Boise, ID photographer
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How to Photograph Difficult Kids

January 21, 2023

How to photograph difficult kids | Family photography education by Hannah Mann

How to photograph difficult kids | Family photography education by Hannah Mann

When I talk about kids being difficult, squirrelly, squirmy, grumpy, crazy, wild, etc., this is NOT a criticism in any way. I have four children of my own, two girls and two boys, currently ranging in age from 10 down to 16 months. I know all about squirrelly!

My oldest, Adelaide, was by far my most shy and mellow child, so when I had maternity photos taken during my second pregnancy when she was newly two, I thought she might have a little trouble warming up. Turns out, she decided that shaking her little booty at the photographer was her activity of choice. Who would have guessed!

Then came my boys, Parker and Leo. Dirt. Roughhousing. Sword fighting with sticks. Spitting. Running. All the boy things are exactly what they love, and that doesn’t turn off for a photo session. Even hugs and snuggles can turn painful pretty quickly!

When I added our littlest, Daphne, I thought for sure that we’d have smooth sailing after having two crazy boys in a row. Turns out, I was totally wrong. She is wildly opinionated and independent, she loves playing in dirt and climbing on everything, and she can create danger and mischief out of thin air. Plus, she hates being corralled as much as any kid I’ve known.

So, when parents tell me (very often) before sessions that they’re nervous about how their children will behave, or that they have a short attention span, I just smile and promise them that I’ve got this. 😉

The truth is, kids weren’t meant to be anything but who they are. They’ll learn self control as they get older, but until about age 4 or 5, most children really aren’t equipped to do much besides follow the mood they’re feeling. And when it comes to toddlers, that’s even more true.

Toddlers in particular can be very challenging – especially if they’ve just learned to walk and want nothing more than to be independent. Turns out, snuggling mom is super boring compared to getting around on your own two feet! I frequently photograph families whose young toddlers refuse to be held, are grumpy and cry frequently, only allow one parent to hold them, and run away every chance they get. Sure, we have to work extra hard during these sessions, but success is absolutely possible with a few good tricks up your sleeve!

So, here you go: my favorite tips for how to photograph difficult kids:

How to photograph difficult kids | Family photography education by Hannah Mann
  1. Don’t involve them until the very last second
    This usually looks like giving full instructions to the rest of the family – where parents and other siblings should stand, what each person should be doing – and only then bringing in the wild little one. Let him or her play or explore or eat dirt or whatever keeps them happy (of course if it’s safe and the parents are fine with it!), while you get the entire family set up and yourself set up. Once everyone else is ready, mom or dad can grab the unwilling participant, and all you really need is a couple seconds to grab your shot and then let said participant go back to playing!
  2. Spin + freeze
    I can’t take credit for this one – I’ve heard it several places before! – but it’s a great trick that’s easy to forget. If a little one is grumpy, have mom or dad snuggle him or her in close, spin in a circle or two, and freeze when they’re angled the way you want them again. 95% of the time this will make a little one smile, or at least stop crying! Just make sure to give the parents any instructions you need to before they spin, because the most natural thing to do as you snuggle a little one is look down at them and give yourself a great double chin. But since no one wants double chin photos, make sure to equip them to spin and snuggle in a flattering way, before they start. 😉
  3. Jump
    This is a personal favorite that I’ve used often with my own kids! If they are trying to escape your arms and get back down to the ground, giving a couple little hops can get them to realize that being held might actually be tolerable for a minute or two, and usually makes them smile. And even if it only buys you a few seconds, it’s usually enough to grab a great shot or two before they get stir crazy again. Personally, this is how I get Daphne through self timer photos – she would much rather be off on her own and into all kinds of trouble, but I can buy enough time for a couple shots if I jump and play with her as I hold her.

  4. Shoulder ride or airplane
    Sometimes, an unexpected change in perspective is enough to distract a little one from a bad mood or an obsession with running away from photos. Note: some kids absolutely hate being held in the air or riding on mom or dad’s shoulders, but other kids LOVE it. For this reason, I ask parents beforehand if they think their child would enjoy this. Usually, parents know if it will be well received or not, and again, all you really need is a few seconds of happiness (or a quick break from screams) to get a great shot.
How to photograph difficult kids | Family photography education by Hannah Mann

I have said many times before that family sessions can easily be more exhausting than weddings, and I fully stand by that sentiment! Kids are just little humans with very little self control or ability to delay gratification, so of course they’ll be challenging. They’re also really incredible and bring total magic to both life and photos, and I LOVE photographing them, crazy and all.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the chaos in front of you at a family session, don’t forget to pause, take a breath, remind mom and dad that everything is GREAT, and then pull out some of these tricks. You’ve got this!

How to photograph difficult kids | Family photography education by Hannah Mann

How to photograph difficult kids | Family photography education by Hannah Mann

I’m Hannah: a photography educator with a passion for transformative education. I believe in your talents and potential even more than you might believe in them. Really! I believe in you because I know that being a successful photographer isn’t about being born with the right skills, but about getting your hands on the right education.

And that, friend, is what you’ll find here.

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i'm hannah

I'm a photographer and educator based in Boise, ID, where I live with my favorite guy ever and our two boys + two girls.

Since founding my business in 2014, I have relentlessly honed my craft and the experience I offer to each client I work with. My commitment is to always deliver industry-leading artistry and quality. READ MORE...