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Newborn and Toddler Photography: How to Keep Kids Happy and Engaged During Family Photography

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

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As a Delaware family photographer, I’ve worked with all sorts of children and adults. Of all my sessions, any newborn and toddler photography definitely ranks as some of my trickiest sessions. At the same time, newborns and toddlers are by far some of my favorite clients to photograph.

Don't worry! Even if you have a rambunctious toddler, you can still get incredible family photos. All it takes is preparation, patience, and a talented photographer.

If you have an upcoming family photography session, let’s talk about how you can best prepare the littlest models for a successful session.

1. Perfecting Toddler Photography: Choosing the Right Time of Day

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When scheduling my Delaware family photography sessions, I always ask the parents when the littlest models will be at their best. Just like adults, newborns and toddlers have certain times of day they prefer. Is your toddler an early riser? Let’s start the day with an 8am session. Do you routinely struggle to get your toddler out of bed in time for daycare? Try to go with a 5pm session instead.

Some photographers will only book at the optimal lighting times. I suggest the times that will work best with lighting, but I ultimately leave it up to the parents. You can deal with harsh sun, but you can’t photoshop a happy face onto a child that spends the whole session miserable. If the optimal lighting times contradict and overlap with naptimes, tell your photographer. You want your toddler to feel rested and refreshed, not cranky and upset.

If your photographer remains adamant that the timing cannot be changed, they aren’t the photographer for you. Of course, don’t expect that you’ll get that golden hour glow in photos shot at 3pm. But picking a session time where all family members will be happiest supersedes the ideal lighting time in my book.

2. Newborn and Toddler Photography: To Nap or Not to Nap

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You know your child better than anyone else does. How does your newborn or toddler feel after a nap? Do they jump right back up and zoom into playtime? Or do they feel groggy and cranky right after they wake up? With newborns at family photography sessions, having them nap in the car on the way to the session usually sets them up for success. Newborn portraits are a different story; for that, you want them asleep for the session itself. But when you’re scheduling family photos, having them nap before can keep them calm and attentive during the shoot.

As a Delaware family photographer, I’ve found that toddlers that nap in the car on the way to the shoot are quite cranky afterwards. It normally takes toddlers a little bit longer to readjust to being present in the world after a nap. They usually don’t love having a stranger tell them to smile before they’ve fully acclimatized to being awake again.

So definitely make sure your toddler gets their nap in before their family photo session. Just make sure that nap doesn’t happen in the car!

Of course, your toddler might be the exception to the rule. Maybe they’re best behaved right after they wake up. If so, let them get that car nap in before the session.

3. Toddler Photoshoot Ideas: Keeping Your Toddler Focused

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Let’s face it; toddlers don’t have the longest attention span. To keep toddlers engaged, you have to make sure the session stays exciting.

The best way to do that? Snacks and bribery.

Let’s not overcomplicate it. Bringing along gummies, gold fish, raisins, or any other bite sized snack will help keep them motivated between photos.

“One more photo, and then snack time!” “One more big smile and then you get a gummy!” For those with short attention spans, this will keep them engaged for the few seconds your photographer needs to get the shot. If you have someone that looks absolutely miserable, you can always give it to them during the photo. We will at worst get a neutral face and at best a smile with a small snack in their mouth.

For toddlers that understand delayed rewards, tell them if they behave, they’ll get ice cream later. If you don’t want to make food a reward, plan a fun activity for after your session. When I’m doing Delaware family photography sessions, I recommend Fun Land as a fun activity to use as a reward for good behavior during the session.

Other than snacks and bribery, here are some other tips for keeping your toddler focused during the family photo session.

  1. When you’re doing family photo poses with baby and toddler together, have the parents and photographer sing Baby Shark or their favorite Disney song. I’ve been in over 60 musical and theatre productions, so I’m more than happy to sing for my toddler and newborn clients.

  2. For younger toddlers, you can also bring along one of their favorite stuffed animals to hold over the camera. That can usually grab their attention for a moment or two.

  3. Get ready to say your toddler’s favorite word over and over again. This could be “pickle,” “tushy,” or anything else they find hilarious. I once had a toddler that found the word “dentist” hilarious beyond belief.

  4. Incorporate something exciting into the session. I’ve done family photoshoots at arcades and I end a lot of boardwalk shoots at an ice cream parlor. You can get some cute ideas for 2 year old pictures by thinking about something your toddler genuinely loves doing.

  5. If your toddler struggles to focus during group photos, I find that having a parent pick them up can help them pay attention. When they’re standing on their own, they can lose focus or start to wander away. But if they’re being held, they can feel a little more grounded and will usually face the camera.

Family Photography With Toddlers: Let Them Be Themselves

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Every parent wants that perfect shot of everyone smiling and looking at the camera. While that’s always nice to have, I like to let everyone at the session enjoy themselves. If your toddler is constantly on the move, let’s let them run around! I have a lot of poses that let kids race and play games during the session. It’s a great way to get some authentic candids. It also teaches them that it’s okay to be themselves! I do all the posed shots first, promising that if we get those out of the way, we can move on to the fun stuff. I end all my beach family photography sessions with playtime in the water. It’s a great way for everyone to express themselves and genuinely enjoy some family time. I’m just there to capture it.

During your family photography session, you won’t get the best results by sternly scolding your toddler. It’s all a game of deciding when to rein them in and when to let them expel their bouts of energy. If your toddler isn’t a buttoned-up type of kid, don’t try to force them to be someone they’re not. Trust your photographer to get the shots and let your toddler be themselves. Family pictures with newborn and toddler aged kids doesn’t have to be overwhelming! It can be a great experience if you come into the session feeling relaxed and flexible.

Looking to book with a Maryland or Delaware family photographer? Reach out to Still Poetry Photography today! We’ve worked with every age, from babies just seconds old to grandparents approaching 100. We also excel at working with neurodivergent children and adults. Let us know how we can help you capture the best family photos you’ve ever had!


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