How to Get a Child to Cooperate for Photos

These tips below are written from the perspective of the parent.  You might also want to check out: 25 Tips for Taking Amazing Photos of Children, which is written for the photographer.  

As a parent, getting children to be happy and willing participants in a photo shoot isn't always the easiest thing in the world.  Below are some quick tips that I've picked up along the way to get children to happily participate for a photo session.  The tactics I recommend are different for each age group.  

Newborn

The best thing we can do is to make the baby comfortable.  I typically recommend shooting in the home for a newborn session. Make sure the baby is well fed before the session.  During the session, be patient and be willing to take plenty of breaks for things like feeding and cleanup.  Also, babies love nice warm houses.  I recommend turning the heat up to about 80 degrees during colder months, or turning the air conditioning off during the summer.  With enough luck, the baby will be comfortable enough to sleep through the whole session.

6 Months – 2 Years

Make sure they’re well fed going into the session.  Keep bottles or snacks that they like handy to top them off.  This isn't the time to break out the broccoli chips (not sure if that's really a thing) that they hate, go with a tasty and filling snack.  If it’s cold out, make sure they are dressed comfortably. Many parents try to dress their kids in outfits that aren’t appropriate for the weather so that they look cute.  Not surprisingly, those pictures come out with the kids looking cold and miserable.

They are a bit too young to listen at this age, so if they don’t want to pose, then we’ll just have to get creative and find some activities that they want to do.  Sometimes it’s helpful to bring a favorite toy in the case of a meltdown, but keep in mind that if you give them a toy, then the toy will be in some (or all) of the pictures.  Sometimes kids don't want to give the toy up.  We can also pull up a favorite video on a phone and hold it by the camera.

2 Years and Up

I find it’s helpful to explain to the children what to expect before the session.  Teach them about looking at the camera, listening to the photographer, and of course, smiling.  If there is more than one child, then it's a good idea to enlist the older children to be little helpers.

Also, bribes!  Bribes work amazingly well at this age.  I’ve had clients bring packages of smaller candies like M&M’s, and give one to the child after each successful pose.  I’ve also had clients promise things like ice cream or a trip to the toy store after the session.  If you're going to give the child candy during the session, get something that won't stain their hands and lips.