Hello! I’m Leah Fillmore, a Newborn and Family Photographer located in Spring Hill, Tennessee. This post is all about helping you navigate a smooth Photo session with your little kids!

As you may notice from the photo above, only 3 of my children are present. That’s because for this particular photo, I wanted to get some nice quick pictures while we were all still in our church clothes! One of my sons HATES getting his photo taken with a passion! He refused to be in this photo, and that’s ok. I sprang this fast photo shoot out of no where and he was not prepared at all and did I mention how much he HATES photos? Needless to say, during this fast photo shoot I did NONE of the things I’m recommending to you today. BUT I did do these things before our last family photo shoot, and they worked! So I’m giving real life examples of how our last family photo shoot worked for us!

1. Talk to them Beforehand

I’m not talking about letting them know an hour before the session while you’re trying to wrangle their clothes on and get their hair looking nice. I’m talking about letting them know days, even weeks in advance! Children want to know what is going on or what is going to happen in their lives, just as much as adults do! So, make sure to let them know way before their session!

2. Bribery

I do NOT advocate bribing children as a parenting style in every day life BUT bribing them once a year for family photos is OK with me! You can do this in many ways!

Sometimes bringing a small snack and letting them know “If they smile and don’t scream or cry they get the little snack” is helpful. For example, you might bring some TicTacs and when they smile and are good for their pictures you give them a TicTac throughout the session.

Sometimes it may be a bigger treat at the end of the session. (“If you look at the camera, don’t cry, or scream, and keep your shoes on the WHOLE time we’ll go out for ice cream!”) Whether it’s a small treat, or a big treat, I would continue reminding them of your “deal” and the treat that is waiting for them if they follow through! 

3. Bring a Favorite Toy/Blanket

Little toys, like a small stuffed animal is great for getting children to calm down and look at the camera! Especially something that can sit right on top of the camera while the photographer is taking your photos! It brings comfort to your kids because it’s something that is theirs and its fun for them to look for their toy. It can also help for them to snuggle their favorite toy for a little bit before and during their session to help them feel more comfortable.

If it might be cold at your session, bring a blanket the kids can snuggle in between their photos being taken! It keeps them calm, and helps them to not become too fussy during their session.

4. Our Last Family Session

If you're wondering how we got our son who HATES photos to actually take family photos then read on! For our last family session, I casually mentioned wanting to take some family photos about three weeks in advance. My son? He freaked out. He cried letting me know he doesn’t want his photos taken. That he thinks they are stupid. And that’s all right. He’s allowed to have those feelings and I’m grateful he feels safe enough to share them with me. So, we talked about how we’re doing these photos because Grandma really wants a nice family photo to hang on her wall. He was still clearly unhappy.

I then mentioned it casually multiple times (receiving similar responses) until about a week before our photo shoot. I told the whole family during dinner, “We’re going to take our family pictures on Saturday.” My son? He asked if we had to wear nice clothes. I told him “We want to look really good for grandma’s picture, so we’re going to wear our nice clothes.” He freaked out again. Explaining that he HATES wearing his nice clothes, and shoes (he loves his torn up old sandals). Again, I’m glad he’s able to express himself (even if its him screaming he doesn’t want to).

Three Days Before

Three days before the family session I pull out all of our outfits for the photoshoot and lay them on my bed. All the kids got new shoes for this shoot because they all needed some nice shoes in general (I bought them weeks before and even let my son CHOOSE which nice shoe he wanted). He got upset that I had laid out a sweater with his outfit. He told me he hated it and wouldn’t wear it. He then cried because he didn’t want to wear those shoes I laid out. I explained again about wanting to look our best for Grandma’s picture. He was still extremely upset. I reminded him those were the shoes he’d chosen and he promptly stopped and said “Oh yeah.” (I know, I was surprised too). During the next couple of days, he and his siblings would periodically go into my bedroom and look at their nice clothes laid out. They would periodically take their nice, new shoes that were laid out and try them on, walk around the house, and even on the couch! (because they were new and never worn outside, they were allowed to walk on the couch, which they thought was the coolest thing).

Each day leading up to the session I would say how many days were left and explain how excited I was! (“Three more days until we take our photos! I’m so excited!”) I’d also mention how we’re all going to look so good for Grandma’s picture. This was when I mentioned our bribe! “You know… I was thinking after Family photos we might go do something fun! IF you wear your nice clothes, and your nice shoes. AND if you smile at the camera and don’t cry or scream. THEN we will all go out and get milkshakes (**You can fill in whatever item your child loves**)!” They were so excited. It became the thing they said over and over to each other, “After family pictures we’re going to get milkshakes!” “We have to wear these clothes so we can get milkshakes,” “We have to ALL look at the camera so we can get milkshakes,”

Day of the Session

On the day of the shoot, my son had come to terms with wearing his new shoes and taking family pictures. I kept telling them what time we would be taking the pictures (“After lunch and after baby’s nap, THEN we get to take our family pictures! I’m so excited!”). About two hours before the shoot, I let them know it was time to start getting ready. We got the kids dressed first and did their hair. Of course, we had little squabbles, and made sure we had PLENTY of time to be patient as we got them dressed and ready. I didn’t want ANY of them to feel overly rushed during this process (because guess what? Being rushed leads to meltdowns!).

We got to the location. The children were actually EXCITED to be there (Probably because of the promise of milkshakes). They had a couple moments where they acted up or didn’t do what we’d ask but then I’d remind them of Grandma and the milkshakes and they listened! During the whole session I was constantly reminding them, “We’re doing this for Grandma and for milkshakes!”

We knew it was going to be cold! (We were taking photos in December) So we made sure to bring blankets the kids could snuggle in while we were walking to the location and during the shoot! It went a lot smoother than expected and the kids were a lot more patient than I had anticipated! And my son, the one who HATES family photos, worked so hard to do the things I asked of him for the photos! Afterwards we went out and got some dinner and each kid got their milkshake! All in all, one of our BEST family photo experiences!