Yes, that time of year has arrived again. You know what I'm talking about - the time you simultaneously really look forward to and also approach with major trepidation - annual family photos. You know what I'm talking about - photos really do make the best gifts, especially for grandparents and aunts and uncles. And it's so much fun getting all those Christmas cards in the mail and seeing how much kids have grown. But the taking of said photos - well, for those with small children, it can be a nightmare process. What to wear, where to take them, when to take them - all things that seem simple enough but actually require quite a bit of planning. Hopefully these tips will help make your next family session a less-terrifying and more enjoyable experience.
Be well-rested and choose a time of day that works for your child. Let's be real - we all have that time of day where we aren't necessarily the best versions of ourselves. There's a reason my old coworkers wouldn't speak to me until I'd had coffee - I am simply not a morning person. Your child faces the same issues, on a larger scale. Little people need more sleep. It's a fact. If you schedule your family photo session at the time that your child normally is taking his or her nap, you are greatly increasing the chances of a full-fledged meltdown.
Make sure everyone has eaten. No one is happy when they have a case of the hangrys...especially little people. I've seen two-year olds turn into the scary guy from the Snickers's commercial when they didn't get enough cheerios. So plan ahead. Make sure everyone is well fed. And pack some non-messy snacks, just in case. Things like dry cereal, granola bars, apple slices. Heck, pack some M& Ms and let them serve a dual purpose - nourishment and bribery (see tip #5).
Do a dress rehearsal where everyone tries on their clothes one week ahead of time. Just like grown-ups, little ones like to feel comfortable with what they're wearing. New clothes can be itchy - they can have an annoying tag in the back that rubs on the neck; shoes can be too tight and need to be stretched. Think about how you feel when something you're wearing just doesn't fit/feel right. Now magnify your annoyance at it by 50%, and that's how your child feels. Doing a dress rehearsal the week before will give you an opportunity to "iron out" any wrinkles in the plan, and also make sure that you have remembered belts, socks, hair bows, etc.
Location. Location. Location. When choosing the perfect spot to take pictures with young children, sometimes it's good to give yourself a reality check. I've found that with the two-year old to five-year old set, I have a window of opportunity for potential cooperation of about 20 minutes. Beginning to end. Which means it's probably best to not choose a location that involves a 30 minute hike each direction to reach. Sure, we'd all like to have that epic, bucket-list photo of our family, up on the side of a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean. The reality of that photo is that often times there is a 2 mile hike, each direction, to get to said location. Not really something you, or I, want to do with your three-year old, and then take photos after. Also, keep in mind that it's probably best to choose a location with a bathroom nearby that you can visit just before, and often times, just after the session.
Remember that bribery is not beneath you. So back to those M&Ms. Life is all about give and take. You want nice family pictures where your kids are smiling. They want ________________ (fill in the blank). Now I'm not suggesting that you offer them a car, new iPhone, or other luxury item, but is there really any harm in telling them that if everyone is good and takes nice pictures that they can have ice cream after, a trip to the local candy store, or maybe go see the latest Disney movie? If anything, make it part of the experience - a true family day - so that there will be fun memories associated with the photo session.
So yeah, I can't guarantee you a perfect session. There is always a chance your child will have a meltdown at some point - it's what kids do. But if you follow these tips, hopefully it will be a little less stressful and a lot more enjoyable for everyone involved - and the evidence will be the smiles in your beautiful family photos.