Today I offer simple rules and basic scare tactics for taking pictures of small children for Christmas cards. I did portrait work for some years, although today I only do portraits for people I am related to — or to whom I am deeply indebted.
The husband and I met while studying photojournalism at the University of Missouri. The story goes that we met in the darkroom to see what would develop. If you got that joke, thanks for laughing. If not, return to your iPhone.
A good rule of thumb for taking pictures of small children is this: for every year old the child is, that is how many minutes the child will cooperate.
A second rule of thumb is that for each additional child you add to the picture, reduce the age-to-minutes ratio of cooperation by 80 percent. Or more.
A third rule of thumb (and yes, we are completely out of thumbs) is that you should expect the photo session, at some point, to become a train wreck. There may be tears, scowling, anguish and wringing of hands — from the adults.
When you work with three or more small children, there is a good chance one child will jab or elbow another child. Physical contact will escalate and you will have to intervene. You will later feel guilty about putting the picture on a card that says “Peace on Earth.”
When you work with four or more small children, there is a good chance at least one of the children will be crying. Take the picture anyway.
When you work with five or more small children, plan on one of them exiting the picture entirely. This is why we have Photoshop.
What to do with uncooperative children? Bribe them — but carefully.
You can give a child an M&M, but never give a crying child an M&M hoping it will pacify the child. The child will gladly eat the M&M, but keep crying, only to have chocolate drool down the child’s face and onto the white shirt. All the other (non-crying) children will be wearing dark shirts, but the kid drooling chocolate will be wearing a white shirt.
If you want an easy and enjoyable experience taking family photographs for your Christmas card, it would be best to take pictures of family members age 95 and older. They usually move slightly slower than small children, are far more patient and may even nap as you change lenses and adjust the lighting.
It may be true that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the thousand words have been heavily edited. We have years of pictures of children, our own and others and now grandchildren, in which the children look calm, peaceful, casually color coordinated and fully cooperative.
For a split second, maybe they really were.