On Kids’ Terms | San Francisco Bay Area Storytelling Family Photographer


I’m part of the Shoot&Share community on Facebook, which is a place for photographers to discuss worries and successes. Sometimes we share difficulties we’ve had during photo sessions, and a few days ago there was one of those very posts that caught my eye. Now I should tell you that a lot of the photographers in the group do wedding photography, which is why this post turned out to be much funnier than I originally thought:

“I had the most difficult client today!! Didn’t listen, super grumpy, and didn’t pay me a dime!! Oh wait…he’s my kid! Sheesh!!!! Anyone else feel this way?? My other 3 do great, but my just turned 4 year old has been super difficult from day one!” Beth Luken

Other photographers started chiming in.

“Mine are horrid!! Seriously, nightmares.” Robyn Donough

“Wish I could say they grow out of it….my son has been this way since he was in the womb!” Niki Sutton

“My 2 year old is a hit or miss. Lol” Briana Pennington

After reading a few of the comments I had to write about this, because it’s an important discussion we need to have. There is a lot of frustration in the air when trying to get kids to behave properly during a photo session. And what “properly” means for (some) grownups may not sit well with a youngster.

When it comes to taking pictures, us grownups really shouldn’t take “misbehavior” personally; it is all just part of being kids. Nobody should expect toddlers to be able to sit still and smile for a few photos, even less so for a two hour family session. Sitting still and following direction is an even greater task for kids that are easily distracted or have huge amounts of energy.

Like most kids, I really couldn’t care less about posing for photos when I’m in the middle of something fun. If we want kids to “behave” for pictures, we have to make it worth while for them. Let’s not resort to bribery; let’s make it a fun activity where how they behave should solely depend on how us adults make them feel.

Sometimes I wonder if the pictures that parents know were accomplished by begging, bribing or threatening, are pictures they will truly cherish?

I started out doing posed newborn and family work, but it never felt right. The photos I liked the most were the ones where the kids were doing something unique to their personality, rather than smiling for the camera. When a mom and son would share a glance or dad would make the kids laugh, I made sure to capture it. I quickly realized taking formal photos just wasn’t going to work out for me. This lead to me choosing a storytelling/documentary approach to doing family photography, which seems to have totally eliminated the problem of kids not “cooperating” for pictures.

Kids are very happy when they just get to spend time with their parents, and aren’t being told what to do for the sake of the photographer. Occasionally larger than life meltdowns happen, because that’s just part of life, but those moments sometimes turn out to be the funniest pictures from the session.

“… formal shoots totally crash and burn, but when I get photos of them just being kids, it makes a huge difference. It’s them being kids, being themselves, capturing their personalities without the pressure of ‘Look here! Smile! Sit still!’ I have four kids – 10, 8, 4, and 2 – and getting traditional family photos are almost a fantasy.” Robyn Donough

What I’m trying to say is, that if we let the kids be themselves, they’ll represent themselves in the best possible way.  If they feel happy, they will look happy. And that usually goes for the not-very-excited-about-the-photo-shoot-parent, too!

Plan a day to spend some quality time with your kids, and let me capture you as you are in this very moment – it may just be the most relaxed photo session you’ve ever had.


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Documentary newborn and family photographer serving San francisco Bay Area, San Jose, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and surrounding areas