Parents are often concerned that their children will “act out” at a photo session, or they tell me that theirs is “spirited” or “a handful”. I say, “Let them be wild!”. I have kids, 3 in fact. And if you’ve met them, you know that they are by no means quiet. Or tame. They are hooligans. In the nicest sense of the word; They have energy and lots of it. Wild kids don’t phase me, and I truly embrace their active, silly, happy side at sessions, it shows off their true personality! But, in order to get great photos, it has to be controlled chaos. Here are 5 tips to how I keep active kids engaged in the session and still get the photos my clients love!

Kristen Carter Photography Tips for Working With Active Kids

Meet my girls. These are the out-takes to their “Sister” session, but this is life with them.


1.) Praise, not criticism- Use positive reinforcement when they are doing the things you ask them to do. Some people call this bribery, I call it magic! LOL. Depending on the age & personality of the child, it might be a verbal reward like “good job”, or “you’re doing awesome”. Others respond better to high-fives and small candies. Soon they realize that by doing the things we are asking (“Sit there for a second,” “Pretend you like your sister,” “Show me your craziest smile!”) they will earn a reward. When they choose not to follow directions, they don’t earn the reward, but we also won’t give negative responses (“Be good or no treat,” “If you don’t do this, then you’ll be in trouble.”) Experience has shown that by threatening a time-out, or criticizing them, they’ll shut down and not want to participate at all in photos. The goal is a happy experience with beautiful photos to remember it by!

Kristen Carter Photography Tips for Working With Active Kids

This sweet 2 year old was asking me, “Please?” because he knew I had candy in my pocket.


2.) Keep their attention- Kids (and some adults) have short attention spans. Keep things moving, always changing and only focus on one set or pose for a short amount of time. During sessions, I’ll often hop from spot to spot to encourage energy and fun. We might start on the steps, snap a few photos, then move to a nearby rock. We can dance, jump, wiggle and play, snap more photos and then move on. It may seem like we are all over and not really getting anything from it, but I promise, experience has taught me how to work quickly. If I didn’t get the photo that I had imagined in my head the first time around, I’ll often take them back to an earlier spot and try again. The younger the children involved, the less time we have to keep their attention and cooperation. I loved the compliment from a dad this week, “Thanks for keeping things short and sweet. We love the photos and appreciate that you didn’t drag out our session for hours just because you can.”

Kristen Carter Photography Tips for Working With Active Kids

Pretend play is a great way to keep their attention.


3.) Take breaks- Letting the kids know our expectations up front and offering them short breaks in between poses/sets is a fabulous way to contain their energy and maintain a semblance of control in a session. I make it a “deal” between us. When we are talking about what we will be doing, I usually give the older kids a heads up like this: “So, here’s the plan guys. We’re gonna sit here for a few minutes, take some great photos with fun smiles, then we can run around the grassy area for a few minutes. Deal?” They’ll usually agree and that gives me the opportunity to tell them while we’re shooting, “Hey, remember our deal! A couple more photos then its play time!” When they feel like there’s an end in sight, its not overwhelming for them to listen and cooperate. If the kids are too little to agree to your deal, they still need breaks. Its a lot of stimulation for them when you’re whistling or shaking a rattle to get their attention. Give snuggle/quiet time breaks. (Those are also my favorite moments for sweet candids with no one looking at the camera)

Kristen Carter Photography Tips for Working With Active Kids

Silly moments like this happen in the breaks between poses/locations.


4.) Embrace their energy- If I could bottle up my 3 year old’s energy and sell it, I’d retire. That boy can run circles for hours without end. We use this to our advantage at photo sessions by keeping our energy exciting and fun. Lots of giggling, playing, and silly songs. Ring-around-the-rosy, leap frog, freeze tag & red light/green light are great tools to keep kids playing but get them to be in the position/area/setup that you want. Plus, the candids of kids falling down and chuckling are seriously adorable! After we’ve finished all the posed set-ups, I’ll bring out the bubble machine, sidewalk chalk, or their favorite toys and then just let them play. No rules, no “hey, look at the camera,” just being kids.

Kristen Carter Photography Tips for Working With Active Kids

Bubbles are an awesome treat after a fun family session!


5.) Don’t stress!- The biggest tip I can give is to go with the flow. As a parent, this is really hard sometimes. You want to control the kids, make sure they’re smiling, and just get the photos done. As a photographer, I want to make sure the photos are fabulous, artistic and fulfill a vision that my client and I have discussed. Putting too much pressure on the kids though will result in a fake smile or worse, sadness. If parents relax, enjoy the time together and just BE in the moment with their family, they cherish the images we create. If, no matter what we do, its just not working, then worst case scenario is that we will reschedule our session. This doesn’t happen often, and if it does, its not because a child is running around and being crazy; its because they are having a bad day. Could be that they are getting sick, didn’t sleep well, or are uncomfortable in their clothes/setting/life in general. Even adults have an “off” day. I would rather pick another day and try again than make a child miserable by forcing them to take photos when they don’t want to. We will try our best to turn their frown upside down, but if its not working, we try again.

Kristen Carter Photography Tips for Working With Active Kids

This little one was not happy when we first started our session. But a snack break and some snuggles turned her mood around!


Keep in mind that these are just general ideas, every child is unique; some kids are really shy & quiet, so I’ll match my energy to theirs by being softer and gentler in my tones and requests. If a boy jumps up, gives me a high five and tells me his name with no prompting, I’m more likely to be louder, & crazier to match his energy. In our pre-session consult, I’ll ask parents about their kids to get an idea of who they are and what their personalities are like before meeting them, adds an extra touch of care to our sessions. That’s when I’m also likely to discover if their kids have any quirks or need special assistance in our sessions. To schedule your own session or ask a question, use the “Contact” button above!

<3 Kristen


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