Top Tips for Preparing Your Toddler for a Photography Session. Johannesburg, Family Photographer

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

Preparing your whole family for a photoshoot is tough. The stress of shopping, what to wear and putting it all together is on your mind . What if my child is in full meltdown mode? Will they smile on command? I have photographed babies and toddlers for the past 10 years and in that time I have totally transformed my strategy with these little balls of energy.  The best chance of being successful is if the parent and photographer communicate beforehand to set expectations.  Here are the top tips for preparing your toddler (and yourself) for a professional family shoot.

1. Set Expectations…and lower them dramatically

Okay, I like to laugh at this one but it’s totally true.  Toddlers are totally unpredictable. They have tons of energy and don’t really care if you will give them a cookie if they smile (they know it’s an empty threat, am I right?). Half the time, they have no clue what you are trying to communicate to them (they just hear chaos). Go into the session with no expectations on specific shots (let’s face it, they likely won’t sit perfectly with the family dog and re-create that pinterest pic).  Be okay with them being themselves.  A good photographer will know how to work with them and let them lead the photoshoot. If something doesn’t work, be okay to let the photographer move on. Don’t be embarrassed-I’ve rarely had a toddler session that was “easy.”   They are best if we let them run free and explore (heck, that’s their life…exploring EVERYTHING). I prefer 1.5-3 years to be outside for this reason. They are more comfortable with the setting and have more room to run around.

2.   Make sure the session isn’t around nap time (and don’t let them nap in the car).

The first part is pretty obvious.  Most parents know that their sweet little one will turn into a bear around nap time.  If you need to adjust naps to work better with the session, make sure to do so.  Many outdoor sessions in the summer month are scheduled a little later in the evening to capture the “golden hour” light. Make sure to adjust naps accordingly.  Also, if possible, try to stay home most of the day of the session.

The second part is something I realized after a few years in running my photography business. I had a day full of mini sessions and all the toddlers that had napped on the car ride there were NOT happy.   Unlike babies, toddlers usually need some time to wake up and get used to their surroundings.  Yanking a sleeping toddler from a car to go to a photo shoot will likely result in a disaster (or 30 minutes of them warming up to the idea of taking pictures).

3.  Pretend play at home

For the older toddlers, it’s a great idea to “play” photographer at home the week before your session. This will get them used to the idea and think that the actual session is play time.  If a toddler/child is having fun at the session, they will be much happier (thus capturing them at their best).  Talk to them about the session and tell them the photographers name (not photographer lady) and what to expect at the session.

4. Bribes (and when to bribe!)

Bribes are usually a tactic parents will use with their little ones for a photo session. Talking about them beforehand is a great idea (if they understand).  Be careful of yanking bribes out too soon in the session. This can backfire. I’ve had sessions where the toddlers got a taste of candy and wouldn’t sit without a mouthful.  Literally drooling chocolate and hands extended for more. Leave it up to the photographer to know when it’s a good time to bring out their favorite treat. Let the photographer hold the treat and give out when they listen or take a few good pictures. They are more likely to listen to someone other than their parents.  Also, when bringing treats for bribes, make sure it’s not messy and can be concealed if they have it in the photo.  Smarties are my favorite. They are discreet, light colored, and are small enough for little ones. You can also hide them places so they stop moving for a few minutes (or let’s be real-a few seconds). Other good options are small fruit snacks are a good option.  Avoid chocolate, suckers (unless you are okay with them in the photo), small biscuits also work.

5. Get involved!

I think this age is perfect for a family session. I like to have parents involved in the entire session and it helps to have them play or goof around with them. We get real smiles and interaction. Remember, not everyone has to be smiling at the camera at the same time for the perfect photo.  The photo you will likely love and cherish for years to come will be one with genuine interaction and smiles.

6. Leave the cheese to the crackers!

If you are looking to get authentic and natural smiles, avoid this phrase like the plague. I’m not sure where it originated, but it needs to be laid to rest.  The minute they hear their parents (yelling from all directions) to “say cheese,” that picture posed, unenthusiastic smile comes across their face.  Leave it up to the photographer to get them to smile. I know it ‘s hard to sit in the background and watch your toddler run amuck, but we will ask you to help when needed. Too many people yelling in different directions to “smile” or “say cheese” will overstimulate and confuse a young child/toddler.

7. Prepare for your session

I am totally guilty of leaving wardrobe to the last minute.  It only adds more stress to the session. Don’t worry about the “perfect” outfit.  Dress them in what they like and what they are comfortable in. This is how you see them every day and it’s how you will want to remember them. Also, a backup outfit is always smart with a toddler. You can visit my other blog here for some other ideas on what to wear.

8. Leave the sick kids at home

I can’t say this enough!  DO NOT bring sick kids to a photo shoot. Even a cold can make a little one miserable when doing a photo session. While we try to have fun with it, it’s not the most enjoyable activity to most toddlers.  You want them at their best, not 75%. The photographer will understand and likely thank you if you re-schedule for a sick kid.

9. Relax!

Just relaaaaaxxxxx. Toddlers will respond more authentically if you are acting laid back and relaxed. If you are running after them and yelling to “behave,” “listen,” and “smile,” you will likely get forced smiles and tantrums. Be patient and disengage. Sit back and smile and let the photographer do the work. Heck, bring a glass of wine and be cheers that it’s not you running the circus for once.

If you are interested in Booking your special Family Life Style Photography session with me please pop me an email at or give me a call on 0844591662

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