Updated: Jul 12
Parents, this one is for you!
If you've been thinking about trying a family session but you're not sure that your toddler or young child would cooperate - let me reassure you. Young kids have their own ideas in regards to how a photo session should go and I am here to say it is totally normal and expected! Okay, so let's get into what we can do to set us up for cooperative, happy kids at your next photo session.
1. Your Child's Schedule
Just like adults get cranky or "hangry", this definitely applies to the tot sized crowd as well. Schedule your session for a time that is not during your child's regularly scheduled nap or feeding time. A well rested and fed kid will be at their best to engage and be happy in the photos. Sunset is the prime time of day for lighting but if you know this will not work for your child, please let your photographer know. A session earlier in the day with a content little one will go a lot further than an over tired kid. If you know your child can be slow to warm up to new places, you may want to get to the session site a little early to give your child time to acclimate. Also, make sure whatever outfit you've chosen is comfortable for them and that they are dressed for the weather ( not too hot or cold).
Yes, point number 2 also involves food! This one is especially useful for the toddler crowd. Bringing along your tot's favorite (non messy / staining) snack can help during a session where the child will not stay still long enough for a photo. The food distracts them and they will usually sit on mom or dad's lap or be held while focusing on their food for a short time. Not to mention, have you ever noticed the toddlers seem to be hungry and looking for something to snack on all. the. time?
3. Posed Photos
Due to young children having short attention spans, I do the posed / formal photos first. Realistically, kids will not stay still for a hundred photos like this but the biggest window of opportunity for a photo with everyone smiling and looking at the camera is usually at the beginning of the session. Parents, remember to look at the camera and not at your kids to see if they are cooperating while I am trying to get their attention so that everyone is looking in my direction at the same time.
If you want your kids to do something special like taking family photos, you may want to considering incentivizing and rewarding their efforts. Some reward ideas include dollar store toys, dessert after the session, or a family activity / outing after the session that the kids could look forward to. You may find yourself reminding your child during the session that if they want their reward they will have to do x,y,z during the session. Make sure to praise your kids afterwards at how well they did during the session.
Bringing along toys or activities from home to incorporate into the session can offer comfort, familiarity, and fun. I like to keep the session more like a family game than "say cheese". If you know your baby does best with their favorite blanket or stuffed animal, bring it along! If your baby or toddler has a favorite toy that always gets them smiling and that they are enthusiastic about, let's bring that energy into the photos.
6. Let the Kids Decide
I like to get the kids invested in the session and to make it their own. When the kids feel like they have a choice in creating the session instead of tagging along, they are more likely to cooperate and stay interested. I give kids choices like "would you prefer to take photos by this tree first or by this one?" or "how do you think we should pose mom and dad?" I let the kids preview the photos on the back of my camera. Toddlers and preschoolers love seeing their own photos. They will likely ask me to take another one!
7. Embrace It
The best thing you can do to support your kids during a session if they are not cooperating is to keep calm. Kids have a way of picking up on their parent's being stressed out and if parents start demanding cooperation, it often makes the kids more upset. Taking a short break and letting the kids explore / do their own thing is expected and totally fine. I have ways of re-engaging the kids and may ask your family to say or do certain things to get the kids smiling again. Some of your favorite photos might end up being from the moments where your kids are doing their own thing and I'm just documenting them as they are. Personally, my favorite photos to take are the unexpected ones and the "real life" photos that show off your unique personalities.
I hope these tips and tricks give you some ideas for how we can set your little ones up for success at your next family session! My recommendation is to have realistic expectations that yes we will get great photos of your family but there most likely will be moments of encouraging, redirecting, breaks, etc with little kids. The best thing you can do is trust the process and your photographer to have a few more tricks up her sleeve. If you have any specific concerns or requests, please let me know as I try to customize every session to what your family needs.
Jessica M. Photography is an Arlington Heights, IL family photographer. She services the Northwest Suburbs including Palatine, Buffalo Grove, Northbrook, Barrington, Schaumburg, Mount Prospect, Glenview, Deerfield, Vernon Hills, Park Ridge and more throughout Lake and Cook County in Illinois.