7 Tips For Portrait Sessions With Kids

One of the most stressful parts about planning for a family portrait session is getting your kids prepared. As mothers, our first concern is always “What if my kids misbehave?” I hear it time and time again from moms when we’re planning portrait sessions for their families.

I totally get it. A portrait session is a big investment, and you want to be sure the images will turn out beautifully. And this often means making sure your kids follow directions and are cooperative with your photographer! Fortunately, there are some simple tips you can follow to make your portrait session a breeze. By following them, not only will your portraits come out stunning, but your session will be fun and stress-free for the whole family.

Whether you choose to book me as your photographer or not, I want to give you these seven tips to help you set your kids up for a successful portrait session. I have worked with children of all ages, and I have found that these tips work well with all types of kids.

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1. Get Your Kids Excited, But Don’t Make Them Nervous

It’s a good idea to tell your kids about your session a day or two in advance, so they are not surprised by it. Depending on their ages, they may not understand what getting their photograph taken means. So try to explain it in an age-appropriate way. Let them know how much fun they will have and how special the photos will be.

Try not to make your kids nervous about your session. Avoid telling them things like “You have to smile really big!” or “I need you to be a really good girl!” These things might make them anxious. Instead of making the session sound like something they have to do, tell them how much they are going to love it. If they think this is just a fun trip to the park to meet Mommy’s new photographer friend, they’ll be more relaxed and less likely to get upset.

2. Expect the Unexpected

Kids are unpredictable. Especially kids under the age of 5. Even if you tell them about the session in advance, it’s still going to be a whole new experience for them. I often hear parents say “He’s never this shy” or “I don’t know why she’s so hyper today.” Every child has his or her own way of reacting to new situations, but I’m here to tell you that this is perfectly okay.

The best thing to do when this happens is to just go with it. If you try to tell your kids they are “doing it wrong,” they may get discouraged and become disengaged in the session. And we want this to be fun for them! As we go through your portrait session, they will get more and more comfortable and show off their true personalities.

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3. Make Sure Your Kids Are Well Rested and Have a Snack

Try to get your kids to take a good nap before your portrait session. We all know how cranky our kids can be when they’re tired (even if they won’t admit it!). So by making sure they’re well rested, you’ll set them up to be in a good mood. If your child has a regular nap schedule, consider scheduling your session right after their usual nap time.

Along with a good nap, you should also make sure your kids have a snack or meal before your session. You can help keep any crankiness at bay by making sure they are well fed and hydrated beforehand. Make sure you give them a mess-free snack and a drink of water (and don’t forget a potty run before leaving home!).

As a mom myself, I know my daughter can make a huge mess with even the most “mess-free” snacks. So don’t forget to pack a few wet wipes to clean any crumbs from their faces before your session. You might even want to consider bringing a change of clothes for your kids just in case.

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4. Don’t Be Cheesy

When someone points a camera at a child, what do they usually say? That’s right. They shout those two familiar words: “SAY CHEESE!” Well, I’m here to tell you that they’ve been doing it all wrong. If you want genuine, happy smiles, yelling “Say cheese!” at a child is not the way to get them.

I remember having picture day at school as a kid. When my mom would send me off to school, she would say, “Remember to use your real smile. And remember to smile really big!” When the picture finally came home, there I was gritting my teeth as hard as I could. It wasn’t that “real” smile my mother wanted. Instead, it was forced and cheesy.

So now that we’ve ruled out yelling “Say cheese!” and “Use your real smile!” as ways to get your kids to smile for portraits, I’ll tell you what actually works. The best way to get kids to smile naturally is to make them laugh.

Tell them a joke. Tickle them. Do a silly dance. In between their laughter, they’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

During my portrait sessions, I do whatever it takes to get your kids laughing. And I’m a little ashamed to admit this. But when all else fails, I pull out my secret weapon, which is—wait for it!—fart jokes. That’s right. There’s nothing kids love more than a good fart joke. It works every time!

5. Use Positive Reinforcement (a.k.a. Bribery!)

When used correctly, positive reinforcement can be very effective during your portrait session. By offering up an incentive, your child will be more likely to cooperate. Many of my clients have used incentives like playtime in the park, ice cream, or a favorite toy to play with on the car ride home after their session. When your child knows they’ll get the thing you promised after the session, they’ll be excited to participate.

Positive reinforcement usually works, but be careful not to let it backfire on you. This tip works well for kids 7 and older. But younger children will sometimes have a hard time waiting until the session is over and become frustrated when they don’t get what they want.

Try not to turn this into a negative. If your child isn’t responding to the incentive, threatening to take it away might make things worse. Remember, we want this to be fun for your kids, and if their prize is taken away, they’ll feel like they’re being punished.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I believe positive reinforcement is a parent’s choice, and I understand that this tactic may not be in line with everyone’s parenting styles. I only use positive reinforcement when I have discussed it with my clients and have received their permission before a session.

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6. Let Your Kids Be Themselves

For all of my clients, the main reason they choose to have a portrait session is to capture their kids just the way they are right now. They want to remember their little personalities and everything they love about them.

So if you only take one thing away from this guide, let it be this: Let your kids be themselves during your portrait session. Let everything you love about them shine through. If your little princess loves her ballerina tutu, bring it along so we can get a few shots of her twirling around in it. If your son loves playing superheroes with dad, let him pretend he’s saving the day. And if your kids want to make a silly face or two, let them! It will allow your kids to express themselves and enjoy the session.

7. Most of All, Have Fun!

Remember that, above all else, your portrait session should be fun! Not just for your children, but for you, too. If you are stressed and anxious, your children will sense it. This is a time for you to enjoy just being with your family. So relax and have a blast with the people you love the most.

As your photographer, my No. 1 job is to do whatever it takes to get beautiful portraits for you and your family. But I also want you to have the best experience possible during your session.

In addition to all of the tips listed above, I use a bunch of games and tricks to get your whole family excited and engaged. I am here to guide you and your children through your portrait session so you don’t have to stress over the details.

Your session is about connecting with your family and creating memories!