5 Tips for Surviving Family Photos With a Toddler

I’m a mom of three young kids. Although I believe that my children are ridiculously adorable..we haven’t braved a family photo session more than a handful of times.

Why? Because photo sessions with little ones can be a little chaotic—what with irrational tantrums, running after toddlers, and puffy-eyed, tear-stained little faces… My husband and I find ourselves so frustrated and disappointed that it didn’t go well, we just want to skip it altogether in favor of candid cell phone pics.

But what I realize again and again is that, despite the chaos, there is so much love in those tear-stained photographs. This must be why they say, “The days are long but the years are short.”

Those real moments…this stage of life…that’s what we should be trying to capture. This is the stuff memories are made of. Don’t feel pressured by the perfect images you see on social media. Capture your family, their personalities, and ages and I promise one day you’ll be thrilled to see that little stubborn face on your toddler versus a canned smile.

Having said that, it’s possible that with a little planning, your next family photo session could go quite well.

I know a local photographer who specializes in lifestyle photography, and she’s kind of nailing the elusive “perfect family photo” for many families in the area. On her website, she offers several great tips for a successful family photo shoot.

Surviving Family Photos With a Toddler

The following is shared with permission from Rebecca Rice Photography.

I know what you’re all thinking… “Family photos with a toddler? We’ll be lucky to get them to be still, let alone smile!”

Although these sessions tend to be more “exciting” than your typical photo session, it definitely can be done! I’ve had my fair share of family sessions with toddlers of all types of temperaments. The shy ones, the criers, the wild and spunky ones, you name it! And every time we managed to capture some priceless moments that the families adored.

I want to offer you some tips that I’ve gathered to help you have the most successful family photo session you can with your little ones. Here we go!

Take Away the Complaints

Parents, this one is on you! The number one way you can ensure a smooth family portrait session is to take away the complaints. Just remember this: Rested – Fed – Comfortable. If your toddler is well-rested with a full belly and in clothes that they’re comfortable in, you’re off to a great start! Work with your photographer to find the best time for your child, and do your best to work around typical nap times. I’ve found that mornings often work best for little ones.

Try to feed them right before your session. If they have a full belly, they’ll be far less likely to complain that they’re hungry! (Still, bring along some extra snacks and juice just in case.)

As for comfort, I know that sometimes toddlers go a little crazy… Something that is just fine one day is the most terrible and restricting outfit they’ve ever worn the next day. Try to stay flexible and maybe pick out a couple of outfits that would work with your color scheme so you have a backup plan if one outfit just won’t do.

When you take away as many potential complaints before you arrive, odds are things will go a lot smoother and your child will have a great time!

Get Them Comfortable with the Camera

Don’t worry, this one’s on me! When you first arrive, I’ll do my best to get your child comfortable with my camera. Odds are they’ve never seen a DSLR camera before. To them, it could look like this big, scary thing around my neck that we keep telling them to smile at!

I’ll let them look at it up close, take a few photos of them and show them the back of the camera so they can see that it’s just like your iPhone, only a bit bigger. Usually, once they understand what my camera is and that it isn’t something to be scared of, they relax very quickly.

Follow Their Lead

This is where the adventure begins! I’ll have several spots in mind at your chosen location, but sometimes we need to let the toddler call the shots. If they don’t want to smile in the field but they’re just fine smiling by the fountain, to the fountain we go!

I once had a little boy who was very upset when we tried to pose he and his brothers in front of a barn door. When we mentioned the train behind the barn, his little face lit up! He loved trains and was so excited to take photos next to the boxcar.

I always look for beautiful lighting first, so I’ll throw out several suggestions of places I see that would work and learn which one captivates your toddler. Most of the time at least one of my suggestions sounds interesting to them (because they really just want to feel like they have a bit of control in the situation).

Offer a Reward

Rewards work great for young kids. If your child isn’t too excited about taking pictures, offer a small reward if they behave well for the session. A trip to get ice cream, playtime at the park, whatever it is that your child loves to do. It helps if it’s something reserved for special occasions so they feel like it’s a big deal. If they start to get fussy, remind them throughout the session of their reward and how close they are to earning it! That will help keep them on track. The faster they’ll smile for great photos, the sooner they get their treat!

If All Else Fails…Bribe!

This one is key! If nothing else has worked and your toddler still won’t cooperate, have some kind of candy or snack to on-hand as a bribe. Sometimes earning a reward is too far off for them and they need something more immediate. Even if that means for every smile they give me they get an M&M…do what you have to do!

I had a little girl once that wasn’t excited at all to have her picture taken. It was surprising how quickly she perked up when she knew every time she took a good picture she’d receive a gummy! Suddenly we got lots of great smiles, and she started to have fun. Just bring a secret stash of bribe food and wait to bring it out until you’ve tried everything else.

‘Mommy and Me’ Photo Session, Rebecca Rice Photography

Don’t stress! Your family portrait session will be just fine. Just be flexible, trust your photographer to get the shots, and enjoy this special time you’ll have with your family. I’m confident that we’ll capture moments that you’ll treasure forever!

Learn more about Rebecca Rice Photography here and connect with her socially on Instagram and Facebook.

“I can’t wait to meet you and serve your families!” ~ Rebecca

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