Piper and the Pelicans

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Shooting pictures at the beach on an overcast day gives you soft light, no squinting and the added advantage that the beach will be empty!

For this shoot, I started at home getting my “safety shots” so that once the children got to the beach, and just wanted to play, I could do candid shots and hope that they might co-operate for some more composed shots too. Check out this blog which shows you the first half of the shoot: The 5-Minute “Perfect Smiling Child” Shot.

When we arrived at the beach, I let Piper (4) and Grayson (8) run around and let off some steam, otherwise it would have been very tricky to get them to stand still.

Check out the “behind the scenes” video below, and then read on for tips and ideas!

I followed them around shooting candidly to start with…

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…and then I started to get involved, and asked them to run towards me. They were still very much doing their own thing at this point, but I kept setting them off from the sea for example, and asking them to run to me (or one of their parents who was behind me), and then to turn around and chase the birds. They are happy to be obliging at this stage, because we have developed a relationship at home already – I am not starting out fresh at the beach, where some children would tend to ignore you and carry on playing because they may not relate to you. If it’s your own children, they can also ignore you because you’re TOO familiar – and they want to play rather than be photographed!

Tip: To get your own children to do this sort of thing – tell them it’s a model shoot and plan it all with them before you get there – let them choose their clothes, pack up a great picnic (let them choose what they want to include even if it’s rubbish food!) and promise them they can eat it when they’ve done the shoot.

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Next, I broke the shoot down into sections, by giving them little tasks to do, and making things into a game. This way you keep the shoot more interesting by constantly giving them new things to do.

The first task was to ask Piper to run towards me, between two sticks. This is a trick I use with young children to get them to stay in one place! They love boundaries and games, and usually do this readily.

Two sticks game (for under 5’s)

  1. Place a stick on the beach (or piece of grass, flower, etc.) and say, “we’re going to play a game, and the first thing you have to do is stand on this stick.” Note in the video how she stands on the stick, no problem!
  2. Then place another stick a few feet away, just in front of yourself.
  3. Then say, “ok – this is my stick, and when I say – I want you to run towards me – ok?”

Then say, “are you ready?” And keep asking them this – as they nod, and say yes, you will find they tend to smile or laugh in anticipation, but stay firmly rooted to the stick – and this makes a great shot in itself, because they are looking straight at the camera (see bottom right above, and the start of the video which shows you the stick routine).

Ask them to repeat it several times and alter your camera angle to create variety in the shots – some upright, some close, some on an angle, etc.

Tip: If the child is very young, ask their Mom to stand next to you, and tell them it’s Mommy’s stick and you want them to run towards Mommy, as they may react better to this.

Often the best shot is the one while they are waiting patiently and you are saying, “are you ready” – but the running gets them having fun and wanting to play more games with you, and if you get a good running shot it’s a bonus (see above collage – bottom second left).

Occasionally a very young child refuses to stand on the stick – in this case, say: “whatever you do, DON’T stand on that stick” and they usually do!

Interaction

Next I try to get shots of the two children playing together. I’ve already got my “perfect” face shots of them at home so if we don’t get those now, it doesn’t matter. It means that they can be together in a shot interacting and if their faces aren’t turned to me, it’s not a problem. If you don’t do the safety shots first, you’re leaving it to chance – you might be lucky and they co-operate – but often it’s tricky to get them to pose for a photo together, when all they want to do is run on the beach, which is exactly what happened in this case – and I was very glad I got my “perfect face” shots before we got there.

Top centre: "Are you ready?!" Top right: "Go!" Bottom left and right: "Just touch noses together."

Top centre: “Are you ready?!” Top right: “Go!” Bottom left and right: “Just touch noses together.”

Ask them to touch noses! Very young children will use their finger and touch their sibling’s nose – so you have to demonstrate what you mean! But it makes them laugh and you get a natural looking photo which their parents will love, because the kids look like they love each other!

