Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Hate Photo Shoots

Remember a few months back when I shared a picture from Miss C’s photo shoot in Memphis? Today I’m handing over the reins to the lady who made that happen – my friend Melissa! You’re in for a treat. Enjoy! -Emily

Hello to all of Emily’s wonderful readers! I feel like I know so many of you from the comments section, so I know that a lot of you have kids. Emily asked me to guest-blog today about the kid-related topic nearest and dearest to my heart: the family photo shoot. Whether those words give you post-traumatic flashbacks or make you say “aww,” it’s hard to discount the power of a great snapshot of the happy moments in your life. I’ve been photographing families for almost four years now, and I’ve picked up a few tricks for ensuring that I never take a shot that ends up on Awkward Family Photos.

My own earliest photo shoot memories are of my mom desperately begging my brother to sit still for a “decent” Christmas card photo, because everyone else in the park was staring. As her desperation grew, his incentive to act like a wild hyena only increased. Year after year this happened until I finally stopped agreeing to participate.*

* He was 19 at the time, and I was in grad school. At that late age, we probably both shouldn’t have been acting out.

So where did we go wrong? Photo shoots are about energy—everyone feeds off each other. So if Mom and Dad are worried that the kids are misbehaving, that they’re embarrassing themselves in front of the nice photographer, or that they’re not making the “good” cheese face, the kids are going to get grumpier and grumpier. There are many expressions that lead to fantastic, moving photos, but “stonefaced death glare” is rarely one of them. Which brings us to…
The Number One Rule of Surviving Photography with Kids

We didn’t plan on running around in a spray park, but this little guy couldn’t have been happier about it.

Unless it’s a safety issue, there are no rules.

Photo shoots are pretty much a discipline-free zone, unless someone is contemplating doing something like hurling rocks at their little sister’s head. Don’t worry about the kids getting out of control and running amok—that’s often when they make the expressions that are most “them.” Kids can blow bubbles in my face, chase me from here to kingdom come, pull my hair, spray me with a water fountain, or tell me to lie in a pool of mud. My motto: “If I don’t come home filthy, I didn’t work hard enough!” On a related note:

It Is Okay if Your Kid Pees on Me. Really.*
If your heart is set on the classic naked-baby pose, some pee (or its smellier cousin) is probably going to make an appearance, and it’s probably going to get on either my hands or some of my blankets. This is not a big deal. I was going to wash them anyway.

* Preferably, we’re talking infants on this one and not 9-year-olds. If a 9-year-old is making like a Calvin decal during the photo shoot, we’ve really gone off the rails.

Shoots often go better if there’s something to do other than just sit and smile. Go for a ride, visit a fair, eat some ice cream.

Drive Them to Distraction

As anyone who’s ever watched the proverbial birdie knows, distraction is key. Ideally, a family is so busy interacting with me, and with each other, that they forget all about that bulky contraption in my hand. Especially if you have very young kids, it’s good to come armed with some favorite toys so I can catch their wandering eyes. Horrible singing also is generally good for a laugh. My best weapon to date, though, has been the chase scene. I have yet to meet a kid who was unwilling to chase me for 10 solid minutes, and who didn’t loosen up and laugh while doing so.

Yes, You Have to Be in Some Photos.
I think this is one of the most important things I can convey, and if I know my subjects well enough, I will push them around about it. iPhone cameras are fantastic for capturing everyday life, but my guess is that you’re in about 1% of those photos. Your hard work, your overwhelming love, your joy at being a parent…that’s something that deserves to be preserved.

The older I get, the more I realize how fleeting life is (not to mention youthful skin!). I know you’re tired, you’ve been doing 3 a.m. feedings for what seems like forever, and you feel like you’ve seen better days. I can’t guarantee that on the day of your photo shoot, you’ll look the best you ever have in your life, but I can promise you a couple of things: you will never be any younger than you are today, and you will look back on this time with your children as something so precious. Take photos with your kids. If only so they can look back on them in 20 years and ask, “OK, Mom, WHAT are you wearing?!”

Parents—give yourselves points for being awesome! In 15 years you can say, “See what we did for you?”

Melissa’s Bio: Melissa is based in Memphis, Tennessee. You can follow her photos at

Emily’s Bio of Melissa: Melissa is awesomesauce. She’s as good (if not better) a friend as she is a photographer, and that’s saying something. Love you, Friend. 



