8 Tips For a Low-Stress Chattanooga Family Photoshoot

A favorite toys gets smiles during Lookout Mountain, TN family photos.
Note the bunny. More on that in tip 7.

You’ve booked the photographer, planned a time and location, and arrived at the session (almost) on time with everyone (mostly) dressed in the special outfits you painstakingly picked out. The clock’s ticking and you have high hopes for nailing the perfect family photograph for your Christmas card this year.  But then your oldest doesn’t want to look at the camera, your youngest starts to whine, and maybe some wiggling and pushing starts to occur. Your kids aren’t listening and you’re starting to get stressed and frustrated. The tone of your directions gets sharper and your family’s attitude is going even further downhill. This is not going the way you planned.  You need some tips for a low-stress Chattanooga family photoshoot with kids.

Believe me, I’m a parent and photographer who works with kids in various realms of my life, and I have been there and felt all the feelings as my plans get derailed. I also know how precious and valuable quality family photographs are. Your children won’t stay in this stage and age forever and it is certainly worth documenting. So what are some ways to make this process a little less painful?

Giggles and family connection during Lookout Mountain photo session.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t get a little bit impatient when my preschooler kept hiding her face behind the balloon while we tried to get this shot in the thick July humidity. (Georgia summers and morning sickness also don’t mix well.)

1.Check your own expectations.

This is the most important one! Kids are going to be kids.  Hopefully you have hired a photographer who has lots of experience with children; who will understand this and have plenty of tricks up his/her sleeve. Go ahead and accept the fact that your kids are not going to follow every direction. They are going to fidget and get distracted. While the goal is of course to get at least one good picture of everyone looking at the camera and smiling, that should not be your focus in the moment. Let the photographer worry about that.  Instead, focus on playing and relating with your family. I promise that this will produce lots of candid shots that you will cherish forever and help keep the tone of the experience positive for your kids. Your kiddos will feed off your mood.  If you are having a good time, they will too, and you are much more likely to get that desired shot. 

Candid photo during Signal Mountain, TN newborn session.
Are they all looking at the camera? No. But can you feel the energetic love and excitement?

2. Help your kids know what to expect.

Even if you’ve had family pictures taken before, it has likely been several months since your last session (an eternity in the lifetime of a preschooler). Explain to them what will happen on the day of the session (“We’ll drive to the park and put on your pretty dress.  Miss Kelley is going to be there with her camera that will look something like this…”). Build up anticipation that this is going to be a fun experience. You could even have a playful practice “photo session” at home.  For older children, you can talk through your specific expectations for their behavior so that everyone is on the same page (but be sure to give them some grace). 

3. Plan a treat for during and/or after the session.

In keeping with the theme of painting the photo session as a fun experience, it can be helpful to plan a treat.  This will keep the motivation and excitement high. One brilliant mom brought mini-marshmallows to a session and would pass them out during breaks between photos as a reward for a job well done (Hello, no-mess treat!). Many of my families will promise after-session treats like a trip to the donut or ice cream shop.  Let your photographer in on the plan so that he/she can use that info to connect with your kids and keep the excitement high during your low-stress Chattanooga family photoshoot.

Treats get smiles during Chattanooga family photoshoot.
Her momma brought donut holes to the session (and shared with the photographer- cough, cough).

4. Let the photographer take the lead, but jump in as a proactive assistant when needed.

Your kids are likely going to listen to the directions of photographer at times much better than they are going listen to you. Besides, it can get confusing to receive directions from two sources. Your photographer should have a plan in place and is going to know what will translate best on camera. Defer to them as the leader. That being said, you are still the expert on your children. You know what books or TV shows they are into these days.  You know what makes them belly laugh. I as a photographer will often seek out information about your child’s interests before the session in order to connect with them quickly, but feel free to direct conversation towards things you know make your child smile.  Pro tip:  I often have kids in my sessions say silly words or yell the names of their favorite characters.  I know you aren’t wanting a bunch of pictures of your child with their mouth open. I’m waiting for the genuine smile that comes afterwards. Your job is to just keep looking at the camera and smiling. You also know when your child is starting to become overstimulated or needs a break. Feel free to voice that.  That child can always take a lap while another gets their individual picture taken. Maybe it’s time for some posing that involves dancing, running, or jumping to get the wiggles out (your photographer should know how to adjust camera settings to capture movement).  

