This is an article from Creative Review 2009. 

Anders Hald shoots children

Anders Hald is one of the world’s leading photographers of children. His Autumn/Winter 2009 campaign for Danish children’s wear designer Sofie Schnoor was selected for the 2009 CR Photography Annual. We are publishing them in full here while Hald shares some of the techniques that he has learned over five years of challenging that old adage about never working with children and animals.

CR: Can you tell us a little about the project that was selected for the Photography Annual?

AH: The label is called Petit by Sofie Schnoor. This campaign (one shown above) is from the first shoot I did for her. I have since shot both SS10 for Petit and two women¹s shoe labels also designed by Sofie. She’s a really interesting client to work with. A month or two before the shoot she will give me a list of things that have inspired the collection, images, movies, locations, bits of children’s TV and ask me to suggest locations and a treatment for the shoot. If she likes my suggestions, I have more or less a free hand on the shoot, obviously supervised by her. For the SS10 collection the inspiration for the collection came from a 1970’s Swedish children’s show called The White Stone (Den Vita Stenen). Sofie tends to like images of kids that are dark and moody, and kids that are quite intense in their presence.

CR: What is your background? when did you start to specialise in this area?

AH: I have been a freelance photographer for 13 years this November and the last five years I have specialised in shooting kids. Actually it was my agent Alan Wickes who suggested that I should put together a portfolio of images of kids. I’d done a couple of advertising shoots that involved children (Mastercard print ads, a Danish Lottery campaign, a spec shoot for BBDO that unfortunately never ran, and some personal work featuring kids) so we decided to start pushing a kids book. I have shot POS campaigns for StartRite kids’ shoes both UK and Europe, several editorial shoots for Junior Magazine and campaigns for a number of Danish children’s wear designers including Sofie Schnoor, Ida T, Laniel and PomPom shoes.

CR: A lot of ad campaigns featuring children are very sickly sweet, how do you avoid that?

AH: I prefer kids that are allowed to express a wider range of emotions than the ‘look how cute I am when I am smiling’ genre of kids images. I get really annoyed when I see big budget advertising productions, where every last detail in the image is 100% perfect, and the kid carrying the whole thing wears an obviously fake and laboured smile that doesn’t fool anyone, to me that ruins everything. If the kid isn’t believable, the campaign falls apart.

CR: We read a lot about the parents of child models being overly pushy and exploiting their kids, have you found that a problem? How do you guard against that?

AH: Fortunately it happens extremely rarely that I get the feeling that the modelling career is based more on the parents’ ambition than the child’s. When it happens it is usually with a kid who is doing his or her first or second job as it very quickly becomes apparent that the child does not really want to be there. If the child is reluctant, I don’t get good images and we send the child home. Obviously that isn’t a good basis for a career in child modelling and if the parents don’t pick up on that, the child modelling agencies certainly will let the parents know. I work very closely with the child modelling agencies, and always report back after a shoot on how the kids did. It is useful for them to know if a child tends to be shy at first or if a child is very confident, they can advise other photographers on the personality of the individual child, as they advice me. If I get a feeling that the parents of a child are too pushy or the child does not enjoy working as a model, I let the model agency know and they take that sort of information seriously.

CR: A lot of the laws and regulations regarding working with children have been tightened up recently, how has this affected your work?

AH: When the licensing laws were introduced, it changed the way shoots are produced. Because of the paperwork now involved in working with kids, production times needs to be longer. It is no longer possible to decide on which models to use a few days before a shoot, as it takes about a week to get the paper work through the individual councils where the children reside. Child welfare officers often turn up on shoots. They check the paperwork, that there is a designated first aid person and so on. I don’t know if it has improved child welfare, I can’t work with kids who are not happy and well cared for, but it has certainly complicated the production process. Thankfully my agent is completely on top of it, so it is not something I deal with, but Alan personally delivers and collects all the forms to and from the proper authorities in the days leading up to the shoot. It is essential for me to have the support of an agent who has so much experience with production, otherwise it would be really difficult to pull the shoots off. Then again, it’s another good reason to book a photographer who has experience with shooting kids.

CR: Most people would imagine that working with children, as the old adage goes, is very difficult: how do you ensure that the shoot goes smoothly and, more importantly, how do you safeguard the welfare of the children themselves and make sure that they are happy?

AH: When shooting kids it is essential to plan the shoot well and with consideration to the age groups you are shooting. First off, you need to know exactly what you want to achieve, how you want to achieve it, and make sure that all technical aspects of the shoot are sorted, before the kids even arrive (good assistants are essential). Once the kids arrive it is up to me to establish a rapport with them, to make sure that I have them on my side. Then you need to be flexible in managing the shoot, as kids will bump their heads, get hungry, tired, bored and silly, so that at the end of the day you can deliver exactly what the client wanted, in spite of tears and tantrums. A nice calm atmosphere at the shoot is important. Panic will spread like a wildfire to the kids, so must be avoided at all cost. Food is important too. Healthy snacks and fruit early in the day, and sugar rich treats at the end of the day to entice the last bit of effort out of the kids. I always recommend double-booking kids models, no matter how good a kid is at the casting, it is no guarantee they will perform on the day…kids are kids, we need to plan according to that.

When directing kids it’s important to be patient, quite often I can’t just ask for what I want, but rather I need to spend a little time trying different things out with the kid first. That way I get a sense of how the child responds to direction and a chance to figure out what to do to get the right look from the child, whether it is surprise, a genuine smile or a more serious look. Once you get it, you often only get one chance to capture it. With regards to the children's welfare and happiness, it is really quite simple, if the kids aren’t enjoying themselves, I don’t get good images. As soon as a child gets fed up, you’ve pretty much had it. So it is very important that the child wants to be there. It often happens that a child gets tired or isn’t having a good day, children can’t ignore that the way adults can, and for that reason I always recommend to the client that we double book the kids models. That gives us the freedom to change between the models, give them breaks when they need it, or send a child home if we need to. If both kids work on the day, great! It’s more choice for the client.

Editorial for Junior magazine. This shot was included in last year’s CR Photography Annual and has also won first place in the Prix De La Photographie Fashion category