholly absent of fart noise-faces (except when they work in your favor; stay with me, here)…here you go.
A Professional Family Photographer Tells You: How To Get That Adorable Family Photo That Fulfills All Your Wildest Christmas Card Dreams
Tips from Kim Ebbets of Photos by Kim E
With my sessions, I aim to bring out all the fun, love and silliness of the family, and work on engaging the children. Sometimes kids aren’t too interested in photos, so I’ll read their personality to see what kind of game we’ll play. I’ll find out in advance if the kids are really into, say, bubbles, or cupcakes, and have props on hand that they can naturally engage with.
“Butterfly In The Camera.” One game that works well is “butterfly in my camera.” I’ll whisper to them to see if they can look into my lens to find the butterfly, and they’ll inch forward to find it…then, when they spot the movement in the lens, I can capture their genuine excitement.
This may look sweet, but yup: farting in the ear.
Fart Jokes. If they kids are a bit overexcited and wild, I will absolutely break out the fart jokes – no shame. I’ll make fart noises, and act all shocked, and most kids will start to giggle and fart along…which sounds like a terrible idea, except then I’ll whisper to the kids to lean into their parents as if they’re going to tell them a secret…and then make fart noises into their ears. It ends up looking really sweet in photos, and the parents’ reactions are great, as well.
Tackle The Parents. If there are multiple kids, I’ll sometimes ask one to surprise the parents by sneaking up behind them and then tackling (or tickling), which then has everyone wanting to tackle/tickle. Super cute.
“Who Can Carry Who?” For sibling shots – especially if one keeps running away – we play the “who can carry who” game. Everyone tries to carry each other. Or if I want them to all pile on the love for one parent or the other, I ask who can squeeze mom (or dad) the most, and it becomes a bit of sibling competition.
Aw, Mom’s Hair Is So Soft. This is a cool one: if you hide a small toy or candy in mom’s hair, the child can comb through to find the treat, and the effect ends up being as if they’re sweetly touching her hair. (Hey, the expression of joyful anticipation is totally legit.)
Squirt Bottle. Finally – and depending on the personality of the child, of course – I’ll occasionally hide a small spray bottle in my pocket, and when they least expect it:
Squirt those little squirts.