Doug Menuez on photographing kids (hint: Forget about being the boss)

Before he signed with Stockland Martel in 2008, Doug had spent two decades as an award-winning documentary photographer, a period marked by countless days of world travel—and kids, lots of kids, who were his unofficial welcoming party everywhere he went.

“I could always count on getting swarmed by curious children as I arrived in some country village,” he recalls. “Whether in Spain, Sudan, China, or the Amazon—kids are always excited to see what a stranger with cameras was doing suddenly in their midst.

“That was not ideal for me,” he laughs, “as I was trying hard to be invisible in order to shoot documentary images, but I learned a lot from years of observing and shooting kids everywhere.”

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Photo by Doug Menuez. Courtesy menuezarchiveprojects.com.

Photo by Doug Menuez. Courtesy menuezarchiveprojects.com.

Photo by Doug Menuez. Courtesy menuezarchiveprojects.com.

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And now that he’s successfully made the transition into commercial photography, Doug is using that experience in his shoots for advertising clients. Producing photos of children that look authentic and natural yet meet the needs of a layout is a major challenge. As Doug explains below, a photographer needs to be even more creatively nimble than usual—you have to let the kids be who they are, forget about trying to control everything, and trust yourself to get the necessary shots in the midst of what might feel like chaos…

“Most advertising productions are designed to crush normal kid-like spontaneous behavior because there’s so much money at stake and everyone’s in fear mode,” Doug notes. “It can be a very trying experience. On my set, before we even get there, I’ve prepared everyone to understand that all our production has to support the kids in having fun and enjoying their day. That means I let the kids take the lead and drive the show.

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Photo by Doug Menuez. Courtesy menuezarchiveprojects.com.

Photo by Doug Menuez. Courtesy menuezarchiveprojects.com.

Photo by Doug Menuez. Courtesy menuezarchiveprojects.com.

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“Typically, I’ll have some activity set up that attracts their attention right away,” he continues. “Not necessarily even what is called for in the layouts, just something that gets them playing and having fun. No one even knows I’ve started shooting until they look over at me. I’ve probably not even had time to tell anyone. The kids just start doing what kids do and we’re off.

“I give them lots of breaks and try to have backup kids in the wings in case anyone has a total meltdown. If kids start crying, the adults take a break, get a coffee, and look at the files. Not a problem.

“But as the kids get used to me, I can direct their activity so that I can capture images that nail the layouts and then continue getting wonderful variations. Often, we end up using an unexpected image that completely represents what the layouts were aiming for but also fulfills the main point of hiring me: getting totally real, candid moments.”

To see some great examples of Doug’s photos of kids, check out “Childhood,” a handpicked edit of model-released images created by Doug and the team at Menuez Archive Projects.
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Click on the imge to view “Childhood” at menuezarchiveprojects.com.

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