There are curious friends and clients who asked me how I managed to make my subjects, both old and young, to laugh so heartily at the camera at a photo-shoot. I have not thought about it because I did not set out to become a family photographer, but it came as a natural progression after having shot weddings for more than 10 years and seeing my wedding clients bring up their own kids.
After some thought, I believe it is all in the mind. As long as the photographer has a love of a subject and the love for the subjects, my camera disappears in the eyes of the children. What they are looking at is another child having fun, albeit an oversized one. Just like a young romanticized upstart who has beautiful notion of what romantic love and weddings should look like in pictures, old birds and parents like me learn how to tolerate the noise and mess created by kids and subsequently appreciate their innocence in front of the camera.
I talk to them, cajole them, "scare" them, joke with them, do silly things together with them, make a fool of myself in front of them.....all the while snapping their reactions and transformations before this stranger they meet for the first time. There are no secret recipes or formulae. It is a state of mind. It takes one to know another. KC is like a child. Be like KC.
Mabel was very suspicious of me when we first met on a warm Saturday morning. She eyed me from top to bottom, trying to suss out what this fat uncle is up to.
She, being an obedient girl, still managed to give me a patronising smile on the behest of her parents. You can tell the smile was very fake.
To break the ice, I would indulge the kids (with parents' blessings) in whatever they feel like doing. In this case, Mabel has this penchant for tasting the leaves of plants. It could be an extension of her masak-masak kitchen play at home, or a strong sense of curiosity. I asked her if she liked the taste, and at the same time shared with her the fact that some plants might be poisonous. At an instant, I "earned" her respect because I was so "knowledgeable".
Mabel's parents are very good with their kids. I can tell they have a really good rapport with the kids (you can be surprised some parents do not really how to interact and play with their own kids). That helped in making Mabel more relaxed.
By letting her tease me in a game of "now you see it, now you don't", Mabel had totally forgotten this was a photo shoot. To her, it was another fun time, with an additional playmate.
Mission accomplished. I hope she had as good memories as I had of this fun-filled outdoor photo session. Never do I need to instruct her "to smile" for the camera. Keeping it real, all the way.