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How To Prepare Your Little Ones for a Professional Portrait Session

Updated on April 12, 2015

At the studio with my 3-year-old son and my 1-year-old daughter


Nowadays, our children are photographed even before they are born. Once they are born, they are photographed almost every day of their lives. As much as we try to take beautiful photographs of our children on our own, oftentimes our mission goes unaccomplished -- especially if our little ones recently discovered the art of walking or running. You then decide to get professional photographs done. Here are some tips you may find helpful before you run over to your local portrait studio. (You may also find these tips helpful with your own photography at home.)

  1. Be sure to make an appointment. Some portrait studios welcome walk-ins; however, if you have children, especially under the age of 5, I highly recommend making an appointment. During busy portrait seasons (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter), popular studios are booked solid even on weekdays. Having an appointment will ensure that you will get your portraits done when you want them done. After all, do you really want to come back at another time only to spend another half day getting your little ones ready? Probably not.
  2. Choose a day and time that works best for your children. Studios are often busy on the weekends with family appointments since parents work and children go to school on the weekdays. This means that the studios are filled with children running around, crying, or even screaming from naps long overdue. If you and your children are able to make your appointment on a weekday, this is highly recommended. Children usually don’t respond well to loud and chaotic situations (at least mine don’t), and this doesn't make for a good session for you, your children, or the photographer. Not only will the studios be less hectic on weekdays, but the photographers will also feel less rushed and stressed on quieter days.
  3. Prepare your children before heading to the studio. Preparation goes far beyond picking the perfect outfit for them. Speaking of the perfect outfit, I highly encourage you to take your children to the studio NOT dressed in their picture outfits but clothes that are comfortable and easy to change out of. A lot can happen on your car ride to the studio (think spit ups, accidents for the recently potty-trained, or even good old sweat) that will ruin that perfect outfit you spent countless hours picking out at the mall or in the children’s closets. While we’re on the topic of picture outfits, it is a good idea to take with you a second or even third set of clothes just in case the first outfit you picked out doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. Make sure your children are well-rested and well-fed before heading to the studio, and avoid prime nap or feeding times for your appointment.
  4. Prepare yourself before heading to the studio. I would put on some comfortable clothes if I were you. The hope is to meet a photographer who is really good with children and really good at making children laugh or smile. However, this is not always the case. Be prepared to be on your hands and knees alongside the photographer to get your children to give you that award-winning smile to be captured on camera. Prepare your bag with extra clothes, diapers, wipes, snacks, toys, anything else that will keep your children happy. Sometimes these photo sessions can last longer than you anticipate (my son’s first professional photography session lasted 3 hours!).
  5. Arrive early. Allow yourself and your children to have ample time to get ready for the photo shoot once you arrive at the studio. You may need that extra time to change them into their picture clothes and to do (or redo) their hair. It's also a good opportunity for you to change their diapers or take them to the bathroom if they are potty-trained. If you have a few minutes to spare, you can also feed them a little snack while you speak to the photographer about what you hope to accomplish in your session.
  6. Look for creative ways to make them smile or laugh. It sounds like I am stating the obvious here. Of course, you should encourage your children to smile or even laugh. However, I have seen time and again parents trying to force their children to smile with threats and bribery. During the busy holiday season, I would hear parents yell at their children, "Santa's not going to come this year if you don't smile right now!" Or the evermost popular, "I'm going to take away all your toys and you won't have any to play with!" Not only will these tactics not work for the most part, your children will most likely become more agitated and become even more uncooperative. If these strategies do get your children to smile, their expressions will often be forced and thus won't result in good pictures. Bribes are sometimes necessary to get your children to listen to you, but try to avoid snacks and candies that will stain their teeth, hands, and clothes. I have seen parents bring bags of M&M's as a way to entice their children to smile for the camera. Not only do these candies melt in the little ones' hands before they reach their mouths (creating all kinds of mess you don't have the time or patience for), but now you have children who are sugar high and bouncing off the wall and photobombing other family photo sessions. Yikes! If your children like Goldfish crackers or Cheerios cereal, these tend to work better. Children can pop them in their mouths one at a time, and you won't have to clean up a pile of crumbs that they've left on their outfits and in the studio.
  7. Be flexible. If you’re like me, you may already have a wide range of poses you’d like to see your children doing for that empty living room wall in your home. We can have as many ideas or grand visions of what we’d like our children’s portraits to look like, but our little ones may have their own agenda (as they often do). Regardless of the occasion, the outfit, the photographer, the list goes on, I have come to understand that the bottom line is happy children = good pictures. Babies and toddlers, especially, will not sit “perfectly” with their hands folded on their laps and give you that toothpaste commercial smile. Rather than aiming for these types of photos, try to capture your children in their element and go for those photos that best portray their personality, character traits, individuality, sense of humor -- basically everything that makes them uniquely them and all the reasons you love them every minute of their lives.

When do you like to take your little ones to the portrait studio for professional photos?

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