The weather is perfect, the camera is ready, everyone looks amazing . . . but the kids won’t sit still for pictures. Here are some tricks to photograph uncooperative kids.
Family photos—a reminder of beautiful memories, but also a herculean task requiring the Mission Impossible theme song.
According to Momwell, family photos “bring an entirely new invisible load to the table”: Researching photographers, picking a date, choosing a location, finding family outfits, and stalking the weather. Getting everyone ready, trying to get yourself ready while herding everyone else, and forcing a smile despite the chaos. Bribing your children and partner to participate, regretting your life choices, but loving the outcome and doing it all over again the next year.
But we’re here to give you the tools you need to make that load a little lighter, because taking photos with your kids should be fun.
If your kids refuse to sit still for pictures, or they won’t do what you ask them to, or the idea of photos has put them in a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad mood, here are some helpful tips.
1. If You Don’t Have the Camera, Don’t Talk
For good photos, we want kids to look at the camera, so avoid talking to them if you’re not behind the camera. The kids are already bored and uncomfortable and are trying to find anything they can to distract themselves. If you talk to them, you’ll just be another distraction from the camera.
And if you do have the camera, please do talk! Do whatever you have to do, even lie on the ground, to keep their attention on you.
2. Give Them Something to Look At
As was already mentioned, kids have wandering eyes: they want to look at anything but the camera. If you can’t get them to look at it, do something crazy to draw their attention.
For example, It’s Always Autumn recommends attaching a Pez dispenser on your camera. They say that if you “file down the feet of a Pez dispenser just a bit, it fits into the external flash attachment of your dSLR. . . . Pick a princess Pez or a Lightning McQueen Pez and stick him on top of your camera, then show your child that the Pez gives out candy for kids who look at him.”
If no wheedling, joking, or candy dispensing works to keep their eyes on the camera, you can literally hand them something to look at, like a flower or a toy. At least then their eyes will be somewhere on purpose, and then once they finally look up at the camera, you can capture their joy.
3. Let Them Run It Out
If your kids have got the wiggles, no amount of bribery or toys will get your kid to sit still. When that happens, the best thing you can do is tell them to run it out.
Turn them loose wherever you are, and follow them around with your camera. You can capture their candid moments (which might even turn out to be the best photos ever) until they’re tired enough to sit still for beautiful portraits.
4. Turn It into a Game
Most kids will always say yes to a game, even if it’s attached to a camera. The games can range from peek-a-boo to a treasure hunt, and every single one will keep the kids entertained and encourage smiles.
For example, you can set the kids free on a treasure hunt. Whoever finds the coolest thing is the winner. Then as they go about their adventure, you can follow them around and capture amazing candid photos. Or you can ask the kids to play copycat. You tell them to copy your poses exactly, and then throw in some funny poses to keep them interested.
5. Bring a Friend
Taking photos alone can be intimidating for a kid. If they’re too shy around the camera, bring their friend along so that the two of them can play. They’ll probably end up having so much fun that they don’t even notice the camera. And this will help you get those amazing photos without having to work too hard to make your kid smile. Plus, you can share those photos as a gift with the friend’s parents.
6. Give Them Something to Do
A lot of kids won’t sit still for pictures because sitting still is boooooring. But if they’re flying a kite or painting a picture or blowing bubbles, they’ll forget that the camera is even there. Just hand them something to do while they sit in front of the camera, and then start clicking away. And as a bonus, you’ll get fun, interesting pictures that capture your kids in their lively youth.
7. Ask the Tickle Monster to Visit
Tickling a kid is a surefire way to get lots of joy and laughter. When your kids start looking a little stiff because there is so much they’d rather be doing than sitting still, bring out your tickle fingers. Or even better, ask siblings to tickle each other (because who doesn’t like teasing their brothers or sisters?).
8. Have Them Read a Book
Just as libraries are quiet, books often inspire a sense of peace and calm. When the kids won’t sit still, break out their favorite story. They’ll be so interested in sitting down to read the book that you’ll have a chance to catch some photos. The results will be beautiful and tranquil, and will capture your kids favorite books in picture so you can look back at them and remember.
9. Turn It into a Talent Show
Most kids love to show off their talents. You want to take pictures? Bleh. You want to see my dance? Woohoo!
If you turn the photoshoot into a talent show and ask the kids to show off their tricks and talents, everyone will have a great time. The results will be amazing, genuine photos of the kids that are packed full of emotion. The parents will love it, and it will be a fun record of the kids’ personalities.
10. Let Them Take a Nap
Sometimes, if your kid is being particularly uncooperative and grumpy, it might be time for a nap. But if you’re in the middle of a photoshoot, it can be hard to take a break, so instead, use it to your advantage.
Let your kid wander off for a nap and let them think they’re getting away with something by sleeping when they’re supposed to be taking pictures, and then start taking all your pictures. You’ll get some great, unique photos that are perfect for the scrapbook.
11. Capture What Your Kids Love
Instead of just planning a photoshoot that you want, ask your kids what they want to do. Let them pick their costumes or the location, and capture them wearing and doing what they love. This will not only get the kids interested in the photoshoot but also capture their current interests. With this, you’ll get to create a beautiful timeline of what they love as they grow and change.
12. Shoot Them as They Are . . . and Take a LOT of Pictures
If you only take one thing away from this article, remember this: Children are going to be children. You need to capture them as they are and not as you want them to be.
Props, poses, a schedule . . . all of that flies out the window when kids are involved. With kids, the best photos are often the impromptu shots that you didn’t plan and never saw coming. If you have to get down on the children’s level and be a little silly, then that’s what you do. Follow the kids around, do what they want to do, interact with them, have a good time, and take a LOT of pictures throughout it all. The results will astound you!
For some tips on family photos, read our article “13 Tips on How to Take a Great Family Photo.”
For some unique ways to display the pictures you’ve taken, check out our article “15 Ways to Display Old Photos.”
For more ways to photograph kids who won’t sit still, check out “29 Ways to Photograph Uncooperative Kids” from the Click Community, “How to Convince Children to Pose for Photos” from ABL Photography, “12 Essential Tips and Tricks for Photographing Children” from Photocrowd, and “Top 10 Toddler Photography Tips So You Can Take Gorgeous Toddler Pictures” from It’s Always Autumn.
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Shaelyn Topolovec earned a BA in editing and publishing from BYU, worked on several online publications, and joined the Familius family. Shae is currently an editor and copywriter who lives in California’s Central Valley.