Tip: Parents always want a shot of their children looking perfect together. I usually say that I will try and do this, but often you will get a shot which is the average of both of them, rather than the perfect shot of each child – so explain that if you take them individually you will be able to get the best out of each child, and then you’ll take other shots which show them interacting together in pictures like those above. This way if you don’t get the perfect shot of their faces together it’s not such a problem.

Gorgeous pink dress!

Now for the shots I’ve been waiting for! I just loved this pink dress when I was looking at Piper’s clothes at the beginning of the day – I knew the frothiness would look fantastic on the beach! She also had some fluffy pom poms on strings which I visualised floating in the air above her! Unfortunately there was no wind, so this didn’t work as I expected (probably just as well, because if they’d floated away I would have had a very unhappy child!)

I persuaded Piper to put the dress on by telling her we were going to play games again! The first game was “running up and down the beach trying to get the pom poms to act like a kite” (I failed, but got some great pictures in the process!).

The colours in these shots work beautifully because it's an overcast day - so the light is soft, and the sand and sea blend together which makes the pictures softer and less contrasty than they would be on a bright sunny day.

The colours in these shots work beautifully because it’s an overcast day – so the light is soft, and the sand and sea blend together which makes the pictures softer and less contrasty than they would be on a bright sunny day.

Next we tried twirling – it’s not just for brides – even 4 year olds love doing this! They do get dizzy and fall over a lot, but that can result in great shots too! (See bottom left, below.)

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After this, Piper started to get fed up of following instructions, so I just asked her to stand by the sea and look at Grayson who was running with the dog on the beach – and this resulted in my favourite shots of the day, below. Just shows you don’t have to have kids smiling at you all the time – some of the best shots are when they go off into their own little world.

Piper and the Pelicans - using "aged" preset in Lightroom to make the dress less bright, which enhances the mood of these shots.

Piper and the Pelicans – using “aged” preset in Lightroom to make the dress less bright, which enhances the mood of these shots.

Even when children get fed up of being photographed, you can get some great shots!

Even when children get fed up of being photographed, you can get some great shots!

Next it’s Grayson’s turn. And for his shots, I have been watching the way he’s been playing with Coco the dog, so decide to use Coco in the shots as Grayson is too old to stand on sticks! He needs something else to focus on in order for me to create natural looking pictures.

Grayson is happy walking the dog on the beach, while I shoot candid shots of them together.

Grayson is happy walking the dog on the beach, while I shoot candid shots of them together.

I then ask him to run towards me for a few shots, and finally get him to crouch down and cuddle Coco, which really makes him smile naturally!

I then ask him to run towards me for a few shots, and finally get him to crouch down and cuddle Coco, which really makes him smile naturally!

Having left Piper alone to do her own thing, and gone off to photograph Grayson, she has recharged her batteries and I couldn’t resist taking some candid shots of her in that gorgeous dress – so inspiring, I could have gone on forever!

Bottom right: When we let Piper get her dress wet in the sea, her smile came back very quickly!

Bottom right: When we let Piper get her dress wet in the sea, her smile came back very quickly!

Tip: Listening to instructions for a long time, can get very tiring for young children – sometimes they just need to stop and do their own thing. Once a child gets fed up of being photographed it really is best to give them some breathing space, and go off and do something else. Here I was able to do this because I wanted to photograph her brother – if you are photographing an only child, just let them play while you go away and sit down for a while, or look for a new location. Often a younger child will actually want to be the centre of attention again, if you ignore them for a while.

Just time for a few more shots of Grayson before I have to concede that they’ve had enough!

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Don’t wait til summer – get out there on the beach before everyone else does! Overcast days allow you a clear background, and lots of fun taking photos, without worrying about the children squinting or getting too hot!

Annabel x


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Check out these blogs for more tips on photographing children:

HOW TO: Photograph children of different ages

10 top tips for getting great photographs of children

HOW TO: Photograph children in winter

Too cool for school!