Do you ever struggle getting little kids to smile and stand still for pictures?
Flower girls and ring bearers are two of the cutest parts of any wedding day, but depending on their age (and whether or not they’ve had a nap), getting them to stand still and smile for a pictures — even for just a few — can be challenging.
Since we taught elementary school before we were full-time photographers, we have a unique perspective on how to interact with small children and some tried and true tricks that we use at our weddings every weekend to get the shot. We think a lot of these tips would help portrait photographers too.
When we send our bride and groom their custom wedding day timeline, we ask them to have the kids there during the bridal party portrait time. That way, we have a large window of time to sneak them in for a few minutes of pictures whenever their mood is the best. In our experience, if we allocate a specific five-minute time slot for flower girl and ring bearer photos, and they decide to have a meltdown at that exact moment, we risk a) wasting valuable time and b) not getting the shot. So, by having them jump in whenever they’re happy during a longer window of time, we give ourselves the best chance of catching them during a good moment. And we start clicking our shutters the second we get them in position because we never know how long they’re going to last!
Little kids spend most of their time staring at people’s knees and looking up their nose. How comfortable would you feel around someone if that was you? We wouldn’t! As soon as the mom or dad introduces us to the flower girl or ring bearer for the first time, we stop what we’re doing and kneel down to their level so they can stop looking at our knees and see our face.
In our education classes, we learned that children trust adults based on the way our faces look. For reals. Now, that doesn’t mean that if you hold a baby and it cries that you have an ugly face. If that were the case, Jordan’s the ugliest man the world’s ever seen. What it DOES mean, though, is that smiling matters because it’s the first signal to a child that you’re a safe adult.
Interestingly, smiling with our eyes matters just as much (if not more) than smiling with our mouths, because our brains use someone’s eyes, more than any other feature on their face, to determine whether or not they’re safe. How do you do that? Make them as big and wide as our smile. Like a Disney princess.
In the best-selling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie says that a person’s name is the sweetest sound in any language to them. This is especially true with children. So, the second we kneel down, as we’re smiling with our eyes and mouth, we take a big excited breath of air and exclaim, “Hi Madison!”
As adults, we have enough “schema” or life experiences that we can use context clues in order to figure out who people are without asking or being told. For example, most adults have been to a wedding, know what an expensive camera looks like and understand that brides and grooms hire a photographer to take pictures all day. So, when an adult sees us at a wedding, they don’t even have to think about it. Their brain automatically connects all those dots.
For children, it’s not the same. They might not even know what a wedding really is in the first place, much less anything else that happens at one. Even if their parents tried to prep them ahead of time, it can still be overwhelming and overstimulating for them since there’s so much going on. Thus, our job is to say something like this right away: “Hi Madison! I’m Amy! I’m the photographer for the wedding today,” and then tell them what that means to them, “and I’m going to take your picture.”
We say something like this: “You look so pretty today! I just love your dress!”
Then, “We’re going to take your picture with the bride now! Will you come with me?”
In general, like dogs, little kids just trust women more than men. Guys, it’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is. They trust Amy more than Jordan. Because of that, at almost every wedding, we have Amy interacting directly with the flower girl and ring bearer. If you have a female shooter on your team, we recommend you do the same. If you’re a man and don’t have a female shooter with you, be the best Disney princess you can be.
There are five flower girl and ring bearer shots that we try to get every time (if we can) that we think are more important than getting them in the big bridal party shots. So, we do them first before adding them in with all the bridesmaids and groomsmen. Here’s the list:
1. Flower Girl(s) by Herself/Themselves
2. Flower Girl(s) with the Bride
3. Ring Bearer(s) by Himself/Themselves
4. Ring Bearer(s) with the Groom
5. Flower Girl(s) and Ring Bearer(s) with the Bride and Groom
Sometimes flower girls are infants or toddlers. Sometimes ring bearers are elementary school students. Or full-grown adults. Just kidding. Either way, it’s important when we’re taking their pictures that we consider their physical size in relation to the bride and groom. If they’re infants or toddlers, we ask the bride and groom to hold them. If they’re elementary school-aged, we ask the bride and groom to squat down next to them so that their heads are close to the same height.
Pro Tip: Make sure the grass isn’t wet before your groom kneels down. Been there, done that!
For really little ones who have trouble looking at the camera, we ask mom or dad to stand right behind us with a bright, shiny object — or something that will get their attention and help them smile. If it’s Sofie, the giraffe, have them put it right over your lens so the little bitty is looking right at the camera. A lot of times, parents and (droves of) other relatives will stand to the side. If that happens, either a) ask them all to come behind the camera, or b) ask them (nicely, of course!) to step away from sight so the baby or toddlers doesn’t get confused with too many distracting faces and sounds.
If they’re old enough to look at a screen, we’ve found that showing little ones the back of our camera creates instant buy-in. They become a lot more excited about the process when they see their own face, and they’re more willing to smile the next time the lens goes up.
If you’re a parent, or know a little kid (or were once a child!) you know that the younger children are, the less predictable they become on big days: like once-a-year family portrait sessions or at a wedding.
It’s not a matter of if a child a) melts down or b) doesn’t look at the camera. It’s a matter of if it’ll ever end.
So, with that in mind. Keep shooting. Keep shooting. KEEP SHOOTING!
We do our level best to get at least one picture of a happy, smiling child, but we don’t spend all day on it — especially at weddings. But we keep shooting. Parents and our brides and groom will totally understand if we deliver shots of the kids crying, running away, throwing a fit, climbing over their shoulder, and doing just about anything else. Because they were there, and that’s how it was. But they’ll be less likely to forgive if we don’t deliver any pictures of the flower girl and ring bearer… because we didn’t shoot… because they weren’t smiling. Get safety shots. Smiling ones are a bonus.
Plus, sometimes the best shots end up being the imperfect ones.
In the event of any of the above, we always reassure parents that it’s normal, it happens all the time, and, “Even if we don’t get one of her looking at the camera, at least we’ll have some great memories!” That way, we’re setting their expectation in the moment that we’re not miracle workers in case it doesn’t happen. And, often, those imperfect shots mean the most to the family.
We hope these tips are helpful the next time you shoot! In the meantime, check out this post on how we pose the bridal party. We think you’ll get a lot out of it.
We’re cheering for you!
Amy & Jordan
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