When it comes to photography, there isn't any such thing as cooperative kids. Which is why I thought I would give a little photography tutorial. How do you get a great shot of a group of kids without making it look photoshopped? You have to start with the right kind of shots. Not the right shots. Because if you can get those anytime you want, you wouldn't be reading this.
The first thing you have to do is gather the kids. Here are some key clues:
Let them sleep
Tell them what's happening.
Tired kids are cranky. Period. There is nothing more you need to know. No one wants to work with a cranky kid - especially their parent. Trust me.
Same goes for hungry kids. Cranky. See above.
Prepare your kids. As with most things, let them know what is going to happen. If they think they are going to the park to play with their friends, and you suddenly make them sit still and smile - they'll feel duped. Then they'll get cranky. See above again.
Just tell them that you are going to have all the kids sit together, smile really nicely, be happy to be together. Then Mommy (or Daddy - or whomever) will take a few quick pictures. I usually add: If you smile really nicely, look right at the camera, then we will be done much quicker and then they can play longer.
These are pretty simple precepts for doing anything with kids. Eat, Sleep and Information.
Once you get to your location, get rid of any overt distractions. Don't bring balls, bikes, dolls and lay them all out. If having any of these helps focus your child, bring them along. In a bag. Try taking the photos just using your vocal commands. Get other parents to place themselves directly behind you and call to their kids. Try these things first. Once toys come out, their focus is all over the place and you may even lose a kid or two to a truck, never to return again.
Let me go back to the parents helping. If you have many parents trying to take the same shot, you will NEVER get all the kids looking into your camera. Every kid will instinctively hear their own parents and look in that direction. If this is an important shot, have each parent take turns quickly shooting. Or give all the shots to the best photoshopper. Otherwise, if you are the only photographer, its important that the parents who are calling out to their kids is directly in front of you (under the camera) or directly behind or over you. That way, when the child looks up, they are also looking at the camera.
Get down on their level. Kneel, sit, squat. Otherwise you will get a shot that looks unnatural or uncomfortable. When the camera is parallel to the children, the photos look engaged and the people don't look distorted.
Take a LOT of shots. My unofficial rule of thumb is about 2-4 shots per kid. With digital, thats totally feasible. Your goal is to get one nice shot of each kid so you can composite them in Photoshop later. Above are the photos that I pieced together to make the final layout.
Back-Up Plan When in doubt have an alternate game plan set. For example. I wanted to take a group shot of a bunch of kids sitting down, arms around each other. I decided this when they were all playing. No notice, half of them had not eaten, TONs of toys all over the place. Whats a girl to do?
I tried to get them to sit down. I even got off a few initial shots. Then mayhem. Kids were annoyed, some ran off. You get the idea. So my back-up plan came into play.
Original plan: line up the kids sitting, arms around each other.
Back-up plan: Shoot each kid standing, happy, smiling, then photoshop them together later. More work, but could work.
Then Photoshop.There is a lot of controversy these days about parents photoshopping their kids. This is not what the uproar is about. This is just preserving your mental state, not for the sake of looking perfect. Sanity vs vanity. I addded heads, took away feet, removed fingers, added bodies, took bodies away. But, an hour later, I had a great shot that I could actually use.
NOTE These guys are: Irish, Italian, Chinese, Portuguese, Isrealie, Russian and Korean. Crazy, huh?