Secrets of a Baby Wrangler: Take a Winning Kid Photo
You may like entertaining your child with giggles and dancing, but Sally Nachamkin has made a living from it. Nachamkin is a baby wrangler -- a kooky name for a person who preps babies and kids so they're smiling and camera-ready for ads or magazines. (We used her in our Regis and Kelly Beautiful Baby Photo Shoot.) She shared some great tips that will help you get the perfect shot of your child (just in time for our Babytalk/GMA Cover Contest!)
Okay, let's cut to the chase: what's the fundamental secret to calming a fussy kid?
Sally Nachamkin:I use the same protocol every time. First I receive the children, put them in a room, use soft voices, and let them see that I've created a relationship with their mom. Then I ask, "What are this child's needs? Is he hungry? Sick? Rested? Is he tactile? Auditory? Visual?" I profile who I'm dealing with. Most kids adjust within 5 or 15 minutes if they aren't hungry or sick. If a child is shy, it might take a little longer, but I'll go to him and begin a relationship. I let him see my smiling face, gently touch his arm or leg, and talk to them in very soft voices. Nine out of ten times this works. Then I calmly separate him from his parent -- if he's not adapted, we bring the mom back. Then we use toys to play, depending on the child's maturity level and age. With a young baby, I have to change the toy every six seconds or so. Then I have to get away from the child, so the child will look at the camera. This is always done with play. The kids think they're having fun, feeling secure in their environment, and you get magic.
Did someone teach you this process?
SN:No, I developed it from my background in clinical psychology and theater. In psychology you learn how important it is to establish trust with your client, and with children it's the same thing. If there is no trust, there is no dialogue or communication. I've revised the process over the 25 years I've been in the business, using my own observations, and I experiment all the time.
What's the most important thing about the protocol?
SN: It's all about loving them. To the child, our relationship is all about trust. Once they feel safe and comfortable you can get them to laugh, run, giggle, and show their personality range.
What's your goal for each shoot?
SN: My goal is that the child gets treated well, and that they leave feeling like they did something good. As young as they are, they know that. With babies, it's different. There are more challenges with environmental changes. I have to ask, "Where is the heart? How do I reach it?"
How can parents be professional baby wranglers at home?
SN: Rewards are always good. I also suggest using fun things to play with, and parents should wear something that's colorful. They should give their child lots of positive commentary. It's always, "come here," not, "don't go there."
Are boys different than girls in cooperating with you?
SN: Boys are more tactile, they like to engage with balls and things in a very playful manner. Girls like tinier objects. But for the most part they are the same.
What age is the hardest to work with?
SN: Probably when they become ambulatory. They just want to move -- they're ready to go. That's when you need to introduce them to new and unexpected toys, motions and textures.
SN: Because this initiates the interest and curiosity that you need to get the fresh, spontaneous reaction. I don't use a lot of music, but music is a good idea. Also physical motion, like dancing and jiggling is great -- parents do these things, anyway. Have something like a slinky -- the plastic kind is kid-friendly and has the irregular motion that will really get a child interested.
What if a kid is too hyper, or you need him to be more serious?
SN: If a kid's energy is too high, I say, "I'm going to ask you some questions. If you have two monkeys playing basketball in the back yard, and two goldfish in your room, three bears in the living room, and you invited them to dinner, how many guests would you have?" It stops them and they concentrate and listen. They want to please you with an answer because you've already established a loving relationship. If a baby is happy, happy, happy, he might need to be drawn in with calmer techniques like smaller toys and gestures.
What's the most challenging part of your job?
SN: The energy. You have to bring yourself up an aerobic level of physicality. You can get a little tired. Physical fitness, eating well, and being healthy is important. It's hard because you have to do everything with a level of responsibility.
Every little thing you do with a child is so important.
SN: Yes. And some experiences are harder than others. Like, when it's 95 degrees outside. There are constantly variables that make each experience different.
What's one thing you've noticed about all the children you've worked with?
SN: All children have a desire to be needed and loved. Once you find that place where they let you in, that's where the magic is.