Toddler on the move during Coolidge Park milestone photography session.
Sometimes you just need to move! Also, this cutie pie was eyeing all the mud-puddles on the way to our location. See tip #8.

5. Get ready to pull out your best slapstick routines, especially if you’re the dad.

I don’t know why, but there is little else that children find funnier than their dad’s running, jumping, falling over and prowling like a monster.  (Mom’s- you are usually the one’s booking these sessions.  Go ahead and communicate this to your husband. They will likely get in their workout for the day to achieve a low-stress Chattanooga family photoshoot.  Dress with this in mind as possible.)

Parents getting giggles during Signal Mountain, TN newborn photoshoot.
I honestly don’t even remember what it was, but dad was doing something hilarious right behind me.
Dad getting smiles during Chattanooga, TN photo session.
Dad was sneaking up like a tiger just out of the frame.

6. Snacks, snacks, snacks (and water)!

The last thing we want are h-angry children.  Make sure your kiddos eat before the session and bring some back up, minimally messy snacks to the session.  Bring along a drink for them too, especially if your pictures are during a warmer season. 

7. Bring on the favorite toys and music.

I’ve been introduced to many a favorite matchbox car, doll, and lovie.  While their toys don’t have to feature prominently in many of the shots, it can be helpful for toddler/preschool age kiddos to have something in those busy hands.  I will often borrow toys to be my “photography assistant”. Younger toddlers seem to love having their favorite toys tossed in the air. However, you know your child best.  If toys are likely to be more of a distraction than a help, you can leave them at home.  Feel free to whip out your kid’s favorite music on your phone.  I’ve photographed many a session to the Frozen soundtrack. 

Smiling toddler during Chattanooga, TN newborn photo session.
This little smile brought to you by the bubble wand Mom brought along.

8. Dress your kids when you get to the session or bring a back up outfit.

Kids are messy. It’s a fact. The last thing you want to derail your session and trigger a stress bomb is your child’s outfit being ruined before you even get to the session.  I love neutral, light color clothing on my clients (Hello- bright, glowy skin tones), but you may want to consider arriving a few minutes early to don that beautiful smocked dress in the car. Also, know that your photographer should be able to edit out small stains.  

This wise Momma dressed these girls in the car when they arrived.

Bonus Tip:

You have my permission to bring your own back-up entertainment (i.e. grandparents or friends to your low-stress Chattanooga family photoshoot). I’m always thrilled to have a helper at my session.  Again, they know what makes your children tick better than I do. While I’m fine with being a one-person circus, I will never turn down the help of a side-kick who allows me to focus a little more on framing the full family shot rather than keeping the smiles coming. 

Grandmother getting toddler to smile during Chattanooga photoshoot.
I’m telling you, grandparents bring the magic!

No, a photography session with your preschooler and elementary age child is not going to be as organized and smooth as your engagement and wedding portraits likely were.  But isn’t that true of this season of life? Life with younger children is a little disheveled and wild, but so much fun.  Trust me, you want photos that are an accurate depiction of this season.  So take a deep breath, try to keep your own feelings in check, and trust your photographer. I’ll let you in on another little secret, I use continuous shooting a LOT when I have sessions with young kids.  It may not feel like it in the moment, but I will get photos of your family that you will love. 

You’ve got this!

More details about sessions with me can be found here. To schedule a low-stress Chattanooga family photoshoot with me, find my contact form here.

Smiling toddlers during Lookout Mountain mini-session.
Confession: This little personal “mini-session” probably took about 10 minutes. My husband took about 400 shots (hello, continuous mode) and 9 were usable.

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