I get it; you're browsing through Instagram and see all these cute portraits of kids smiling, having fun, and kissing mom. You want those memories too! Your kids are growing up too fast, maybe your daughter is about to lose her first tooth, and you want to remember that little face when she was 5 years old.
Yet, every time you try to take a photo of your kids, you get a fake smile, or the picture doesn't do justice to the memory you want to have for years to come. No worries! Let me tell you a few tricks we photographers master that will get your kids to smile at the camera and give that big laugh you dream about!
Why Are Children Hard to Photograph?
Remember that it is you who wants the memory of your little bundle of joy chasing her sister while playing outside. Your kids are busy having fun, when we -as moms - interrupt the moment to click our phones/cameras we will probably break the sweet connection we craved to document.
Ironically, I don't think any photographer would say that children are hard to photograph. The difference is that these are not our kids (ha!), and that makes all the difference.
Why? Because we know — because we do — that one way or the other, we will capture that sweet smile. Some kids are shy, and that's OK, others are extroverts, and that's OK too. We have tons of tricks handy but before we use them we read your kid, we understand what makes the kids tic, and then we adapt our approach. We'll get them in the happy zone; for hyperactive kids, it might be chasing them playing hide and seek; for introverts, it might be picking flowers or seeing who can jump the highest.
I LOVE not knowing the children I'll meet, it's a fascinating journey to win them over. When the photographer gets the kid, magic happens. The kids open their hearts, and adorable candid moments start to flow.
Photographing teens is a whole different experience, to win them over the toolkit adapts. It's learning about who they are, what they like to do. You'll be surprised at how many teens smile back, and breathtaking moments are captured for life. Parents are delighted to see those portraits, that's the absolute best feeling. You can't fake happiness when teens feel in control and in their zone moments flow too. All in all, the critical approach is to improve your teen's self-esteem. At that moment, hugs happen, smiles take place, and even a walk holding hands with mom becomes a fun game.
Ultimately, regardless of your child's age, not standing still is actually a good thing in a family photo session. I believe in moving around, playing, hugging, and just enjoying your time together. When you forget there is a camera and start talking to your photographer about life embracing the 'chaos', those real candid, raw moments are unstoppable. The magic happens, and we capture it!
What Can You Do to Help Your Kids Before And During The Session?
- Explain why this is important and get them excited, kids love to participate in family decisions. They get super happy even when you're deciding where to go for dinner. In this case, you won't ask them which photographer they like the most, but you can explain why having memories to cherish when you're old is so important. Maybe get them involved in the location picking? If spring in Boston ~ should we do our session in cherry blossom land at The Arboretum or with the tulips in the Public Garden? Or maybe have them pick their wardrobe; to make sure it's aligned with what you want, see this slideshow of outfit ideas for our family photos in Spring! And make sure to download my Guide of Spring Photos Outfit Ideas.
- Explain what's going to happen. Always a good idea to share the photographer's name. For toddlers, I've been Miss Andre for years (I love it!). You can also set the expectations for the location and duration of the session.
- Use your kids' timings. Schedule your session around your kids' schedule. Take nap time and feeding time into consideration. You know when your kids are in their best mood. A family who just did a Fall 8am morning session rebooked for a summer sunset session in 2020 :)
- Reassurances. For little ones knowing that you won't leave their side is so important. You can explain that in the session, you will play, run, and have fun together! ~ don't worry, you'll have portraits of your little one by himself :)
- What about Session Day? Stay calm and go with the flow! The magic will happen, don't rush it.
- Positive reinforcements are key, don't force your kids to change behavior. Celebrate the wins and let the photographer win your kid over. Unless they are in physical danger, let them explore, hike, run, and splash. You might see this behavior as trouble, a photographer sees those moments as GOLD!
- Games and role-playing, I can't enforce this more ~ play with your kids! Unless you're in a studio setting, all lifestyle sessions reach their peak when candid moments are taking place. If you're having fun, your kids will be happy. They mirror your happy mood and/or anxiety.
- Avoid negative punishments. As a mom, I know it is hard to not get mad when the little angels are not so angelical yet breath, walk away, and let the photographer takeover.
Ideas for Breaking The Ice on Session Day
- Snacks and games. For little ones, it is always a good idea to bring food. Snacks can go a long way when kids need a break. No worries, they won't get dirty eating, and if they do, there is no harm. Happy belly, happy smiles!
- Rewards. Ice cream afterward never fails! Having something to look forward to might help you keep the momentum going ~ yay for your favorite dessert!
If you get into a massive fight with your kids and challenge horrific punishments (the list might be running in your brain at the speed of light), your kid's mood will touch the underground. I've watched it happen. Getting him/her out of there might consume the entire photo session. Let it fly and let it go, embrace the free spirit that lives DEEP inside your heart, and keep the family mood up.
Woes Will Happen, So Embrace The Moment
I promise that with babies and toddlers, it's a question of when not if. Crying and tantrums will happen, and that's 100% OK and expected. The photographer won't take it personally, he/she won't be intimidated by it (we've seen it all), and we know how to work with what we get. Your gallery will look stunning, you'll be surprised by how the photographer could capture such breathtaking moments on such a messy or 'chaotic' afternoon.
Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the times, the usual woes will transform into adorable moments. Since 2013, I've only had to offer a retake session to one family whose kid wasn't having it. The parents couldn't get the little one to feel OK, he was overwhelmed and sad.
I'm a Mom too, and the empathy I felt with those parents — who were doing the unimaginable to make him happy — was huge. For me, you must walk with a smile after enjoying our time together. We called it a day and met again two weeks later. For that family, the retake was a hit, and the family portraits unforgettable.