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How to get kids excited about a photoshoot

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

Seven easy tips that don't involve bribery, sweets or ice-cream!

Is there anything worse than going to do something special together as a family that you’ve been really looking forward to and the kids won’t cooperate?

They whine, drag their feet and generally make the whole thing really unpleasant. You definitely don’t want that happening at your photoshoot!

So here’s my top six tips to get the best out of your children. They don’t sound like much, but trust me, they make a big difference.

A girl and her dad laughing together for a natural family picture on a Dunedin beach
Tell your kids this is going to be fun! They're not going to be asked to stand still and smile at the camera.

Tip no.1

I started to notice one small thing I was asking parents to do was often the thing kids were most excited about.

That small thing is simply to tell your children that at the end of the shoot I’m going to take one special photo of each them by themselves.

I get you to talk it up a bit – we’re going to go somewhere just by ourselves (no hovering parents telling them what to do) and they’re welcome to bring their own ideas of what they might like.

It doesn’t sound like much does it? But kids often ask me during the shoot when we’re going to do their special picture!

This one-on-one experience is something they all seem to really enjoy. I mean who doesn’t like being the sole centre of someone’s attention with that person telling them everything they do is amazing.

Fun, un-posed photography of three boys playing in Dunedin
Tell your kids they're going to have run, jump and play for the camera!

Tip no.2

It’s super-important in the week or two before your photoshoot that you talk about it in a positive way in front of the kids (this is definitely not the time to share your insecurities about how you feel in front of the camera!).

Tell them it’s going to be really fun.

Tell them this isn’t the kind of photographer who is going to ask them to stand still and look at the camera and smile for hours on end. In fact, this photographer will probably ask them not to smile, not to look at the camera and to run around and play!

Children's portrait of a boy taken on the beach in Dunedin
Tell your kids they will spend time along with the photographer to create one special picture just of them.

Tip no.3

Stay away from bribery!

I’m going to ask you to please don’t offer any bribery BEFORE your photoshoot.

I hadn’t been shooting families (that doesn’t sound right does it!) for very long when I began to realise that shoots where bribery had been offered tended to not go very well. I was a bit puzzled, after all it seems like should be a good idea.

You want the photoshoot to go well and telling the kids if they’re really good for the photoshoot they can have an ice-cream on the way home sounds pretty reasonable.

But what tends to happen is that kids are really good for five or ten minutes, then they feel like they’ve done their end of the bargain and they want their ice-cream – now!

Younger kids especially don’t have much concept of time and to get some great shots we’re going to need an hour, not five minutes :-)

Fun, natural portrait of a boy by Edith Leigh Photography
No bribery please! Shoots often go much better when bribery hasn't been offered beforehand

Tip no.4

Be sure to fill out my pre-shoot questionnaire. One of the questions I ask is what each of your children are interested in or love to do right now.

I love to chat with them during the shoot and if I know they are obsessed with unicorns or love to build super-structures with their lego it gives me a way in to win their like and trust.

Knowing a little about each child’s personality is great too. If I know they’re a little shy or super-loud and extroverted I’ll approach the start of our photoshoot a little differently.

Natural, playful family portraits in an outdoor Dunedin location
Turn off your parenting instinct! It can be tough but no telling the kids off or telling them what to do!

Tip no.5

You might find this one the hardest, but I need you to stop being a parent during your photoshoot (well at least let go of the parenting part of you that wants to be in full control).

It’s only an hour or two – you can do this!

As soon as parents start telling their children what to do, or telling them off because they think they’re acting up, I know it’s going to be really, really hard to get the shots we want.

Not only is going to be harder for you to relax, your memories of the experience might taint how you view the pictures.

Children need space to allow their true personalities to shine, and once they realise they’re being given this freedom it’s amazing how much they relax.

If I need your help I will ask for it. But seriously, I am super-easy-going. I don’t get stressed – or make any judgements – about children’s behaviour.

If I ask a child to do something and they run in the opposite direction I’m just going to run with them, because I like to let the energy of the kids dictate the shoot and it’s important to me they have fun.

In fact, I’m always a bit surprised at how how many kids ask me if I can come back the next day to do the same again!

Natural children's portrait of a girl in an outdoor Dunedin setting
Everybody (including kids) has off days but don't stress! I'm super-easy-going and if we have to reschedule so be it.

Tip no.6

Everybody has ‘off days’ and sometimes it will happen on photoshoot day.

If it’s not going well please, please DON’T STRESS!

Honestly, I am the most easy-going, non-judgmental person around.

I’ve been on photoshoots when my own daughter – who is usually pretty awesome about having photos – was being silly and uncooperative. The photos, however, still turned out great.

If things just aren’t gelling, I’ll have a little chat with you. Sometimes we just have to give it a little more time and sometimes we have to reschedule. If this happens, so be it.

Family pictures on the wall in a child's bedroom
Framed prints of your children and you on the wall reinforces to them every day just how loved and happy their home is

Tip no.7

Let your kids know they will be allowed to choose one or two prints for their bedroom.

If you're not sure about this one, this is what one 9-year-old boy told his mum: "Now whenever I'm upset or you're angry with me I can look at these pictures and know that you love me."

Is that amazing or what!

It doesn't need to be a big print, but, if they're old enough, it is important they choose the image that they feel speaks the most to them :-)



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