I’m a pretty laid-back person. I’m quiet and introverted, so I don’t like to make a scene. I’m also British, so I guess this comes with the territory 😉. When I was a kid, people used to comment on how calm and quiet our house was, even our dog was laid back and never barked.

Before I had kids, I naïvely thought my children would be the same. Boy, was I wrong!

My little one is a whirlwind of emotions, she feels everything deeply and is not afraid to make sure everyone knows. This is not to say that she won’t grow up into a calm, quiet person like myself, but right now she is passionate and strong willed, and I love her for it.

That’s not to say photographing her is easy. When she was a toddler the problem was getting her to stay still, now it’s persuading her pose for the camera. These are issues every parents has when photographing their children, but it’s even harder with spirited children, as you are working with their big emotions.

You can get beautiful photos of your spirited child, you just need to know a few tricks.

Plan a photoshoot that suits their personality

When my daughter turned one, I had had my camera for about 6 months, and I loved practising my new-found skills with her. I loved the style of photographers like Heidi Hope and I spent ages making a ribbon backdrop for some first birthday photos. In my head my daughter would sit and smile at the camera for me. She wanted nothing to do with this, she wanted to crawl and explore (and destroy the backdrop!). The more I tried to get her to do what I wanted, the more upset she got. I remember sat on the floor in front of the backdrop, breastfeeding her to calm her down, whilst crying myself. We were both so frustrated.

I had spent so much time focusing on the backdrop I forgot to think about her. With hindsight, asking any one year old to sit quietly and smile is asking for trouble.

I finally managed to get a photo of her sitting down with a hint of a smile. When I showed it to my mum, she said it didn’t seem like my little girl, and she was right. This photo doesn’t show her personality, it’s not her. I went into this photoshoot trying to copy another photographer, I didn’t think of the unique personality of my child. Choose a photoshoot that represents the passion your spirited child has, and you will be so much more happy with the results.

One of my first attempts at a photo shoot

Be Quick About it

Spirited children can have short attention spans, they’ll soon be looking for something else that interests their bright minds. Plan for short photo sessions. Spirited children are not great at poker face, If they get bored it will show in their expression, and it will be very hard to get them to smile and pose for you after this.

Work with their interests

Spirited children can become passionate about the things they are interested in and will happily talk and play for hours if their passion if involved.  At Easter a few years ago, my daughter was fascinated with watering the daffodils. She spent ages going back and fore between the tap and the flowers. If I had asked her to sit and pose she would have quickly become frustrated that I interrupted her, so instead I sat quietly and photographed her watering the flowers. I had plenty of time to get the image I wanted because she was so engrossed in her project.

If your child is in ‘the zone’, let them be. Use it was an opportunity to get some natural images of them doing what they love.

Don’t go in with a detailed plan

If you have a really specific idea for an image, and your child doesn’t cooperate, you’ll be disappointed. Instead, go in with a rough idea of the images you would like. Set up the shot you want, but then work with your child and let the session evolve naturally. In these images I wanted a traditional, smiling at the camera shot for next year’s calendar, but my little one had other ideas. I didn’t want to waste the beautiful light but getting frustrated with her, so instead I let her burn off her energy and run around, whilst I chased her. I ended up getting this image of her twirling, which is one of my favourite images of her.

Which leads me to my next tip….

Get them moving  

Work with that crazy amount of energy spirited children have and get them moving. Have them spin around to get movement without them running off. If they want to run, set boundaries. Have them run to the tree and back again, you’ll get plenty of opportunities to capture them when they are running back to you. Just keep your shutter speed fast and use a continuous focusing mode.

Another option is to let them play in the park, the equipment keeps them entertained without them running too far away from you.

Don’t just capture the smiles

Spirited children can change so quickly, from euphoric to despairing. I’m not suggesting you ignore your child when they need help feeling their big, scary feelings, but if I get a frowny face when I have my camera, I take a photo. These expressions are just as much my child as happy smiles.

How to Photograph a Spirited Child

Set Boundaries and Stick to them

Spirited children can have a strong sense of justice. If they feel something is unfair, they will feel the pain of the unjustice strongly. So if you tell your child you are going to take 5 photos and then go for ice cream, then you’d better stick to it, mama. Otherwise, next time, they’ll remember. Kids get crazy specific about some things, Give them a number of images you want to take, or outfits you want them to wear etc. If they are old enough, make sure you let them know your plans, they’ll love to be included. And stop when you said you’d stop. Even if the light is perfect. Even if they look adorable. Otherwise the next time you want a photoshoot, it will be even harder to get them to cooperate.

Do you have a spirited child? How do you take photos of them?

How to photograph a spirited child