As a mom, it can feel daunting. I’ve seen it so many times. That nervous look in a mother’s eye as the family photo session she planned for weeks begins to go off track when her little one melts down.

As a long-time San Diego family photographer, I know it well. It’s usually a mix of frustration and embarrassment. You have a lot of time and money invested in this experience. You carefully planned your family’s outfits, convinced your less than enthusiastic spouse to join, picked the perfect location, and possibly bribed your children. When they start acting up, you might be the one who wants to cry! It definitely doesn’t have to be this way. I’m here to make your family photography experience enjoyable right from the beginning. Here are 5 tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your session.

1. Let Them Be Kids! 
As a mom of six and a family photographer for over 10 years I have seen it all. Super shy kids, hyper kids, kids who literally want nothing to do with my camera. Guess what? I can almost guarantee we will still get images that make your heart skip a beat. There is nothing your child can do that will surprise me. Don’t feel embarrassed for even a second. I’ve been at this a long time. I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve to get even the most hesitant child to open up a little. I’ve got you mama! As you prepare for family photos, remember your kids have minds of their own. Especially toddlers. If something I’m doing in a session isn’t working, that’s totally ok! We can switch gears immediately. I keep things very light-hearted and move quickly to keep a young child engaged.

2. Relax.
Kids feed off your mood. Therefore, take a deep breath and relax! I know getting everyone ready is stressful, but try your best to stay as calm as possible. Positive reinforcement works way better than negative consequences. Threats of discipline can send a session spiraling out of control, especially with super little ones with no impulse control. I know it’s frustrating, but I will help you through it. Set yourself up for success by talking about the session ahead of time in a fun manner. Say something like, We’re going to the beach with Tristan today. She loves to chase you around, makes silly faces, and tells silly jokes. She’ll be taking our pictures and maybe she will let you try!” Once a session begins, the best thing you can do to help is to have fun and snuggle up with your kids.

3. Let Me Take the Lead.
You know your child better than anyone else. You know what makes them nervous, laugh, or gets them out of a bad mood. In this instance, you can just sit back and try to relax. As an experienced mom and photographer, I can usually get almost all of my young clients to let loose and have fun. You might feel like you need to stand behind me and tell your kids to smile or “look at the camera. This is not the case when you’re working with a professional family photographer. My job is to capture real emotion and genuine smiles. The goal isn’t to “make” them smile. It’s my job is to get them to capture the natural toothless grins and belly laughs. Your job is to take a breath and soak in the moment. Parents rarely have the opportunity to simply relax and stare at their incredible little people. This is that moment. Enjoy every second of it!

Sometimes it’s helpful to show them a picture of the photographer in advance when talking about the upcoming session. Check out their Instagram profile or website about section. This will help them see we are a friend. A quick zoom call or video text introducing myself helps my clients as well! That can definitely help make timid kids feel a little more connected from the start.

4. Plan in Advance.
By far, the easiest way to prepare for a family photography session is to give yourself plenty of time to get ready. You want to eat before your session and have a snack and/or water for your kids on location. In addition, make sure your children are rested and pack everything you need well in advance. Give your outfits a test run in the days prior to your session. If something feels uncomfortable, choose something else. Stress increases when you feel rushed. This can result in a cranky family. Give yourself extra time to get dressed, load the car, and drive to the session. The goal is to minimize any crazy, rushed feelings. They will totally feed off of you. If you are as cool as a cucumber, it will make things even smoother for them.

5. Get your Partner on Board.
It was mentioned earlier that your mood can set the tone for the session. Your partner’s mood matters too. Kids will notice if their parents aren’t excited about the session. I know most people don’t exactly jump for joy at the prospect of having their photo taken. So, talk with your spouse and ask them to put their game face on. My sessions are all about capturing genuine emotion, authentic connection, and real smiles. My job is to capture the real you. Get ready to play, laugh, relax. Just be yourself!

Even if I am not your photographer, these tips would set you out on the right foot to create some amazing memories. If all else fails, pour yourself a nice glass of wine later!