Tips for prepping a toddler for photoshoot

Toddlers are incredible - They are so full of energy, playfulness, and personality. Anyone who has a toddler knows that the toddler stage also comes with a lot of unpredictability. Take my son for example, I've given up on thinking I know what his favorite food is - Some days, peanut butter and jelly is something he begs for, and other days, he won't even touch it!

When planning to have pictures done, a toddler is the most difficult variable to plan for - This blog are some tips that I have compiled from my experience. I've worked with kids for the last 15 years, I have two little boys of my own, and I am a family photographer.

Talk about it ahead of time

How unnerving would it be to get out of the car at a new location to meet a random lady with a big piece of equipment who is telling you what to do?

That's kind of what it is like for our little ones if we don't prepare them ahead of time.

I am a firm believer that little ones can understand so much more than we can give them credit for. Talk excitedly to your little one about your photo shoot, show them the picture of your photographer (if you're working with me, I have pictures on my website and in your prep guide!) Tell them your photographer's name, etc.,

Don't threaten or bribe them, toddlers don't have the developmental capacity to understand delayed gratification. You could bring little snacks (hidden in your bag!) that they don't know about for a mid-session snack, but don't try and bribe them.

If you decide to bring snacks, choose easy, non-staining snacks - Even mini marshmallows can be a good option (they don't stain teeth, leave crumbs, or melt on clothing, and they are easy to hide in photos.)

toddler looks at camera and makes a funny face as his mom hugs him and kisses him

Communicate with your photographer

I am pretty good at reading what a toddler needs to be able to pivot mid-session, but I like to know ahead of time a little bit about your toddler, their interests, and their personality.

When you work with me, part of your session planning process is a questionnaire that I created designed to help me get to know your family. In this, there will be a space for you to tell me a bit about your little one.

I had a fall family pictures session for a family with two toddlers a few months ago, they let me know that their little girl was very shy. This helped me to start our session off on the right foot by chatting with mom and dad and little brother, giving big sister plenty of time to know that I was safe and fun. Then, when I started gently engaging with her, gauging her reaction, she loosened up and we had such a fun time!

This leads into my third point...

Make sure they are not tired or hungry

Keep the session the main event of the day - Avoid cramming it in last minute. Plan for a full day of meals at normal times, and naps being had as usual - Try to avoid letting your little one nap in the car on the way to the session as well - No one wants to be awakened from a nap!

My family sessions are at golden hour, so you should have plenty of time for dinner before the session (typically, eating before changing into your photo shoot outfits is going to be a good idea!) Then, bring a cheese stick, mini marshmallows, or some other non-staining snack in your bag to pull out if your little one needs a snack mid-session.

If bedtime is going to be pushed back in order to accommodate the session, making sure they get their nap is all the more important.

With my son, I have found that I can usually push his naptime back an hour and that helps him to have energy a little later into the evening. You know your child best and how they might respond to that approach though!

Don't pressure your child to engage immediately

When you arrive to your photoshoot location and get out of the car, keep chatting cheerfully to your child as you get them out, "We're here! Let's go adventure and see if we can find any acorns" It can be anything, kids are easily excited if parents are excited!

The main thing is to be upbeat and positive.

I like to greet everyone, but I am very laidback about it - If your child doesn't want to look at me or respond, please don't feel like you need to apologize or make them respond to me.

I will shift my attention back to chatting with mom and dad so that your toddler has time to acclimate.

My goal is to create an environment in which your child does not feel pressured in any way! This makes it much easier for their personality to have freedom to show through.

toddler sits on bridge and smiles at camera during minnesota lifestyle photo shoot

Focus on spending time with your child and enjoying them, not on getting them to look at the camera or smile.

I know that as a parent, we want to make sure we get that one picture with the toddler looking at the camera and smiling - Trust me, I am working to get that photo for you, the best way to make sure we get that is actually for you to not try and get your child to look at the camera. Instead, just engage them. Cuddle them, play with them, explore together, keep smiling the whole time - Creating connection is so important.

You'd be surprised, I recently had a session with a little 15 month old who was so upset. She was cold and tired and did not want to be taking photos, I got some of the sweetest photos from that session because mom kept snuggling her, showing her the trees, etc., and mom kept smiling. So, once that little girl finally smiled, mom was smiling too! We also had so many beautiful images of mom snuggling her baby girl.

If mom had been looking stressed, speaking harshly, or pointing to the camera to try and get her daughter to look, that photo when her little girl finally smiled would not have been the same.

Ultimately, a photoshoot with your toddler is about capturing their personality, the way that they interact with you and the rest of the family, and truly documenting who they are at this time in life. Trying to force them to act outside of that is going to lead to additional stress for everyone and won't produce the results that you are hoping for.

Give yourself the freedom to intentionally engage with your toddler, enjoy their laughter, chase them and give tickles, make silly noises - This is going to give you truly special memories!

Mom lays on blanket in a field and cuddles toddler close

If you are concerned for how your toddler will handle during family pictures, or just want to talk things through a bit more before, feel free to reach out to me! I know what it is like to invest in photos and want to make sure we actually get to capture our sweet little ones in a special way.

If you're looking for a photographer for your next family session, I'd love to chat with you! You can visit my website, or contact me to learn more.

Here are some other blog posts you may find helpful:

Five Ways to Create Connection During your Family Session

How to Get Kids to Cooperate for Family Photos

Four Fun Winter Activities for Toddlers in Saint Cloud, MN

What to Wear for Spring Family Photos

What is Golden Hour?







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Susannah Ray Photography

A meaningful and fun photo experience with your spouse and kiddos in one of the beautiful outdoor locations near St. Cloud, MN: Whether it is a field, lake-side beach, or wooded area, I am always on the search for more beautiful places to recommend for my clients.




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Susannah Ray Photography

Intentional photos of the expectant mother in a beautiful outdoor location. Her significant other and other children are included in the session as well. Flowy dresses to highlight your beautiful bump and make you feel as stunning as you are highly recommended!




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Susannah Ray Photography

Intentional and stress-free photos of your beautiful newborn (and his or her immediate family) in either the comfort of your own home where baby's memories begin, or in a beautiful outdoor location near St. Cloud.

St. Cloud, MN
family + newborn photographer

Hi, my name is


St. Cloud MN family and newborn photographer

On a mission to create and capture poetic + love-filled moments for ordinary families.

I am wife to my hardworking hubby, mama to two sweet little boys, lover of photographs, and family photographer in Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

I have always been a feeler, lover of words, language, music, and emotion. Telling the beautiful story of family through photography as a lifestyle photographer resonates with me on a deeply personal level.

The way a mother holds her child, the loving glances between husband and wife over the head of their tiny newborn, the toddler clutching his mother's hand and peering up at her from beneath his tousled curls - These are such precious moments that help tell the story of each family and their love for one another.

I love to get to know you, the things that are special to you, the things that you want to remember, and tailoring sessions to each family to tell your story in an intentional and meaningful way.