Tips for Little Ones

Let's be honest, kids can be...well, difficult. No matter how perfectly you prepare and parent, they can choose the absolute worst time to throw an Oscar-worthy tantrum. Portrait sessions are prime real estate for one of those grand performances. The good news though, is there are some tricks to tip the cooperative kiddo odds more in your favor.

This angry little dude is my oldest when he was 2. Trust me, no child hates portraits more than a photographer's kid.

Before we get to the "goods", I just want you to know that an unruly, grumpy, or uncooperative kiddo at a session is absolutely and completely NORMAL. It happens at almost every single session. Seriously. It's something I expect and am prepared for, so don't stress! In fact, that's the first tip....

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Children feed off their parents' energy. If you're stressed and moody, the kids will be stressed and moody. Even if you really are stressed, make sure to keep the atmosphere light and happy on the way to the session. Stay calm. Stay positive. Show excitement. During the session, if they do refuse to smile or cooperative, how you react to that will majorly affect whether or not they bounce back. It doesn't matter what I do, they will get their final cues from YOU. Be calm. Stay positive. And never let them feel like you are upset with them. Positive reinforcement goes a long way here.

when all else fails, bribe

Sometimes, nothing beats a good old fashioned bribe. It's not a trick we pull out of the hat immediately, but it's always handy to have at the ready. While you can promise something to be fulfilled later (such as "We'll go get ice cream if you smile!"), having something actually on-hand for instant gratification is often the most effective. Candy is probably the most popular bribe. Make it something they love, but don't get to have very often. That way it becomes more motivating and special versus being something they can just as easily get tomorrow with no effort. Inexpensive toys from Wal-Mart or the dollar store are another great option. Pick something up before the session and bring it with you as a reward for a job well done. Just make sure you keep it hidden in the car until it's needed.

bring something from home

For those too young for bribes, bringing along a favorite or attention grabbing toy they already own can be a big help. I do have my own little smile snatcher (his name is Mr. Giggles), but sometimes a familiar toy works better. I also recommend bringing something that you don't mind them being photographed with (a stylish stuffed animal, perhaps), just in case, as sometimes the toys do make it into the image.

Go with the flow

This one kind of goes back to what we said in the beginning about staying calm and relaxed. Most kids don't pose. They just don't. They aren't made to sit still and perfect. After over a decade of working with littles (and having to wild ones of my own), I've learned to tell very quickly wether or not a child will do a certain pose. If it's not working, we move on to something else. I never want to push a child to do something they just do not want to do. They will get upset and then we have the added struggle of bringing them back to calm. Often times with less-than-cooperative kiddos, I will just let them take the lead. I let them run and play, engage with them, let them throw sticks at me, and show me what they want to do. This usually creates unique candid images with genuine expressions that are even better than whatever pose we originally had planned. The real keys to a smooth session with kids are to stay calm, manage your expectations, and be flexible. No worries mama, we got this!

*Bonus Tip* dealing with dads

You know who is actually the most uncooperative when it comes to family portraits? It's almost always Dad. Most men would rather be doing anything else instead of having family portraits taken (many let me know as much immediately upon arrival). But Dad loves Mom, so he puts on the uncomfortable clothes and does his part. There are a couple things you can do to make things a little easier on him:

  1. Don't make him do multiple outfit changes. If you do want to do a different outfit, put Dad in a neutral color from the start. That way the rest of the family can change if necessary, but he doesn't have to.
  2. Show appreciation. Let him know how much these portraits mean to you and thank him for taking the time to make them happen. A little bribery might be required here too.
  3. Turn it into family bonding time. Go grab a family dinner or movie after your session. Or, if you are all dressed up, take the kids to a babysitter and have a date night. A little fun after the "work" can be a great reward for cooperation and time.