I often hear parents ask, “How should I prepare my children for their upcoming photo session?” and “What is the best way to keep kids happy and having fun for the entire length of the shoot?” I’ve put together a little list of do’s and don’ts for parents that can help make photo sessions for little ones a positive and fun experience that they’ll be eager to do again in the future.
DO make sure your child is well rested and well fed before the shoot.
We all know what happens when little ones are hungry or tired, or worse, both. This frame of mind can be almost impossible for kids to snap out of when it strikes, so plan accordingly. This is super important (and why it is first on the list).
DO make sure the time of day is a suitable time for your child.
This goes along with the first item on the list. If your child is cranky around 6pm every day, opt for a morning session instead. As a photographer, I’d much rather have a happy bubbly child, and work around imperfect light, than the other way around.
DO offer small “incentives” (aka bribes) if you need to.
It doesn’t have to be a Red Ryder BB gun or anything, but something small (like a scoop of ice cream after dinner) can be helpful to get them excited and through any rough patches.
DON’T have kids practice their smiles.
There is really no need to, and this could in turn make them nervous in front of the camera. Even a great practiced smile, is still a fake smile. Instead….
DO be prepared to embarrass yourself and do what it takes to make the little ones laugh.
Singing and dancing and being especially silly right behind your photographer can make really wonderful natural smiles happen. This is what you want. This is the true spirit that you see in your children on an every day basis, and this is what you want captured in a photograph. Am I right?
DO dress them for the occasion.
More on this in an upcoming blog, but my favorite outfits are lightly colored, not a lot of pattern, and if they are being photographed with siblings, the outfits shouldn’t clash with each other. They definitely don’t have to be matchy matchy (personally I prefer it this way), but just as long as they correlate well when you look at them as a whole. Remember the details and don’t forget about the shoes! BUT….
DON’T make a child wear something that they totally hate.
I have a very picky 3 year old when it comes to her clothing. If I put her in something that she does not want to wear, she is a total nightmare. Even if I can get it on her (think trying to dress an angry cat with opposable thumbs), she will not eventually forget about it, and the ugly scene never ends. Let it go and pick something that will work for both of you. If you child is anything like mine, this is probably a good idea to work this out before the day of the shoot.
DO let the photographer take charge.
We’ve all seen our own children show certain unsavory behaviors with us, then melt into perfect, sweet, little law abiding citizens when in the direction of someone not as familiar. Use this to your advantage and let the photographer direct the child.
Parents can be super helpful during a shoot, but also remember that the best portraits happen when there is a connection with the camera. The less voices there are coming from all directions, the more chance the child will allow these connections to happen. Giving the photographer and child the space to let those little moments occur can make magic happen in the photos.
We all know the feeling of vulnerability when someone is taking our photo, now put yourself in their shoes and imagine multiple people directing you all at once, sometimes in different ways. You get the idea…
DON’T get frustrated with your child.
This is really important and why I saved it for last. Kids are kids, and they like to play, investigate everything, and are so curious about the world around them. Remember that asking them to focus for 30 minutes to an hour on taking photos is a tremendous task for them and shouldn’t be discounted as something that should be easy. Your photographer knows this, and likely has many tricks up their sleeve to help redirect attention and guide your child through.
Even if you feel yourself getting heated because your child wants to play, or won’t sit in a certain spot, do NOT let them see your frustration. Doing that is simply a quick way to sour the mood of a shoot. Trust me when I say that your photographer is not in the slightest bit feeling the same frustration that you are feeling as a parent. This is totally a normal and part of photographing children. Take a deep breath and keep it positive. (Then have a glass of wine afterwards if you need to.)
If kids weren’t kids, capturing their wondrous little souls in a photo would be far less magical.