Wednesday, November 26, 2008

How to Pose Kids

Perfecting children's portraiture requires patience and a great attitude:many of the rules of photography are thrown over for the "Law of the jungle." I do try to follow the rules, but success depends to a large degree on the child's attitude and willingness to listen. Sometimes we should settle for fun,and let go the idea of perfection.I have a good time with the kids,knowing that mom and dad won't see what I didn't get,as long as I got a great expression. I'll let a shirt go untucked or a hair be out of place,and make the must of the limited time left me.

The general rule is that girls tilt their head toward the lower shoulder,boys towards the upper shoulder. At age 3,children star to take direction on tilting their head.
Understand,though,that children are quite literal-if you say "tilt" they'er going to really tilt.Often,you'll need to physically position the subject's head.And when you get back to the camera,don't rely on the tilt to still be there every time. After posing a child's head, I walk back to the camera without taking my eyes off him.I gently coax the child to stay still,then snap!I,ve got my shot.

Arms and Hands:
There are many formal rules for posing arms and hands.For instance, never crop a body part at a joint,as it makes the image disquieting. And fingers and hands should not be pointing towards the camera. That's one I try hard not to break. One of my pet peeves is not using a proper support arm.You must find poses that do not seem forced or uncomfortable. Having an arm stiff or in an awkward position is not only a distraction in the final image,but will also result in an unfortunate expression reflecting the child's obvious discomfort.For arms or hands, I always prefer a natural,informal approach with children. With more than one child,the oldest child's arms and shoulder should be positioned behind the younger children's. I want to show the siblings closeness, but without hiding the little guys. this pose also reflects the appropriate ratio of the subjects sizes.

Legs and Feet:
I generally use two leg poses with children.The boy pose is a seated position with the legs to the side, with one knee bent.(It's important that boys not be seated flat on their bottom,as it draws attention to the groin area.)The boy places his elbow on the raised knee and makes a slight fist. Be sure his trouser legs are covering his socks.
THe girl pose is similar,except with both legs extended slightly. The palms of the girl's support hand should be flat on the ground,fingers pointing away from the camera.The other hand can rest across the leg,although I prefer to place it on the lower thigh.From there you can creat many simple variations.The one pose we almost never use is what we all know as Indian style(or "criss-cross applesauce"for the younger and more politically correct). This pose flattens everything out, and make it impossible to get dynamic head,shoulder,and body tilts. Of course, every once in a while,a child just sits in that position naturally and it's adorable--even my strictest rules can be broken.

Controlling all the variables that go into making a perfect image isn't always easy. Looking back at my early work,I sometimes cringe at the lighting exposure,and composition I used,because now I recognize my mistakes.But whatever little mistakes you might make,I've found that if you capture the real expression of the child,one that will emotionally move the client, minor flaws will be overlooked.A childs smile or laugh can melt hearts,but that doesn't mean that the subject needs to be all smiles all during the session.Sometimes a soft look or even a sad pout will stir the same emotional connection.When the subject isn't smiling the eyes are at their fullest,most wide-open shape.Warm and inviting,they,too can capture the viewers heart. I typically provide an even mix of these expressions.Your clients trust that you'll capture the whole essence of their child,and that includes a full range of emotions and personality.When I select images for studio samples,I'm always drawn to the images where the subject is not smiling. But I understand that my clients expectations include a healthy balance.

Excerpted and condensed from the book,
"The sandy Puc Guide to Children's Portrait Photography"(Amherst Media)

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