  1. Ahahah! Emily!! This was too funny! This may be one of my favorite posts that you’ve done. The bit about your brother acting like a wild hyena, and then going for the big laugh, telling us he was 19 at the time… good stuff! I’ve always felt that a really good child photographer was hard to find. You not only have to have a good eye, you have to be a child psychologist and kid wrangler all wrapped up in one. Your friend obviously knows what she’s doing. Great pictures. I’m a big fan of black and white.

    1. The credit all goes to Melissa; all I did was write the intro! She is a triple threat – a great writer, a fantastic photographer, and she still has a day job at a hospital! Her work is amazing. She knows what she’s doing ;D

      1. Ahem… I meant it’s one of my favorite posts that Melissa has done! Yeah, that’s the ticket : )

  2. We have one family photo (we’re not the family photo type typically)…and the deal was that we all wanted to look like we normally do – not some alien family that stepped in with clothing we’d never contemplate wearing…so we all looked like we normally do – and I think it’s the best photo we’ve all taken together.

    1. Agree entirely. If your family doesn’t typically walk around in matching white polo shirts, the family photo is probably not the time to trot it out. Somewhat coordinated outfits definitely look nice, don’t get me wrong, but I’d so much prefer everyone be comfortable. The whole idea of “belonging together” doesn’t come from outfits in life, it comes from how you all genuinely interact with each other.

      I’m sure there must be a family of white polo shirt enthusiasts out there somewhere, but I doubt it’s in proportion to how many you see in family photos!

      1. I would never put my family in coordinated clothing – no one would recognize us! And of course buttons horrify me :)

  3. Great post! And I’m glad you clarified the age limit on that peeing-on-you thing. ;)

    1. Haha I know; it’s good to have boundaries.

  4. Wonderful description of the how-tos, Melissa!
    Makes your job sound rewarding, and a lot of fun!

    1. She is the best!

  5. Fantastic !! 2 thumbs up Emily & Melissa !!!

  6. Yay, this post is like an explosion of awesomeness! Melissa, these are great tips, and you are hilarious, and I love that picture of you with Miss C, and I love your top in that picture. Okay, enough, run-on sentence! Thanks for sharing! ;)

    1. I loved her top too!

  7. What a great post!! I’m going to check this lady out as Memphis is near and dear to me. The family photo thing I remember so well. We’d go and all four of us sisters would sit there trying to smile so pretty and the photo guy would say — Hold it! And every time, right before the shot, I’d turn my head to one side. Don’t know why, but he hated me doing that. Anyway, most of the “professional” pics, I’ve got my head cocked to one side. Maybe I was being rebellious in my shy way even then. Thanks, Emily. Beautiful pics — your friend is very talented.

    1. Thanks, Brig! She is great! If you ever know anyone who needs a great photog in the Memphis area, look Melissa up. If she hadn’t been an actual guest at our wedding, I would have asked her to shoot it.

  8. I love this and you are so right about the parents having to be in a couple of the pictures. I look back on our photos and it is like I was not even there. :-( I have given my old digital camera to my 4 year old and he has actually taken some great shots (and a lot of pictures of the back of my head while I am driving!)

    1. We once went on a trip with some friends with a 3YO and they handed their camera over to him. Some of the pics were really great! And by some, I mean like 5 out of the 300 he took. But those 5 were exemplary!

      1. LOL – all you really need is one great photo of any given trip anyway.

  9. Aw, thanks so much for handing me the reins to this glorious sleigh for a day, Emily. I am lucky to have you as a friend and obviously honored to be an official documentarian for Miss C!

    I totally endorse handing a camera to a 4-year-old–I think it’s totally sweet to be able to see the world as they see it.

    1. You are THE BEST for having done this! Thank you for imparting your wisdom to my blog!

  10. Excellent post! You young kids are so lucky that portrait photography has changed so much. In my day it was all bout the posed photo. From Sears. But hey, we got to choose our background.

    1. Wow! Such extravagant customization! ;D

  11. Kristan M. · · Reply

    Melissa, Such great advice! This was a fun post! I will definitely use this for future reference.

    1. Melissa is the best!

  12. LOL! This is a great post, and I LOVE those photos. Great tips!!

Now you can hold the magic talking stick.

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