5 Ways to Get Kids to Smile during family photo sessions

Maybe I should preface this entire post with this disclaimer: I do not have children of my own. But I have been around a lot of children, I am not afraid of children, and once I even was a child myself. And as a child, I vividly remember my mother begging me to take a photo for her Christmas cards every year. And I remember how much I hated every second of it.

Now that I'm an adult who forces children who are not my own to smile for photos regularly, I have a little more insight from the other side of the camera. I know how hard it is to work with kids of all ages. Sometimes getting smiles is like pulling teeth.

Here are some of the ways I get kids to have fun during photo sessions:

1. Be absurd.

Photographing kids means not being afraid of embarrassing yourself in public. It's hard to get reactions from newborns and babies, especially since they can't really take direction yet. Most newborns can't even focus their own eyes (man, kids can't do anything for themselves these days. Millenials, amirite?)

But I've learned that the majority of kids LOVE sounds. The weirder, the better. Pretend you're a duck. Now pretend you're an airplane. Now make whatever sounds a squirrel makes. Now make a farting sound. Now pretend like you're a monkey. DANCE MONKEY, DANCE.

(Not a session with kids, but I keep it animated no matter what.)

2. Bring their favorite toy.

Distraction is the key with any kid under 4. If they have a favorite toy, let them play with it or hold it during the session. It brings an added sense of comfort, especially for shy kids.

3. Don't be afraid to take breaks.


Hanger is a real thing. This may be the most important tip of all time: make sure your kid is well rested and fed before the photo session. And bring snacks with you. It's OK to take 5 minutes to have a snack, or change an outfit. For a lot of kids, these tiny breaks do so much to help their mood and attention.

So if this means scheduling the photo session right after nap time, so be it. I'd much rather the kid be in a good mood than it be the right lighting situation. Photographers can always work around the light. Yes, some light is more desirable than others, but when it comes to photographing kids all bets are off. You worry about the time when your kid is happiest, let your photographer worry about the location and lighting.

Don't schedule the session right before dinner and hope your kids will be patient. They won't. 

4. Make poses into games.

If you have ever had a family session with me you know I'm down to play a mad game of peek-a-boo. Or, a sing along. Or I'll ask older kids to run up and squeeze mom or dad as tight as possibly can. Then I pretend to chase them. Then I tell everyone to take turns tickling each other. Then I tell them to dance. I SAID DANCE.

5. Be ok with imperfection.

I think this one is the number one thing parents worry about before photo sessions with their kids. It's a bigger concern than outfit choice (seriously). And I can't tell you how many sessions end with one parent saying to me, "I hope you at least got ONE good one!" (spoiler alert: I did).

Here are my promises: You are going to feel like your session was insane. You will literally feel like it was pure chaos and you will wonder how all the other parents get such well behaved children and why today was the day your angel baby chose to turn into Satan's minion. You will feel so many emotions, friend. But breathe. It's ok. A good family photographer should be able to get something wonderful, even if it's not everyone smiling and looking at the camera at the same time. 

I hope these tips help!