Olga Levien
New Zealand Artist | Mentor | Mum

Olga Levien wedding | documentary family photographers Blog

Personal projects and documentary-lifestyle photographs taken by Olga Levien photography artist - wedding and family photographer in Auckland, New Zealand and international.

Tutorial: How to work with non-cooperative subjects on location {Auckland family-wedding photographer}

How to work with non-cooperative subjects

Non-cooperative kid or adult on your session can be a real problem as it can affect other people's mood, your feelings and even photo shoot results.

How to work in the situation when the person is upset, ignoring, or distracting the shoot?

These few steps help you to operate with non-cooperative subjects on shooting location:

1. Find out potential issues with kids/adults before the session. Consultation or questionnaire beforehand is a great idea to find out your clients personalities and individual preferences {parents can share with you if there is a shy child, groom not used to the camera, emotional kid etc.}. You can also sense your own child mood and best time of the day to shoot if you working with young kids. I found my kids cooperate with the best in the morning or after been fully feed! 

2. Prevent non-cooperative situation right away at initial contact. Right at the beginning of the photo shoot try to create the contact. Communication is the key. Pay attention to each member of the family {couple or bridal party, depending who you shooting}. For example, if you come to shoot newborn session, your priority is not a newborn, but his siblings. Get low on the same level, so you can look at their eyes and speak to them. Also pay attention to parents mood. Kids can feel how their parents feeling and copy their behaviour. Also new person in the house/shooting location {photographer} can be exciting or terrifying to some shy kids. Talk through these moments with parents beforehand and take off pressure and expectations on their kids behaviour. Let go off perfection.


3. Pay respect and show real interest. Every person can sense if you are interested in them and paying the true respect. It's very important to be on the same page.

4. Communication is the key. Keep communicating during all process from initial hello to the last second when you saying goodbye. Do ask the questions to support the session flow and make your subject relax.

5. Let them be! Give them a freedom to do what they love to do. Incorporate their favourite activities in the shoot {even if its will be not the best photos for the gallery}. You can switch the activity and get some desired photos later.


6. Make the process interesting! Try to find an activity to do for all family {couple etc.} that will make them excited, bring in emotions and make cooperate.

7. Let them direct you! Ask kids or adults if they have any extra creative ideas when you done your ones {it's important to show you respect their opinions and also make them an active participant of the process}. I love to give this freedom to my own kids and instead "Stop It", "Put camera away", I have excitement and smiles as they know they can bring their own ideas in photos and they are always happy to look at them again and again. They are proud to be part of this process.

8. Show them photos! Let them see how great, amazing, beautiful, interesting, perfect they are. They will enjoy to look at the back of the camera and gain confidence, they look their best!


9. Make them a Photographer. I often give camera to my daughter after I shot a few of her photos, so I know she motivated to do her best, so afterwards she can take control and be a photographer.

10. Don't push. Try to sense when is time to change the situation with games and activities, props to do and when you just need to let it go. Be mindful and think about this person experience, you need to create the best possible conditions for positive memories and exciting, productive environment.


There is a reflection technique that can help you to work out any uncomfortable situation.

Ask yourself a few questions at the time of the action or afterwards:

- what's happening? {what subject is doing, been doing}

- why this is happening {try to think about reasons for this person's actions}

- what can I do {try to think what actions can prevent or change this person's actions}.

Try to apply these decisions in current situation or future shooting events!

Psychology and life can seem complicated, but we can make things easier if we pay attention to our own and other people's actions, review them, do analysis and make steps to bring more joy and interest in the process!

Watch me shooting sessions and work with non-cooperative subjects on location in my online workshop “Love, Light & Laughter” at Click Photo School {registration open now!}. Reserve your spot early to ensure availability. You will get individual assignments feedback & portfolio review, daily discussions and weekly live chats. Full interaction & support guaranteed!