The other day a mom of young kids asked me if I dislike photographing families with toddlers and small children since they can be high energy (..her word was “insane”).
So I want to take a minute and assure every single parent of toddlers and small children that I LOVE photographing your family and kids and you’re not alone if (when) your child loses it! I’ve never had a shoot with littles where someone didn’t have at least a minor outburst and usually it’s a full blown meltdown. Because of that, here are a few thoughts for all the parents who are nervous that their kid might misbehave.
Your kids will have a meltdown. Just expect it.
Photos can be a lot for everyone and it’s totally normal for younger kids to be confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. After all, they’re often being thrown into clothing they don’t like, in a place they don’t know, with a stranger in their face. You’re not the only family whose child just doesn’t want to cooperate.
That being said, there are definitely steps I take on my own and we can take together to minimize meltdowns.
Get excited! (and stop telling your kids to smile *please*)
Before the shoot, start talking positively about getting photos taken, about me, and about playing games as a family. We’ll spend a lot of time getting their wiggles out and playing with them, so get them excited about it! I’d much rather walk into a shoot with children who expect to be running around and playing than kids who have been told repeatedly that they need to smile for the camera. A really good sign is when your kids are jumping out of the car ready to play games.
2. Wait on the bribes
For real. Do not walk into the shoot with them expecting an incentive. Save it for later during the photos when we *start* to lose them partway through and then pull it out as a special surprise. “You guys are doing SO well. I think if we all keep listening we can ____!” (…go to Grandma’s house after/get ice cream/go to the park/etc.)
3. Your kids are emotional sponges. Stay upbeat.
This is not worth stressing yourself out over :) Everyone showing up in the pajamas they’ve been wearing for the past three days and happy is better than arriving in perfectly coordinated outfits and miserable (there’s a happy medium but you get the idea). Plan plenty of time to get everyone prepped and out the door so you’re not stressing yourself and the kids out. Turn on happy music on the way to your session. Try not to over schedule your day so you don’t feel rushed. If possible, everyone (mom included!) should try and take a quick rest before your shoot.
4. Everyone take a deep breath
When the first signs of a meltdown start appearing, the best step is to take a deep breath and distract instead of discipline. Sometimes being firm works, but during this brief time, it’s often better to first try and divert their attention if possible. The cooperating kids and grownups may take a step away and give the overwhelmed child/children a chance to readjust without everyone in their face. I’ll often take this opportunity to get a couple pictures of mom and dad in an area where we can keep an eye on the toddler/s but they don’t feel the pressure of having a camera on them. Snack time is also encouraged :)
5. Pick comfortable clothing
Familiarity can help minimize the stress that shoots can be. If they are being asked to wear clothes that are scratchy, tight, or fussy it can add to their frustration. Try and pick outfits that you know they already like or that they probably will like. In that same vein, pick your battles. Any other day, your parenting style may be more firm, but when it comes to your small children wearing shoes, hairbows, ties, or a totally different outfit, consider ceding this battle in order to keep everyone in an upbeat mood. Would you rather be chasing them around frustrated trying to get the accessories just right or allowing a little wiggle room so no one is in a puddle of tears when you arrive to your session?
6. Consider having your shoot at or outside your home
There are so many benefits to shooting at home with toddlers: accessibility to a bathroom, clothes to change into if they make a mess of their outfit, toys they love, and snacks. They’ll be in a familiar environment and you’ll be sure of their safety if they take off running.
7. Give me some space
I have plenty of experience photographing kids who really don’t want their photo taken. Usually it’s best when family members aren’t standing over my shoulder telling kids to smile or look at the camera. If I need that, I will totally ask for you to jump in and get them looking in the right direction, but sometimes they just need a minute to get oriented. Plus, this is a great opportunity to get some candid photos of your child.
8. Stop paparazzi-ing your kids
If there is one thing that tends to ruin kids for family sessions, it’s cell phones and cameras constantly in their face. This ESPECIALLY applies when you ask your kids to stop what they’re doing to smile for the camera. Your toddler/child may be reading quietly, playing sweetly with a friend, ready to jump in the pool and are asked to stop and smile. That’s a super quick way to create resentment in kids towards the camera. Instead, practice taking photos of your children in action and ask the people who frequently care for your kids to do the same (I’m speaking pretty directly about grandmas and caretakers who may love the idea of having lots of photos of the kids but aren’t familiar with the idea of “candid” ;) The camera to this generation of kids isn’t a way to save memories but something that constantly gets in between them and their real life playing and creating.
Finally, let your expectations go
At least while kids are young, family shoots take on a life of their own. Having high expectations of your toddler gently leaning against you as your preschooler sits quietly on their own and everyone is smiling just so is totally unrealistic. It’s gonna be a little crazy. Lean into it. If every single child wants to sit on your lap, we’ll work with it. If they all want to run as far away as possible, that’s cool too because we’re photographing personalities not mannequins.