How to Prepare Children for Family Photos

FamilyPhoto1The perfect family portrait is never easy to accomplish. With the holidays near, many families are preparing for holiday cards and family portraits. But young children can complicate a photo shoot. Lexington photographer Kate Dooley offered up some advice on how to work with children to get a great photo and keep the tears to a minimum.


Q: How can parents prepare younger children for a photo shoot?

A: It is important to tell the child that they will be getting their picture taken so they can begin to mentally prepare. Some kids may not understand what it means to have their picture taken, but it is vital not to stress so the child is less likely to stress. Pictures are supposed to be fun! Real, relaxed smiles are always the best ones.

Q: What should parents consider when dressing young children for photos?

A: I like to tell my parents not to overdo it when they are bringing different outfits for a session. I typically suggest one outfit for a 30-minute shoot and two or three outfits for a 1-hour shoot. Kids get bored easily and they may also become overstimulated easily. The last thing anyone wants is a child who is frustrated over too many outfit changes. When dressing your child, layers work best. Hats, jackets and hair accessories may be easily added or removed to create a different look without upsetting the child.

Q: What should parents consider if they want to choose specific poses?

A: Pinterest is a place where many people look for photo ideas these days. If you would like a specific pose for your session, mention it sooner than later. This gives your photographer time to review the pose and prepare for your appointment. Parents should remember that not every child will do every pose, so if their child does not want to cooperate, no worries! Photographers deal with this kind of thing all the time. Sometimes there are ways around it, like playing games with the child until he or she becomes comfortable enough to cooperate, revisiting the pose later in the session, or just considering a different pose altogether.

Q: What should parents consider if they want to use props in the photo?

A: Props are a great way to add interest to a photo. Like poses, props should be discussed prior to your session date so your photographer can ensure the prop is available to use at your shoot. Prop shots can sometimes impose a safety risk. Children should always be supervised when using a prop. The photographer, as well as the parent, should not carry out a prop shot which puts the child at risk for injury. A lot of times, I will have mom or dad “spot” their child while they are sitting in a weighted crate or basket and then take out the parent using editing software if I need to. Safety first!

Q: What type of backdrop or general environment works best for young children when taking photos?

A: Children can be photographed indoors or outdoors depending on the weather and the type of session. “Lifestyle sessions” are becoming increasingly popular. A lifestyle session is always done in the child’s home, capturing the child as they are daily. I spend a few hours with the child and family documenting their life – playtime, naptime, bath time, mealtime. If the parents or the weather calls for an indoor shoot, I offer the option of shooting in studio or in the family’s home. Usually an uncluttered space about the size of a small dining room is sufficient. The less clutter, the less likely the child is to get distracted by other things. When shooting outdoors, the child should be dressed properly for the weather, and the location must be safe and not overly crowded with people. Open fields, gardens, and historic landmarks are some examples of locations I have used for young children.

Q: How much time should families plan to spend at a typical photo session?

A: Young children are not likely to have the patience for a 2-hour session, and that’s okay! I always plan for 30-minute sessions for children ages 3-11 months and 45-60 minute sessions for children 1 and older, although each child is unique.

Q: What are the ideal times of day to take a family photo?

A: Anytime I schedule photo sessions, I always consider times of day when the child is happiest. If the child is happy in the morning – that’s when we shoot! Ideal lighting depends on if the session is going to be outdoors or indoors, but I mainly work around the child’s schedule. Never schedule a session during your child’s usual naptime!

Q: What is your best piece of advice for parents planning a family photo with young kids?

A: First things first, relax! Kids feed off of your emotions, so if you are stressed about pictures, it is likely that they are also stressed. Your photographer works with happy kids, grumpy kids, kids who love the camera and kids who will do anything to avoid the camera all the time. There are many tricks and techniques a photographer can use to gain the child’s trust and earn their real smile. It is a lot easier when parents are willing to go with the flow and play along. Second, it is important to remember that we are trying to capture your child’s personality and the connection amongst family members. So while it is awesome to have that classic picture of everybody looking right into the lens and smiling, those real moments during the session can be just as inspiring. When I get to photograph laughter and giggles brought on by a parent’s tickle, perplexed expressions of a child trying to make sense of the world around them, or a random burst of excitement paired with clapping hands, that is what I would call a successful photo session.

Kate Dooley specializes in maternity, newborn, children and family photography. For more info on Kate Dooley Photography visit or email