Cole was one of the more interesting subjects I had for the Three Year Old Project because he was reluctant. I know that many three year olds go through various stages of rebellion, authority pushing, regression, or you name it they try it. I’m fascinated by the cognitive process of growing out of babyhood and starting to gain autonomy (what an exciting, scary time for a child!). Cole really didn’t want to participate in photos that particular afternoon.
The whole point of the project for me was to see what kids will do when they got to the studio environment, so I was glad to have this experience with Cole. At this point in his young life, he’s a kid who needs time to warm up to someone, and has to forget there’s a camera in order to get natural-smile photos. I busted out all the tricks in the book to elicit different responses, and only got him to crack a fleeting, microscopic smile when I asked him if he likes stinky cheese.
For those of you who have children who react adversely to the camera, I’d recommend not pushing the subject. Obviously you want photos of your child at every age, but it’s not going to be a positive experience if you try to force your child to smile in photos. In this type of situation, if you’re able to invest in pro portraits, I’d recommend hiring a journalist-style photographer (now often called “lifestyle portraits”) to bring a long lens and let a reluctant child play at a park long enough to forget the photographer is there. In the past, I have also had great success coming over to a child’s house and having him/her show me around, play with some toys together, before gaining enough trust to make some great photos with the family. A familiar, safe environment helps the reluctant child become more at ease.
In the end, with the help of some good ol’ fashioned bribery (BLUE TRACTOR!) we got some beautiful studio portraits of Cole and his big brown eyes. He pretty much stared at the camera for twenty minutes, and I didn’t mind at all that he didn’t smile or frolic. It’s possible that he was even enjoying the drama of the scenario and will ask to come back to the studio sometime. I keep coming back to the idea that if his parents come back to these photos in 20 years, they’ll see a side of his personality coming out at this early age and be charmed by that soulful three year old gaze.
Thank you so much to all the parents who took the time to stop by studio hours in August. I had some great laughs at ridiculous three year old logic, and learned a lot about working with these tiny people who live in tiny kingdoms. I’d encourage anyone reading this to consider hiring a photographer to do individual portraits of kids in addition to the normal family portrait type of photos. A child’s life is full of magical moments.
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