Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Natural Smiles... from the Dream Big I Heart Faces Conference.

When the ladies from I Heart Faces asked me to do a workshop at their Dream Big Conference in Dallas, TX on getting natural smiles from children, it couldn't have been any more up my alley.

The time I got to spend with so many wonderful women eager to learn new techniques and increase their knowledge about photography will go down as one of the highlights in my own photography journey.

I wanted to share a few of the images captured from our models and remind everyone of a few tips. I find when you go to a conference your brain can switch to 'overload mode' so here are the a few highlights and some pictures to help illustrate the best way to get children to smile naturally and relax in front of the camera.


I spoke of achieving comfort: the photographer's comfort, the mother's comfort, and most importantly, the child's comfort.

When I walk into a shoot, I check my ego at the door.  There's no time for ego with children. My goal with every session is to to make it a 'play date.' To make it fun for them.  No matter how goofy I need to get. Because the only way you can film natural smiles is when you make children smile naturally.  Saying 'smile' or 'say cheese' doesn't work all the time. And most of you know my motto (don't say cheese),  is the title of my photography manual!

So what is the first thing I do to make a child comfortable? Get down on their level-  literally. (Thanks Jen Van Dam, for capturing exactly what I was teaching!)

When you are on their level, you are less intimidating and more likely to make an instant connection. Because you are treating them as an equal.

So when you do that^^ you get this:

And when you have this much love and joy for children (thanks for capturing Heather!)

They 'feel it' and give it back...

Have them MOVE:

Remember this is supposed to be 'fun' for them. Moving children have no time to push out a cheese-y smile.  Every. single. session. I have a child run towards me.  Add in a little 'now don't knock me over' and you get that glint in their eye as they run right for you.  NOTE: Take a safe stance for both your safety.  Meaning, don't balance on your toes when kneeling down, but get WAY down. If the child decides to in fact plow into you (they have with me) then you won't be knocked off balance and can literally 'catch' them and you. (Thanks to Texas Tatertot for this fab behind the scenes image).

Sit like this (or a variation where your backside in on the ground) to avoid falling.
This position also gets you close to their level which films oh so better and gives you a more interesting composition than if you were standing.   Like this shot:

And this shot:

this shot:

this shot:

and this shot:

Super tight head shots:

This is where my wacky noises come into play.  You don't have to have a child sitting down, but you do want them to look up at you to grab the light and have it pouring into their eyes for those catch lights. A quick, weird noise will have them look right up at you.

Or a game of peek-a-boo behind your camera will keep them interested. Don't use the term peek-a-boo for anyone over two however, as that is a 'baby' game to them. But you can still 'hide' behind the camera and pop out with a weird noise and it does the trick.

Lose the idea of absolute perfection:

Kelle Hampton spoke of this so well. And I briefly touched on it when I spoke of motion blur.  Everything is not always going to be perfect.  Can you present a client or a friend with all blurry images, no. But can you present a client/friend with an image where the moment was perfect and the capture was pretty decent?  YES in my book. Some people may say this is a throw away, it's definitely a little 'soft.' But if I was a Mom and my child got some mega air with a horse behind him and someone caught it on film, I'd want it. So shake it off that everything always has to be perfect. Remember, perfection is an unachievable goal. 


MixedMolly said...

Great safety tip on getting down to their level. I did fall over last weekend and got some nasty rocks in my hand :)

Adrienne said...

Great tips, Jennifer! Love all the pull-back shots from the attendees, too!

Liz said...

Thanks Jenn - I needed this little boost of knowledge confidence going into this coming weekend. I think we might have identical taste in session apparel. I just got my first ever pair of Converse last year and can't keep out of them! :)

Robyn Brumfield said...

You're awesome! Love the images and I can't thank you enough for the link back!

Cindy Short said...

Great tips! I do love the one about sitting on your bottom when children are running toward you:) And I appreciate your comment about imperfect images...sometimes catching the wonderful things children do means sacrificing perfection.

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Glad everyone is liking the post and that the little safety tip is coming in handy. PS: Liz that is the only footwear I shoot in :)

Amanda said...

Reading the post made me smile so seeing it in action I imagine would make anyone smile! You're so fun Jennifer!!! That is something that you just have!

Carolyn said...

Great post. Brought back fond memories of our "Then She Snapped" party.

Sandra said...

Love this! Thank you! I was so bummed to have missed your session, so thank you SO much for posting this! Oh, and I adored meeting you, too! Thanks for letting me grab a picture with you! It really was a fantastic weekend. :)

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Aw, thank you Amanda :) Carolyn, it was like one of my 'snapped' parties on steroids for sure! Sandra, I adored meeting you as well, you made my morning when you wanted to grab a picture. It was an awesome weekend for sure..already looking forward to next year!

Jessica said...

This post is so helpful. I'm shooting my first mini sessions ever! I've only been doing this "professionally" for a few short months and before that I only had a few paid gigs. Thank you for the tips and reminders. I have so much to learn still!

shellycoulter said...

Jen-Loved this post! I still can't believe I missed your workshop. I don't know what I was thinking when I registered! (well...it was 6am and I registered on my phone. Haha) Thanks for recapping it a bit! Like I told you...I LOVE your work and will definitely be in your workshop next year! Sandra and I have had several shoots since getting back and its been fun to already apply stuff I learned there! So much fun! Hope our paths cross again someday! :)

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Jessica- happy to help and best of luck! Shelly, you and Sandra, as I said to you that day, made my morning. Meeting you girls was a fab way to kick off the start of the conference day. Glad to hear the conference was a success for you both. I picked up some things as well, how could you NOT with all that amazing information?? I'll be there next year and happy to hear you will be too!

angie {the arthur clan} said...

What I love most? Now that we've met in person, I totally read this post with your voice in my head. LOL! Absolutely loved meeting you and can't thank you enough for everything you did to make our conference as wonderful as it was!

co-founder of I Heart Faces

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Angie I am literally laughing out loud. So you read it in a crazy, hyper NY accent :)?? It was my pleasure. I learned so much and was happy to help others learn too. Can't wait for next year's already!

Angie said...

Thanks for sharing, Jen. Can I ask, what's the best way to get those running at you shots in focus?

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

Absolutely Angie. First off, I toggle my focus point. SO I always make sure it's hitting the head of the child. I don't mind a little motion blur in the arms/legs- I mean, heck, they ARE running, but I adore a sharp face. That said, for the little boy with brown hair I shot that with my 85mm prime (love it for sharpness) at 3.2f and 1/250 shutter and 320 ISO. I shoot on continuous shoot for the running shots BTW. For the little blonde boy I shot it at 2.5f 1/320 shutter ISO 320.

Jennifer Tonetti-Spellman said...

I should add that in the beginning when trying them, up the shutter speed more and make sure your f is no lower than 4. The more you do it, and get used to it the wider open you can shoot and drop the shutter if need be. Just be sure that you have enough light and up the ISO if you need to because that will also contribute to focus!

Jenyjen3 said...

I love that last tip...Being a mom totally helps realize that it's the moment that is desired and not just the beautiful image of the child!.

Pam said...

ha! I read it in your voice too! Thanks for sharing your tips and outlook on child photography. I really learned a great deal that day! I still need to blog my day and what I learned! I used so much information the next day as I shot a big family and celebration!

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