I recently had a chance to see how the pros do it when our pre-school had "Picture Day." Their system was really brilliant and I took lots of mental notes!
First of all, they had an area set up in advance for the photo shoot. There was a tall bench for the kids to sit on and a tall table in front of the bench for the kids to rest their elbows on. The height of bench and table wasn't insignificant as it seemed to serve two important purposes: First, it kept the little subjects from easily squirming out of the chair and running for the hills. It also kept the adult picture-takers from having to constantly lean over to look through the view-finder. As someone who's chased my children around on my hands and knees while my heavy Canon Rebel XT was hanging off my right eye, I'm not sure why I didn't think of this already!
The camera and special lights were set up on tripods. They had several different props: hats, scarves, coats, etc to quickly create various types of scenes with the kids.
I watched as several 4 year olds had their photo taken and they all seemed to enjoy the quick-change, fast paced, dress-up aspect of it. Their smiles came naturally and I could almost hear the "woosh" of their parents checkbooks flipping open as I thought about how irresistible the photos were going to be. I kissed Gwen and Maddy goodbye and silently hoped they'd have just as much enthusiasm for the photo shoot when their turn came. I got half of my wish.
Maddy liked dressing up and having her picture taken. She can be stubborn but she loves to dress up and be a "girly-girl". But we were surprised to learn that Gwen cried when it was her turn! She's usually a good sport (not to mention - a ham) about these things but we have noticed lately that she's been a bit shy and her responses to various things have been less predictable.
Well, she might be shy about strangers taking her pic but she's certainly not shy about me doing it! So I thought hard about what made that photo shoot work and decided it might be fun to try to recreate it here at home.
I already knew that lighting was really important. We've ruined so many photos because of exposure problems so, for Christmas, I got Andrew some inexpensive photography lights (the type that are on tripods with umbrellas attached). Even though we understood their value, they weren't very easy to incorporate into all of our impromptu photo sessions. On Christmas day, they were extracted from their box, momentarily admired, and immediately sent to the hall closet (the Siberia of our home) where they were almost certainly destined to live out the remainder of their days.
I dragged the lights out of the closet and set them up in the guest room. I picked the guest room for two great reasons. First, it's the only room in our house with white walls. That's important because all these luscious warm wall colors we have elsewhere in the house makes all of our pictures look like they were taken in the Bat Cave! Secondly, it's also the only room I can lock the kids out of!
I put our camera on a tripod and adjusted the height so I could sit comfortably and spend more time engaging my kids and less time engaging the viewfinder. Then I worked on making a comfy place for the girls to sit.
I found a bench (okay, it's actually a cat-scratcher post) and I put a booster seat on top of it to make it taller. In front of that, I placed an ironing board as a "table" for them to lean on. I liked the idea of using the ironing board because it was easy to adjust the height and I could quickly change the appearance just by throwing a blanket, sheet or tablecloth over it.
For this particular photo shoot (with Valentine's Day in mind), I picked a soft pink baby blanket to drape over the ironing board. Then I changed the girls into clean pink shirts and grabbed a couple of toys to use as props.
When everything was set up and all ready to go, I brought one child in and sat her on the bench in front of the camera. I raised the ironing board (with the pink blanket on top) to a height just under her elbows and she seemed really comfortable and able to focus on our silly conversation. I snapped dozens of photos while we chatted and I tried hard to keep eye contact and not to look through the viewfinder. Every now and then, I'd glance at it just to make sure she was centered. Oh my gosh, she was CUTE!
When we were finished, I brought her sister in and repeated the whole fun process with her! When we were all done, we celebrated with lollipops!
The whole thing turned out better than I could have ever dreamed! We took about 300 photos and more than half were wonderful! Overall, 20% to 30% were really spectacular! This is SO much better than our usual ratio of about 1% being a "keeper!"
More (including unblurry pics) on the private blog. <here>