The Top Five Most Reluctant Subjects and How to Get the Best from Them

We’ve all had one. Maybe even more than one: a reluctant subject. A reluctant subject is someone who either doesn’t want to be photographed or will not stand still long enough to be photographed. Don’t despair. I’ve narrowed it down to five groups of folks I find the most difficult to photograph along with my tips to get the best from them.

5. Moody teenagers don’t want to be “the talent.”

Unless they have aspirations to be dancers, actresses, or stand-up comedians, your teenaged subjects may balk at the idea of being photographed. They may recoil at the thought of getting close for a photo. They probably find the whole idea terribly lame. My tips for unkeen teens: firstly, have a chat with mom and dad. Let them know that you’re okay with their teenagers being anything but thrilled. This way, mom and dad will refrain from driving them further into sullen silence. Don’t make the teen the star of the show. Ask for help in carrying the gear or corralling a younger sibling. Make them useful and let them disappear into the background until you really need them in front of the camera. Of course you can always appeal to their sense of humor (or sense of irony). Most teenagers are equipped with at least one of these. Or sometimes you can just hand them a sibling, which accomplishes both. The teen in this photo was too busy cracking up to sulk.

4. Newly-promoted siblings need to be treated with kid gloves.

Most of the newborns I’ve had the pleasure of photographing are younger siblings. Siblings of newborn babies are still getting used to the idea of being misplaced. Everyone who has graced their domain has come to see the new baby. And now you’re there to take its picture! You’re about to become Enemy #1. My tips for photographing new big brothers and sisters: get down on the floor and play with the sibling when the newborn is with mom. Be sure to ask for the sibling’s opinions when posing the baby. Keep those little doses of attention coming. Get shots of them alone doing whatever they like while the newborn is being changed. If you have an extra camera, let the sibling take a few pics (supervised, of course)—they love that. Lastly, be ready to fire off those shots. This image is one of only seven frames that I managed to grab before the sibling crawled off the bed.

3. Significant others may require some coaxing.

The hypothetical scenario: my sweet mommy client wants family photos and would very much like dad to be in them, too. But guess what? Dad doesn’t want to put on a fancy shirt on a Sunday. He doesn’t want to DVR the big game. They argued on their way to the session and now they’re both grumpy. No worries! If he showed up to the session, you’re halfway there. My tips for getting the best from dad: make him laugh. Point out in a jovial way how absolutely miserable he looks. If that doesn’t work (or makes him grumpier), see if you can convince him to kiss and hug his significant other. This has warmed up more than a few of my dad clients. Lastly, and this tip works in several scenarios, hand him a child to entertain. If it’s his job to make someone else laugh, chances are he’ll laugh, too. Hint: these tips work with reluctant moms as well.

2. A child who has recently learned to walk will not sit still for you. Or stand still.

Toddlers are some of my toughest customers. For as long as they can remember, they’ve had to crawl everywhere and they’ve felt terribly powerless. Now that they can finally walk, they pretty much wake up and don’t stop moving until they pass out from exhaustion. Most of my clients are happy to do the silly things I ask of them. Toddlers, on the other hand, do not respond to subtle social cues like having a camera pointed at them. They can be downright rude at times.

One of the reasons I shoot with a Fuji X-T1 is because it’s lightweight and I need to be nimble to chase those little guys around. My tips for toddlers: if they’re moving, move with them. Run out ahead of them and plant yourself low to the ground and shoot them coming at you. Stand on a chair and take pictures of them looking up at you, you crazy lady. A fun trick for getting them to be still for a moment is to sit them on something fun like a carousel horse, a tractor, or an animal sculpture at the zoo. Finally, I’m going to reveal my secret trick: it’s called, “The Three Ts for Toddlers.” The Three Ts always make them laugh: tickle them, toss them in the air, or turn them upside down. If they won’t sit, at least with the 3 Ts you can still get a fun photo.

1. Your own children are the worst.

Sigh. They’re adorable, funny, and beautiful. But let’s face it; they’re the worst. When the camera is trained on them, their smile instantly turns to a scowl and then it’s, “Mooooooo-oooom! Not again!” Let’s say you’ve bought them cute clothes and dressed them up for the holidays. Now they definitely won’t want their picture taken. My tips for your own children: turn them toward each other and say, “Make your meanest face!” Another trick is to ask them to hold hands and spin each other around. They usually end up laughing. If they can do it without fighting, interaction is always your best bet. But the most important advice I can give you is to photograph your children with whatever camera you have handy. Capture the intimate moments that just happen.


This photo of my kids was taken with an iPhone, the camera I had on hand at the moment.

If you want to get really great shots of your kids all dressed up, hire a professional. They’ll listen to someone with a camera who’s not mom, I promise.

Well, most of the time anyway!


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Dawn Kubie is a professional photographer who specializes in newborns and families, including individual portraits.

In addition, she enjoys photographing local bands. Her photo of Mission Zero was featured in Philthymag.com and is featured in iTunes for the single ‘12345678!’

She and her husband, two boys, and their sweet dog, Charlie, reside in Trumbull, Connecticut. You can see more of her work at www.dawnkubie.com.

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    • Thanks very much for this excellent article, Dawn! I love your shots, and your advice is great. You have certainly chosen photography's most difficult specialisation :)

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    • Thanks for the article and tips, Dawn. I have also experienced my own teenagers being  less than enthusiastic about being photographed. Dad! Don't take a picture of me.

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    • Interesting article with lots of good tips. I love the pictures, especially the last one. Thank you!

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