How to Plan a Family Portrait with Small Children

Family Portraits with Young Children

We’ve all been there: trying to plan a nice family outing, trying to make memories, and the youngest in our entourage have other plans. Family portrait sessions are one such milestone event that parents can understandably get a little nervous about when scheduling it with little ones.

Thankfully, when you’re working with a portrait photographer who is accustomed to working with children, you need not fear.


Timing is Everything

When planning any everyday photo shoot, the timing is often based around either some other significant time, like sunset, or a dinner plan, or a special surprise like a proposal. With family photos involving small kids, though, you want to start instead with them and their comfort level.

You know your child best…

  • What time of day are they usually in the best mood?

  • If they are still a baby, what times do they typically nap and eat?

You want to schedule the shoot for a time of day that they will be well-rested and not hungry.


Personality Assessment

For “big kids” who have formed a personality of their own, the question may not be so much about timing, but about their general mood and comfort level with strange situations.

  • Are they are the kind of child who needs a little time to warm up to someone new?

    If so, we might want to book a longer session, so there is no pressure to “perform” the minute they arrive.

  • If they’re more of the type of child that can burst out with a bundle of energy, but then they fizzle out quickly, in that case we might want to keep it short, or plan the photos where they need to be the most “on” at the beginning of the session.

    For a larger group shoot where we Do need more time to fit everyone, with a rambunctious kid who gets bored easy, I will often also keep their segments very quick, with intermittent periods of play in between.


Flexible Agenda

While my more “Type A” parents who don’t leave the house without their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed, this part is - I find - the most difficult for them to embrace. I totally get it. We want the session to be successful, and we want to make the most of our time together. But, I have found that the more we let go of the idea that we must do “this photo here, that photo there, have exactly this many minutes for this and that many minutes for that”, everything flows so much better.

Kids can sense when their parents are stressed for time, and what situation could you feel more encouraged to hustle things along than a portrait session where you’re booked often by the hour?

The good news is, this is why I always give a range of time for my portraits, because I know especially with young kids, sometimes what you can achieve in 25 minutes with one group, you need 45 minutes for another.


Let Me Worry About The Perfect Photo

The other thing I go into every family portrait session with is the mentality that kids just need to be allowed to be kids.

As parents, I know our instinct in polite company is to secretly pray they don’t embarrass us or make us look like we don’t have our sh*t together. (BEEN THERE!) Under this imagined pressure, we focus more on getting them to “keep still, stand up straight, smile, stop doing that”.

While some kids obviously do need a verbal reminder of how to act, sometimes I find the corrections to be more of a testament to the parents’ nerves, than to an actual need to remedy a true behavioral outburst. And sadly some kids are more tender hearted (my own included!) and they positively crumble and shut down the rest of the shoot if they are corrected too strongly. Please remember it’s much easier for me to rein in a bit of energy than it is to manufacture enthusiasm in a child who has decided it’s not worth her time anymore.

Take a deep breath. Remember I only need them to look perfect for 1/250th of a second to get the winning shot. If they spend 95% of the shoot being….um….kids, you have nothing to apologize for or to worry about.


The Carrot at the End of the Stick

I find I can actually get a more genuine reaction out of them, and a more relaxed interaction/pose, if we work with their natural inclinations.

If your son suddenly wants to channel his inner leap frog and hop around the beach on all fours, even if he’s never done this before in his life, just roll with it. If your daughter is making goofy faces, let her. If your group of small humans decides it’s time for a race down the beach, let them run.

Because after they’re done, I’m going to say “Hey Johnny, I’ll show you the picture of your frog pose if you take one more photo for me?”. With a glint of mischief, they will almost always take the bait and give me the shot we came for!

Sometimes the Best Photos aren’t what you think

Some kids want to cling to mom’s legs, some want to clamber onto dad’s back, some want to sit off to the side, some want to ham it up with a dance in the middle of the rest of the group. Whatever it is, that’s still the them that you want to capture.

I’ll surely work to get every little one looking in the same direction and smiling, but I go into every session with kids with the mindset that they may have their own idea of what a great photo is going to be today, and I invite you to do the same.


“Rein” Date

With that said, if your child is really just having “one of those days” and cannot be reined in, we can absolutely talk about a reshoot or reschedule. It is only in my best interest to work with you to create the best images possible, so we will work together at that point to discuss our options. While I can’t guarantee availability in an educational blog post, if you know you have a child who is prone to extreme meltdowns (ie, children with severe autism or disabilities, etc) and this could be a possibility, I always encourage having that discussion ahead of time, so we have a game plan.


Digital Surgery is a Beautiful Thing

While we never want to rely on Photoshop to fix something we can get in camera, there are times when it does become an invaluable tool for a family portrait with multiple small children with limited steam and parents running on limited sleep. I realize there are times when we have the shot that 98% of the way there, if it weren’t for just this ONE sideways glance by one of the littles. Enter the retoucher!

Your Kids Will Be Having Fun; So Should You!

The most important thing to remember when booking a family photo shoot while you’re on vacation in Key West is to just have fun, enjoy the experience, and be open minded about what kinds of expressions and antics your children might decide are going to contribute to the session. With this mindset, you can go into your Key West Family Portrait session knowing you will come out with exceptional images!

Learn more about our Key West Family Portrait Sessions HERE