Olivia Benz is only five years old, but she is a model and actress with an active portfolio including a recent booking in a national TV commercial. It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to spend an afternoon photographing Olivia along with her mother, actress Jessica Benz.
But consummate professional that she may be, there is still no forgetting a key factor when it came to shooting Olivia: she is five years old. So her Mom and I did some special planning in advance to help ensure our time together would be fun for Olivia and rewarding photographically as well.
We started with the shared philosophy that the day must be all about Olivia. It was important to be sure that she was having fun, and that the whole experience of being photographed remain enjoyable fun for her in all regards. So we talked about things she might like to do - in her case, she likes to color, to dance and to eat cookies!
Throughout the afternoon, we gave Olivia a full voice, in fact a guiding voice, in what we would be doing next. We started with some easy ideas, to get comfortable together. Olivia likes to smile and happy headshots were a good launch. We were so mobile that I didn't use a tripod, but I'd definitely recommend a tripod and cable or remote release whenever possible - to get the photographer out from behind the camera and into as much interaction and dialog with the child as possible.
We made up little games to make posing more fun. We played hide-and-seek behind a tree. I asked Olivia to close her eyes and bow her head and then see if she could surprise me when she looked up quickly. I showed her the pictures as I took them.
We moved fairly rapidly between activities. When she declared "Let's do something more fun!" that's exactly what we did. And so we played in the front yard, she rocked wildly with her mother, and she whispered special secrets into her mother's ear. She cuddled her beloved dog, danced in her beautiful tutu, and at the end of the day came the special treat - fresh baked chocolate cookies made with her mother. Along the way, Olivia took the occasional break to change clothes, to watch me photograph Jess or set up my lights in a new way.
Olivia kept me on my toes - and on my knees and flat on my stomach on her family room floor. Along with ideas for activities to ensure she was happy and engaged, I tried to keep in mind that cuteness alone doesn't make terrific images. A creative approach, and creative angles would go a long way to making Olivia's photo session a successful one.
When Olivia showed signs of flagging we ended the session promptly. And not a moment too soon, as Jess and I agreed it had been a whirlwind afternoon.
This level of activity might not be right for every child. And there are certainly many who would run out of patience and of steam long before the three-hour session that Olivia worked through. But a few key points will work for any child. Most important is to ensure that the session truly is based on what's fun for the child. Remember that this child is a person, and engage them as fully as possible - that photographer/subject rapport will always shine through. And finally, keep the creative approach in mind. The child's inherent cuteness is only a starting point.
Did all this work for us? You be the judge.
To see more images of Olivia, click here.