So you're getting family photos taken, and you have toddlers, babies, or a teenage boy.

Sorry to disappoint right off the bat- I don't know if I can help about the teenage boy. My son is 15 and there are VERY specific conditions where he will cooperate for photo time. Some of them include- it has to last less than five minutes, he gets to pick a hat and/or sunglasses. Needless to say, I rarely take his picture. Ha.

Believe it or not, babies and toddlers are easier. Here are some of the tricks I've picked up!

tips and tricks for fantastic family photos

number one: everyone chill.

Including mom. I totally get it- you found the perfect outfits, you've done the hair, miraculously got everyone in the car and all you want is some family photos where everyone is smiling to hang on your wall is that too much to ask. No, it's not at all. And don't worry- your family photo sesh is going to be great. But the kids (and the hubs!) pick up on the tension and the anxiousness (thanks, Mom I know you've told me this a lot). Take it from my mom, and just relax. Booking a photographer that is basically unflappable is highly recommended. Oh the stories photographers could tell. Not just about past family photo sessions, but I have teenagers, and nothing scares me, annoys me, or shocks me. Unless the kids are trying to recreate a scene from Jackass: the movie, there's really nothing that can ruin the photo session for me.

a family standing in a park during fall after a rainstorm holding a baby and a toddler boy all smiling
a family of four looking at the camera the mom and dad are holding a newborn and a toddler dressed in green and white

number 2: Dress the babies, toddlers, and yes even the teenage boys in comfy clothes

No weird lace by the neck or itchy sweaters and make sure to check the tags on the necks or the sides of the shirt if your toddler hates them. Old Navy has adorable and inexpensive clothes for babies and toddlers that will photograph really well and has lots of colors that are fantastic. Their newborn and toddler collections are super cute. If you're dealing with a teenish kid, let them have lots of say in what they're wearing, maybe some negotiation is in order. This is a great time to BRIBE BRIBE BRIBE. And make sure if you're ordering online that you order in plenty of time- we all know the mad scramble for clothes last minute is the worst.

toddler boy holding mom and dads hands while walking on a bridge wearing a green down zip up vest jeans

number three: bring a favorite thing or person

For this particular family session, the family had the AMAZING idea of bringing a favorite person- Aunt Sarah. Sarah was the off screen laugher, joke teller, weird noise maker, and human stroller. This was incredibly helpful when the boys were D-O-N-E with standing or sitting still for the photos. Aunt Sarah would scoop them up, walk them around a bit, and give them a bit of a break. And even though entire photo session lasted only about 25 minutes, it was enough to get couples photos in for mom and dad.

But if toddler's favorite thing is fruit by the foot, captain crunch, or assorted Korean candies (one of my kids has started ordering these in huge boxes that get delivered from Asia, it's fine) or being thrown up in the air while you sing the theme song to Paw Patrol, bring it all too. Bring the fun and bribe bribe bribe with the treats at the end of the session if that's what works.

husband and wife look into each others eyes at a family photo session in a park
a husband wife touch foreheads during a family photo session in a park in the rain in boise idaho
husband and wife look into camera at a family photo session on a bridge in a park on a rainy day
husband and wife look into each other's eyes and touch noses while smiling at a family photo session

Number 4: getting a real smile

The best way to get a real smile from all children (except for infants) is to tell a joke or make them laugh FOR REALZ. This is another reason why it's so great to have someone off camera helping! What doesn't help is telling the kids "don't smile like that I need a real smile". Lots of times they don't really know what this means, or it's really hard to do. I KNOW- the mom impulse is strong! My son has what we call a "soccer picture smile" that he made in six consecutive years of posed soccer photos. He laughs about it now, but he could not paste a real looking smile on his face no matter how much I would threaten him from behind the Olan Mills photo crew. I definitely should have been telling him dad jokes instead!!

Do they like silly noises? Make them while you're bouncing them. Let the babies see your face while you smile, and tickle the toddlers on their tummies. Or tell silly jokes like I should have.

number 5: time it right!

With work schedules, sunset times, and nap windows this is can be tricky, but try to have your photos taken during a time of day when you can reasonably assume your baby will be in a good mood. Maybe this is an hour after he wakes from his nap, or maybe your daughter is more cheerful in the mornings. In the summer, when sunset times are late late late in the day, this might even mean for the week before your photo session, putting your toddler to bed twenty minutes later every day. I KNOW this sounds horrible, but might be a good shot at preventing a meltdown right as the sunset gets good.

mom and baby snugging during family photos, baby is a newborn boy dressed in a soft white jacket
a mom looks at her toddler son smiling at him and her son, wearing a green vest,  looks at the camera
a mom holds her newborn son up in the air while smiling at him. her son looks at the camera has on a white jacket

as every mom knows,

Even with all this prep work, I mean, honestly, it still might go sideways. So yeah your son might have grass stains before the photos start, and your daughter might have given herself a black eye the DAY BEFORE THE PHOTOS (true story about my niece).

But getting family photos isn't about showing off your perfect robots, it's about documenting this time in your life, with all the beautiful chaos, the belly tickles and the baby dimples, the pouting and the spit up-

it's about true love, and freezing time to keep this forever.