Getting Kids Ready for Family Photos

Kids can be hard to tame for family photos. I've seen a 2 year-old wake up from a nap in the car and wonder why this lady wants to take photos of her and her family. She was totally unprepared for the family session. It took some convincing but in the end I took some memorable photos and saw her giggle and have a fun time in the photo session.

Most people are busy and have other places the would rather be than out in a field of grass looking at a camera in front of them. Trust me, my kids were not excited either for our family photos. I had to negotiate with them. Tell them why it was important to me, that my 19 year-old daughter is going to be gone on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy and we needed photos of all of us for our walls. I promised it wouldn't take more than an hour (which it did). I told them where we were going, what would be good to wear, and again how meaningful this was for our family. And I promised ice cream at the end of the session. Granted, my kids are 16-22, they can still whine and complain like 2 year-olds. Kids of all ages need to know the expectations for the photo shoot: where, when, why, and what it means to you. Tell them how you are going to use the photos: for Christmas Cards, wall portraits, prints for grandma and grandpa, an album, a canvas print, etc.

Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah Christmas family photos.
Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah Christmas card photos.
Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah Christmas family photography.
Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah happy holidays winter photos.
Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah best Christmas holiday cards portraits.
Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah Christmas holiday photos.
dad and kids Michelle Deppe Photography studio in Kaysville Utah Christmas family photos.

Make Sure Bellies Are Full & Hydrated

  • This is rule #1! I've seen too many kids and adults come to a shoot saying, "Man, I'm hungry. How much longer is this going to take." Kids might not say this but their grumpy faces will definitely show this attitude. Please eat before the photo session. It doesn't have to be a huge meal. Make sure everyone is well fed so you don’t get any hangry folks. This advice goes for everyone.
  • It’s ok to bring small snacks and water to the shoot. Some things to avoid bringing are: chocolate snacks, sticky treats, and suckers (my daughter had a green sucker right before our shoot and her teeth were green. She didn't smile much in that session. It's a funny memory now.) Some snacks that work well are goldfish crackers, mini marshmallows, smarties...something small and easy to eat quickly for kids. It is advised to limit these and possibly use them to get kids to cooperate.
  • Staying well-hydrated is always beneficial, especially when it's hot outside. You can bring a water bottle. Some places don't really have water fountains or the water might be questionable, so I'd recommend bringing your own water bottles. (Maybe give each person their own.) We all know kids they will be dying of thirst the second you get out of the car so it's fine to bring them along.
  • For babies plan a bottle-feeding right when you get to the location for a really happy little one. Have the baby fed and changed before we start the session.


Bribe Them

  • Yep, I said it. Have that special treat on hand especially for littles ages 2-4 (or even big kids) I won't judge. A reward at the end of the session is a great way for kids to cooperate. Maybe you can go out for ice cream, or fizz, or a yogurt, watch a favorite show together, etc. Let the family decided what they would like to do at the end of the session.
  • Bring a pack or two of their favorite treats.
  • Bring their favorite stuffed animal or blanket or book (something from home they love). My son took his "blue bear" blanket with him every where we went. Blue bear even went swimming with him. Most kids have something they can't live without.
  • Pre-purchase a small toy from the dollar store and bring it to the session. It doesn't have to be a grand toy. Kids love gifts no matter the size.
  • Just be sure to make it special enough that it gets their attention.
  • I offer a small prize at the end of the shoot (think of a dentist toy prize, something small and new.)

Involve Your Kids In The Planning

This is our favorite trick to get your kids to cooperate for photos. Let them help with the planning. Get them involved. When you do this early on and prepare them for what to expect they won’t be surprised.


  • Their willingness to participate will be higher.
  • Include them in picking out a new outfit for the photos. (More about what to wear in this blog post: what-to-wear-for-a-family-photo-session)
  • Let them help decide on the location. Even if you have the last say, including them will create excitement.
  • Let them know what you expect from them during the session. Behavior, cooperation, and willingness to participate.
  • Give them a job or responsibility to do. " You are in charge of making sure everyone's shirts are tucked in properly."

Get Plenty Of Sleep

  • Get plenty of sleep the night before. This goes for all ages.
  • Don’t schedule a portrait 10 hours after a redeye flight back from Paris. Don't schedule a family shoot after a day at Cherry Hill (I had a family to this before).
  • Avoid scheduling a sleepover the night before. We all know how those go, let's not have little Mr. Grumpy refusing to cooperate because he only got 4 hours of sleep.
  • Plan on a good night's sleep before your family session and have the little ones rested, taking naps, before the shoot.


Choose The Best Time Of Day

  • Let me know when the best time of day is for your family.
  • If you have littles and you know they will be a terror if they don't nap. We can help you schedule around nap time.
  • Be sure to block out plenty of time to get ready. Rushing to get dressed only adds to the chaos.
  • Don’t rush from a play date or a sporting event to your photo session.
  • If you are looking for golden lighting or sunset photos we will help you plan for that. My favorite time to shoot is at golden hour before sunset, but we can choose a location with more shade to do it mid day or in the morning. Timing is flexible.

I hope these tips will help your family as you plan your photo session. If your child won’t smile or cooperate let me try to work with them. We can play some games and let them run around. I like action shots also. It is best not to tell them to "smile or else." Threats tend to be more upsetting for the kids. Rewards can be more effective. Sometimes a great portrait takes more patience and some time.

Please don't stress

I love working with kids. I haven't had to cancel a photo shoot because a 2 year-old was having a bad day. I can work with your kids and create a meaningful photo for you. Let me take the lead of the shoot and work with your kids. I'm a patient mom with 22 years of experience working with kids. Trust me.

Together we can make some timeless photos! I hope to work with you.

Send me an email below.