Sometimes photography sessions don’t go as planned and we get reminded, children will be children and they are in charge! I was hired to do a magazine cover for Colorado Parent Magazine. The job was to do a quick little session with a sweet boy called Ethan and his friend, a beautiful girl named Hazel. We set the session up in a studio as Colorado weather wasn’t working with us. We had everything ready, I had prepared the parents beforehand, we had discussed wardrobe, set up the backdrop and we were ready to go. The goal, get one photo of the two of them together in front of a pink backdrop interacting with each other. Sounds easy enough right!
WRONG. I knew one of the children had special needs. This is not a problem or an issue as to me kids will be kids, and I treat special needs kids the same as any other child. The main difference is that sometimes we need more accessibility and sometimes a little more patience and care. To me, the mistakes we made this session had little to do with the fact that Ethan has special needs, and everything to do with kids being independent and strong willed and sometimes their agenda doesn’t align with ours.
The studio is large, we had it for 2 hours which was plenty as the session purchased was for 30 minutes. I don’t like being on a time schedule when I photograph children, so I allowed for plenty of time. I know that kids need time to adjust and ordering kids around, never ends well.
After everyone arrives we get ready, I ask the kids to come play right in front of the pink backdrop. Hazel who is 4 and one of the easiest kids I’ve ever worked with, came right away with a sweet smile on her face. Ethan, on the other hand, had discovered that when he stomps his feet, the stomping sounds makes an echo. He was enthralled. That’s alright. Let him finish and then we can start. But Ethan is smart, he sensed we wanted him to do something that he had no interest in doing. He resisted and refused to come close to our backdrop set-up. I started playing with him and we stomped together towards our set. When he got close enough, he turned around and stomped in the other direction. You smart little thing!
We tried every trick in the book. Playing together, singing together, dancing, entice him with videos on the phone. The video’s worked, but remember, Ethan is smart. He accepted watching video’s if it was NOT in front of the pink backdrop. I must admit, I was very intrigued and secretly admired his commitment.
Then he noticed the sun shining in the window and the dust speckles that rose from the front door rug. He discovered very quickly that if he smacked his hand down on the rug, the dust would rise up and sparkle in the sun.
At this point, I got the go-ahead from the magazine to ignore the pink backdrop and try to get a decent photo. Pretty much, get it done! The best I got was this.
Definitely not good enough for a magazine cover. Remember, Ethan is smart, he knew I wanted something of him, and resisted. I tried to make him scoot back a little bit, so he wasn’t in the blaring sun. He had no intentions on moving. After a while we gave up. We decided to take what we had learned and make a second try a couple of days later.
The magazine was on a deadline, and I had no other time to do this. The second session was it, we had to make it work. If not, no cover photo! I went home and slept on it. You see, me and Ethan got to know each other a little bit. I discovered that he is a clever kid who likes to go his own way. He works on his schedule and doesn’t care what other people think or do. What a great quality, but something I can work with. He had my full admiration.
We decided to do the second session in his home. He would be in a space he knows, with his toys. We were on his turf. I walked the house and we found that his room was the best, it had a beautiful blue wall that we were able to make work. To visualize, we had a little square to work with that was about 2 feet wide and 2 feet long. Photographers understand, this is not a big space to work with. We crammed 4 adults and two kids into his room. I set my camera down and simply started playing with him and Hazel. We got to know each other first. We played with his stuffed animals, blew bubbles, read books and became friends. I even got snuggles! I knew I was in. You see, patience and care will win any child over. I didn’t even touch my camera for the first 30-40 minutes. A little over an hour into our second session we discovered his love for music. We let him and Hazel play with his piano and boom! We got it. Here is the end result!
He was gracious enough to let us take a quick photo. I made sure, I put no pressure on him, just like so many people, he resists when you demand things of him. This is a bad habit anyway. I learned my lesson. First, never tell my family that this will be quick and easy, and I should be back within an hour. That’s just Murphy’s law. And second, never underestimate children. They are smarter than you think. I rarely have to re-schedule sessions for other reasons than weather. For the most part I can handle the situation. This time, it was a very smart move.
Hazel was so sweet through the whole process. She is only 4. It didn’t seem to matter what situation I put her in, or what I asked of her. She did it, and tolerated it. There was a lot of waiting. I know if it would have been my kids, the session would have ended much sooner. They can’t go without food for more than half an hour, and patience is not their virtue. I got lucky!
Thank you, Ethan and Hazel, for a wonderful session and to allow me to photograph you. It might have taken a little bit of extra effort, but it was worth every minute! And thank you parents for doing everything right, and to be calm and patient with me.