How to Photograph Children Under Five with Little to No Meltdowns

Photographing children under five can be really challenging. However, the most effective photographers are the ones who know how to avoid meltdowns that lead to children shutting down or simply, not wanting to participate at all. Read on to learn tips on how to photograph children without meltdowns!

Pose children with parents closeby can give them comfort and confidence during the session.

Choose the best time for the children

The best way to avoid a meltdown with children from newborn to five years of age is to choose the best time during the day that works best for them. That’s right, we’re working on the child’s schedule rather than the parents or even your photography calendar. This is because some children may be more alert after a good nap and others may be in a better mood after breakfast.

Catering to the child’s already existing schedule avoids any disruptions or over-tiredness. Having the session as part of the day’s activities also gets them excited to explore and play.

Bring snacks and toys

There is nothing more cranky than a hungry child. This goes for any child age 6-months and older. Kids need a snack or drink of some kind often. If your session is going to last from 45 minutes to more than an hour, it’s a good idea to have snacks and drinks on hand. Allowing children to have a snack during the session can also serve to give them a boost in energy and get them back into the session.

Ask the parents to bring the kids favorite snack and drink to the session as well as a snack that could be considered a reward or treat. These rewards/treats can help use bribery in order to get some smiles or to avoid a meltdown in the middle of the session.

Having parents interact and play with children can help relax them enough to get smiles.

Take breaks often to give the children a chance to snack and drink some water or juice. Take advantage that they are occupied to focus on the older children or on the parents.

Toys are a great way to keep children entertained and you can get a lot of real and authentic expressions out of the child when they are playing with their favorite toy. Sometimes, toys can bring comfort to children and help them to feel more relaxed around new strangers. Also, toys offer a distraction when you are photographing other members of the family all while keeping the smaller children from a tantrum or getting too bored.

Advise parents to avoid saying “no”

This is probably the one tip that will raise a few eyebrows among your clients, but it is really important to keep in mind. Children hear the word “no” over a hundred times a day, and sometimes this can bring about defiant behavior. Avoiding saying no can really help the child to feel more relaxed during the session.

Letting children play and have fun can make the session run smoother.

Not using the word “no” also gives them the freedom to explore, jump, play, run, and yes, even get dirty during the session. Giving children who are under 5 a great experience is really important. They will remember how much fun they had with you and your camera. The next time they see you for another portrait session, they won’t be so afraid or shy.

Let them get it all out of their system and have fun. The more they see this as a fun activity, the more willing they’ll be to cooperate. Of course, all within reason! If something is dangerous then a proper no is okay. For everything else, it’s a banned word for the whole session time.

This also gives you the opportunity to dictate how to say no without actually saying the word. For example, instead of having the parents say “no, don’t climb the tree” where the child will see this as their parents nagging again, you now have the lead to say instead, “hey bud, let’s go over here and see if we can find some sticks, that tree looks like it could have some ants on it.”

This makes you seem like the friend and keeps the parents from using a negative tone during the session. All together giving the child the impression that they are there to have fun and play. Giving you better expressions and eventually, they will listen when you ask them to look at the camera and smile.

Try posing other than smiling at the camera

Most children under five don’t have the patience to stand still for very long and smile at the camera. The most you’ll get from children of this age group is 30 minutes, with bribes! The best way to get them to participate longer is to capture them doing what children do best: play.

Children in this age group are learning so quickly and love to apply what they’ve learned or can identify all the time. This means that if they are at a park, they’ll want to pick up a stick and play. Show their parents and then jump around poking the dirt.

Which means, posed photos may not be what you expect with children so young. In order to capture the whole family together, for instance, is to pose all other members of the family in a way that when you join the smaller children, they are in direct contact with mom or dad. Either in their arms, next to one or the other, or on their laps. Laughing and telling jokes can help them to stay in place long enough for some good photos.

Having the family walk holding hands is also a great way to get the children more involved. You want them to play and explore but you also want them to participate in the more posed family photos as well.

Don’t be afraid to reschedule if necessary

Sometimes, you will get a child who isn’t willing and has multiple meltdowns that were simply unavoidable. If this does occur, offer the family to reschedule the session for another date and time that best suits the child’s schedule and mood.

This is the great thing about portrait sessions as they can be re-done in order to best suit the child who perhaps wasn’t in the mood for photos that day. Reassure your client that rescheduling is the best option and that it is completely okay and happens with children.

Sometimes you won’t get smiles out of children but it’s important to try and get a good solid portrait of them anyway.

Make sure that you exhaust all of the options before deciding that a reschedule is necessary. Sometimes, a child might just need a quick snack break or a break in general. Focus on taking photos of the parents or the other siblings to give them a rest. If all else fails, rescheduling could be the best solution.

Sometimes children open up toward the end of the session. Like this little girl. On the left was at the beginning and on the right, she was smiling toward the end of the session.

If you can’t reschedule, try and get as much as you can from the child before they completely shut down. Work quickly and let the child know that you know they are tired, hungry, or don’t like photos but if they do well they can get a prize. Here, allow the parents to say whichever prize they want to offer. This can sometimes get a few last smiles and give you enough photos.

In conclusion

Children under five years of age aren’t always easy going and willing to take portraits, however, using these tips can help get the most out of them before they burn out. Try and follow their lead and make sure that they have a fun time at the session. This will help them to feel more comfortable the next time they are in front of your camera.

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