How to Survive Family Photos with Young Kids

October 29, 2019

Photo Credit: Libby Hilf Photography

Referencing her family photos with a one year old and almost three year old my sister just texted me “all that outfit planning – then you realize it doesn’t even matter when everyone is miserable.  Better luck next year.” Are there any moms out there who have not felt this same way after a family photo shoot?

The Quest for the Perfect Photos

As you scroll through Facebook or peruse Christmas cards you see all your friends families smiling happily in idyllic settings – and you think I can’t wait to take our family photos.  You spend hours finding the perfect outfits for every member of your family.  You research local parks and other unique settings so that you too can have that perfect “wow” family portrait. And then reality hits you every time on the morning of the photo shoot.

There are so many obstacles that need to be overcome.  All I can say is “Thank goodness” for quality family photographers.  They are so talented and seem to possess some sort of magical ability to take what seems like a ruined day and turn it into a beautiful photo.  Granted, every time you see the photo you will remember screaming like a maniac at your unruly children.  So, before you book that session here is a recap of some disasters we have had on photo morning.

The Husband

He is often the biggest stressor leading up to photos.  He complains, he “jokingly” complains about wasting a Saturday morning and money on yet another set of photos.  This is your project so he hasn’t helped coordinate anything and is just about helpless getting the children ready.  You are lucky if he can dress himself.  Mine can’t. But I will say as the day progresses he often rallies and is the one who calms me down when the little people become monsters

The Photo Shoot Morning Injury

This is the morning your adorable 2 year old daughter will fall down the steps and bust open her lip.  Even better if she does it right before the photos and gets blood on her dress.  The only dress you have for this photo shoot because you are doing it on vacation with extended family.

Photo Credit: Chris Lang Photography

The Clingy Child

This is the child who will not let go of mom.  You will get amazing photos of this child with her mother – but no one else.  My daughter was so clingy that when she was the flower girl in my sister’s wedding we had to take all the photos with me pretending to be my sister – and then they photo shopped the bride in.  We laugh when we see those photos now pretending to be authentic wedding photos!  We also have family photos of her holding a Minnie Mouse doll because that was the only thing that could substitute for mom.  I actually love those photos now.

Photo Credit: Libby Hilf Photography

The Overwhelmed Child

All of my children look like they are being tortured in their first birthday photos.  My daughter is screaming her head off when she should be eating cake.  My son wouldn’t crack a smile.  I had such visions for those photo shoots – bought cute outfits and accessories on etsy – and nothing.  The kids were so overwhelmed that I got nothing resembling those adorable babies on pinterest.

The Jealous Child

My son – who has never willing cooperated with a photo shoot in all his seven years didn’t want to be in photos when he was two.  But also didn’t want his brother in the photos and shoved his six month old brother off a park bench because he was mad he was sharing the photographer’s attention.

The Completely Uncooperative Child

When my oldest was four he basically refused to be in our family photos – we have a couple that include him but you can easily tell that he is wriggling out of my death grip.  I was ready to kill him that day.  I do not possess the ability to go with the flow when all I am asking is for him to sit quietly and smile for 30 seconds. I just don’t understand what is so hard about sitting still for a picture. But until they are old enough to bribe that is reality with some kids.

Photo Credit: Chris Lang Photography

The Runner

This is the kid who runs away from the photo once it has been posed – or just runs away if he’s not in the photo – also my son. This child exhausts you and makes you look like a crazed maniac in photos because your eyes are constantly on him. By the end of the photo shoot you think it might not be so bad if he would just keep running!

Photo Credit: Chris Lang Photography

There’s more but I think I’ve covered enough scenarios.  It’s amazing that I still attempt family photos every year.  I really haven’t calmed down – I get so frustrated when the kids just won’t cooperate but I’ve done this enough times to know that I will get some good photos.  Our photographers have always been amazing – they can get the kids to relax better than I can, they snap photos when the kids aren’t paying attention and they distract them so well.  Those candid photos are the ones I actually love the most.  But I really do want one family photo every year – and this is the one I stress over.

Other than having an amazing photographer I have learned a few tricks along the way that I’d like to share with you to help make your next photo session a better experience.

Tips to Improve your Photo Shoot

Always Feed the Kids Before the Photo Shoot

Hungry children are miserable and not cooperative.

Schedule Photos around Naptime

If your kids still nap – work around nap time.  If your kids are grumpy in the afternoon – take photos in the morning.  The golden hour of sunlight isn’t that important.  It’s much more important to have happy children.

Give Control to the Photographer

Let the photographer work her magic.  Let her distract the kids and try to get them to smile.  If three people are yelling at them from different directions their eyes are going to look all wonky. Plus, the photographer is a “new” person so my kids will listen better to her than me.

Smarties are the Perfect Bribe

Bring smarties as a bribe.  They are candy and children love candy – but they won’t stain their clothes or teeth.  And one tube of smarties goes a long way.

Share your Expectations with the Kids

Have a discussion with older kids before the photo shoot.  Let them know how important these photos are to you. Once my kids understood this they were more cooperative because they wanted to please me. I know it’s bribery but I also tell my kids that they can earn something they’ve been saving for by cooperating with the photographer.

Comfort is Key

Make sure their outfits are comfortable.  No matter how cute they are – shoes that pinch are going to make for a miserable child.  I have had to cut tags out of shirts and change outfits at the last minute to keep my kids happy. And it is totally worth it.

Always have Back-Up Outfits

Have a back-up outfit for each kid that works with your overall color scheme.  If you are dealing with babies and spit up – you might want a second outfit for yourself too!

Pay Attention to Details

If you have little kids do yourself a favor and make sure you get your nails done.  Every time I look at my sons newborn photos I see my messy post-partum nails.  Photographers get lots of close ups of your hands when you are holding a baby.

Talk to Your Photographer

Talk to your photographer before the shoot.  Let her know what type of photos you are looking for and give her a heads up if you think you have a problematic child.

Avoid Mini-Sessions

If your kids aren’t cooperative don’t do mini-sessions.  There isn’t enough time for a photographer to get the kids to relax and take great candid photos.


Try to relax.  I’m working on this one.  Try to have fun with it.  It’s only a couple hours – you are stressed, the kids are stressed.  It’s a rough day but you need to trust that your photographer can work her magic.  You don’t want to look like a stressed out hag in the photos!

Don’t Fight with your Spouse

When I get stressed out I tend to lash out at my husband.  It’s not his fault the kids are being crazy.  Plus, you are the one that wanted the photos.  This past year my husband surprised me by asking the photographer to take a series of photos of just us as a couple.  Maybe he does care about the photos – just a little!

Photo Credit: Libby Hilf Photography

Previous Post
Next Post

You Might Also Like

No Comments

Leave a Reply