“My kid(s) are kind of a handful.”
So goes the refrain I hear from nearly every parent or grandparent booking a portrait session. Kids and cameras mix great — but it isn’t always easy on the adults or little ones involved. Over the years, between my time nannying and volunteering at a preschool, and then working with family after family during portrait sessions, I’ve picked up a few tips for how to make a photo shoot with kiddos go as smoothly as possible. And here they are.Start with the right time of day.
Ideally, I shoot all my outdoor sessions close to sunrise or sunset, since I’m a natural light portrait photographer, and I want to make the most of the best light of the day. With indoor at-home sessions, the time of day isn’t as important. And with outdoor sessions, we can shoot at other times of the day — we just won’t have the glowy golden hour light showcased in most of the images in my portfolio. With small children though, I’ve learned that it works best to schedule a session around each child’s particular needs. If your child is typically cranky at dinnertime, sunset probably won’t produce happy, smiley photographs. If your child is slow to get going in the mornings, sunrise probably won’t be much fun.
Come into the session with achievable expectations.
With little kids — especially ones who are curious and mobile — it’s hard to complete a checklist of specific poses and pre-planned pictures during a session. I always let parents know we’ll be going for just one or two posed portraits with everyone smiling into the camera, and the rest will be of the children and parents playing, interacting, exploring, and just having fun together. Basically, even though we’re there to take pictures, we need to just let kids act like kids. That is always achievable, and having that expectation up front really reduces the pressure on parents, and as a result, reduces the pressure parents put on kids to behave a certain way.
Incentives (. . . aka bribes) are perfectly acceptable.
Little kids can’t go long without drinks or snacks, so it’s always great to have these on hand. And it’s great to have snacks or toys on hand to reward toddlers for a job well done, or even just to get them to focus for thirty seconds, long enough to get that one everyone-smiling portrait. I’ve also found that, for slightly older children, having a special treat planned for after the photo shoot (like heading to the playground or going out to eat at a favorite restaurant) gives them something to look forward to if they’re feeling antsy.
Don’t forget a change of clothes!
These are all things that have happened during portrait sessions I’ve shot: food or drink spilling down shirts, babies spitting up on themselves or parents, toddlers having potty accidents, kids falling into water/mud, grass staining knees, diaper blowouts, clothes tearing. The likelihood of these things happening goes up exponentially in inverse proportion with a child’s age! So be sure to have a change of clothes on hand for kids (and it’s not a bad idea for parents, too), and be sure that change of clothes coordinates with your other outfits.Remember that kids take their cues from the adults’ attitudes.
No matter what happens, try to stay calm, positive, and happy. I promise I will! The kids will (likely) respond in kind. And no matter what happens, we will get some gorgeous photographs of your family. Rest assured that, whatever your kids do or whatever happens, it’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, and it won’t matter in the long run. What is important is capturing your family just as you are, beautifully — and we will.