Every year, usually in the fall, families of all shapes and sizes seek one thing: the perfect family photo. The family portrait experience usually proves to be stressful no matter how large or small your family is or how old your kids are, human or fur notwithstanding. The family photo experience should be an opportunity to make memories as a family; the photos will likely hang on your walls and be on display at home for years to come. But how can you create a fun family photo experience? Is that even possible with two under two?!?! How can you make the family photo experience more fun and less stressful? Here are my top five tips for fun family photos.
1. Lower your expectations
My number one tip for fun family photos is to lower your expectations, especially if you have small children (usually five and under). If you go into the session with high expectations that your session will be the epitome of every family photo session you’ve seen on Pinterest, you are doing a disservice to yourself, your family and your photographer.
I know everyone wants THE family portrait of everyone smiling into the camera perfectly posed, but sometimes with small kids, it just doesn’t happen that way or it takes longer to get to that “smile say cheese” moment. Trusting that you’ll come out of the session with good images (maybe not Pinterest perfection on a rough kid day – but still good).
2. Maintain a positive attitude
Kids are so smart and really pick up on our attitudes. It can be so difficult to not be embarrassed if your child is acting out or misbehaving in a big way. Keeping your cool and maintaining a positive approach can keep the tears (hopefully) at bay.
Sometimes the best photos are taken when you let everyone just be themselves. This means not constantly nit-picking your partner (kids pick up on the negative energy) or fighting your kids. Patience and positivity can go a long way. Giving a negative reaction is exactly what your toddler might be looking for – don’t give it to them. Re-direct, play, and praise good behaviors (even if they’re small).
3. prep, prep, prep!
One of the key things you can do to optimize your chances of a successful session is to prep your kids. Often a photo session is a new experience; I am a stranger to them and it can feel threatening or scary. Prepping your child by going through exactly what will happen at the session (First you’ll put on a special outfit; we will drive to the woods where we’ll meet a lady with a camera like mommy’s phone; then we’ll get to take a short walk where we can look at all the colorful trees; then we get to play a game; then we’ll have a tickle fight; it’ll be really fast and fun!). It sounds silly but for toddlers, it can really work to over-prepare them for what’s about to happen.
Being upbeat the day of, playing fun music on the way to the session, and creating any positive association to the session is ideal! Bringing a special toy that gets attention or provides comfort is a good idea too.
4. bribes are okay
There is no judgement in rewarding your kid via bribe. Bribes are a thing because they work! I’m not here to judge your bribe and I encourage it if it will get your child to even somewhat cooperate with simple direction (hug mommy, walk with dad, etc.). If your child is more easy-going, save the bribe for a clutch moment if needed. Stick it in the purse in your car and pull out if needed. If you child is stubborn or shy, it can be good to promise the bribe during the prep phase (i.e. if you follow the directions, you’ll get an ice cream cone on the way home).
What should you bribe with? Usually something they don’t get every day. Something special works well, whether that’s an experience, toy, candy, food, etc. Just make sure you follow through if you promise it. Bribes work on older children as well (and honestly adults too – aren’t you motivated by some form of bribing yourself?).
5. Trust Your Photographer
Though it’s rare to end a session (even a chaotic one at that) without any good images, at the conclusion of the session, it may feel like you got NOTHING. While you were busy worrying about your children’s behavior and concerned about your outfit and if your partner is smirking instead of smiling, your photographer was snapping away — looking for those moments you probably missed in your worry. With little ones, I snap so many images because they are usually on the move! In a lifestyle session, it can feel like a lot, but I’ve never come home with absolutely NOTHING to show for it (even if the family tested my patience beyond measures).
One of the most important tips for fun family photos is to really leave it to the photographer to deliver images that reflect your family. Take your photographer’s suggestions seriously and listen to their advice! Though you know your family best, they know what they’re doing. When they step back and let you play with your kids, know that they’re capturing some moments that are truly fleeting. How often do we get to capture that interaction as parents? One day those will be the images you cherish, even if the “smile say cheese” photo is the one that ends up on the holiday cards and over your mantle.
Hire a photographer with patience and kindness. Listen to their advice on length of session (depends on your children), time of day (mornings honestly almost always are best for younger kids) or location (limited walking, open spaces, and NO playgrounds). And please don’t schedule your session in the middle of what should be nap time — even if you want the most perfect golden hour. It’s not worth it parents!
Five Tips for fun family photos wrap up
Throughout your parenthood journey, if you take at least yearly family photos, there will be sessions that end in what feels like disaster. You may not get the “perfect” photo out of these. And that’s okay. That’s why we lower our expectations and meet our children where they are. Kids have their days just like we do, they just don’t have the emotional capacity and practice at coping. Keep trying and keep exposing them to photo sessions and eventually they’ll grow to have fun! I’ve watched shy children blossom over the years and each session, they get better and better in front of the camera.
Don’t let one crying toddler meltdown ruin your view of family photos. Fun family photos are possible, but they take practice!