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Tips for Preventing Uncooperative Children During Family Photos

You all have the perfect outfit, color coordinated to the "T" in a gorgeous outdoor location with perfect weather. Suddenly, your toddler isn’t having any of it. They won’t sit still, stand still or even smile. Ohh if only they could smile, just once to make the session worth it. But…it doesn’t happen. They end up throwing a fit and you’re thinking about throwing in the towel and calling it a day.

But wait! It doesn’t have to be that way!

This could possibly be a parent’s worst nightmare walking into family photo shoot day. No matter how hard you may try, kids are (inevitably) unpredictable. Trust me, there are plenty of parents who dread something like this happening, just know that you’re not alone. There’s a lot you can do to make your family photo shoot day work in your favor and get those amazing photos you’ll love.


I wrote a post on this and if you’re interested in going a bit more in detail of why I love to shoot outside, here’s the link to the blog post.

It can be a struggle when you have kids who are energetic or even kids who get distracted easily and want to move on to the next thing. What better way to capture candid moments than to take photos outside! Most children engage well with their surroundings and in doing so, more candid moments between children and their parents can be captured. When you give kids the opportunity to be carefree outdoors, the less likely you’ll have an upset child on the verge of tears. Allow them to engage with their surroundings and engage in the surrounding with them.


I think this goes for everyone- adults and kids alike. When we don’t get enough sleep or don’t get enough food, we get cranky. Tired and hungry is a terrible combination, especially for kids. If the destination to the shoot is far away, be sure to have snacks on hand in the car (and more snacks during a potential mid-photo session break! We’ll get to this later).

Also try not to schedule photo sessions during nap times, especially when the session is a full hour. You may get away during mini sessions, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If their nap schedule can be inconsistent, I would highly recommend keeping it consistent for the next few days leading up to shoot day. When kids are up late and/or they’re not getting enough sleep, this can affect their sleep habits and patterns even days after. So, consistency is key. If kids can nap fully in the car, that’s better than not being able to nap at all.

When children are well fed and well rested, you’ve taken care of addressing a couple of big contributing factors to cranky and uncooperative children during photo sessions.


Sometimes, there may be a need for snack/break time mid-session. Again, this isn’t uncommon, and I’ve had a few families and a few children need this time to regroup. Taking 5-10 minutes for a quick snack, drink and some play might be just what you need and trust that I’ll be shooting throughout that time! A majority of shots I’ve taken with just the parents happen during those sweet in between session breaks. And get this? When kids see their parents having fun, or their brothers and sisters getting their photos taken, they’ll want to be involved in that too.


As cute as those khaki pants, vest, knit sweater and beanie might look on your son, he’ll have a hard and uncomfortable time wearing them in the middle of August on a hot day. Plan your children’s clothing by thinking about their comfort. Bring a sweater or backup clothing in case the weather turns for the worse and it gets chilly. We’re pretty luck with Southern California weather because it’s consistent, but you never know.


Okay that might have come off sounding strange so let me rephrase: familiarize them with me and put them at ease. I have a few repeat families come to me for their family photos and some of those kids I’ve been so honored to photograph from infancy to teen years. When they see me, they know what to expect. That wonderful phrase “stranger danger” is there for a reason. Most children are comfortable with certain surroundings and seeing familiar faces. Let’s face it, I’m not one of those. Talking to them about an upcoming shoot and who they’ll be meeting puts their mind at ease and they’ll know what to expect. Tell them that you’re excited to have their photos taken by me or that you’re excited to have family photos taken by me! If need be, you can show them a photo of me on my website. It’s the little things that make a big difference. When they see me, they’ll have an idea of what to expect.



Have a reward for them for AFTER the photo shoot. Tell them about it before the shoot, during the shoot and close to the end of our shoot. Make sure it’s something they’ll enjoy: it could be a toy, a favorite snack or a few minutes of extra time watching Cocomelon. Whatever it is, it should be enticing enough to motivate children to power through the shoot.


A lot can go sideways in life and photo shoot day is no exception to that. Give yourself plenty of travel time to the shoot location and have more cushion time just in case. You may need to make a pit stop for potty break or your infant may need to be fed. Whatever the case, when you give yourself cushion time, the less stressful it’ll be for you and your children. Children are smart and they can sense when their parents are stressed out, this can stress them out as well. You want to start off the shoot with your best foot forward, not stepping out of your car stressed and in a rush.


Whatever their comfort item may be, bring it. Whatever eases their minds and soothes them, I’m all for it! Have them pick out a book they love, and we can have a quick story time!


I cannot stress this enough and I learned the hard way during a session from years back that this can be overlooked sometimes. I hit on bringing kids “safety blanket”, but those aren’t actual triggers that I’m talking about here. What I mean are items that could potentially cause a tantrum or meltdown from children. For example, if they love those handheld video games, don’t have them use those in the car before the shoot or have them walk around with it just before shoot time. This can also be watching a video them abruptly turning it off as you turn off that car engine and walk over to the shoot location.




I don’t mean having this charge or bullet pointed items laying out what you’re expecting them to do like “I’m going to need you to behave and smile” or “when we tell you to do something, you need to do it”. This sound’s authoritative. Set the tone for your children by letting them know that you’re all going to have a great time getting photos taken or that you’re looking forward to the beautiful pictures of them to hang on their wall and that you can’t wait to pick out outfits together. Involve them in the process and help them understand what’s expected of them.


Fighting with your toddler/children during a photoshoot, while telling them what they need to do and how they need to act is a surefire way to bring on a meltdown. Making the photoshoot fun and not seem like a task is the best way to get natural interaction with children and also the best way for them to cooperate.

Remember…keep your emotions in check. It’s easy to get frustrated when nothing seems to be going your way. When you’re stressed, your children will sense it and they’ll be stressed. And it will show in photos so go with the flow.

Remember, I’m there to help guide you in a way that would be natural for your session! Composed shots are great but candid shots is where your kids’ personalities really shine so follow their lead, they will naturally be motivated to interact and play with their environment and this helps bring out the natural, curious expressions on their faces. I have a lot of fun capturing families in front of my camera and my main goal is to transfer that energy to the shoot and really bring out each of my families’ individual stories through visual storytelling so that you and your kids walk away loving the experience of the shoot.

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