Tips for Beautiful Family Photos With a Busy Toddler

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I am Neyssa Lee a Seattle area photographer, mom of 6, planning obsessed, and who help you see the beauty, love and joy, in your own family’s chaos. I also use my super power of time management to help fellow photographers take control of their businesses. Learn more by heading to my ABOUT ME page.

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Hi, I'm Neyssa

Your baby is a full-blown busy toddler. They are on the move constantly, showing off so much personality, and becoming more and more independent. There is so much you love about this stage. The adorable way they say things, the way they test boundaries and see the world is inspiring for us adults. And yet, while you want to bottle up this stage, the thought of a photo session where your child has to sit still for a minute fills you with dread.

I want to reassure you that you can have beautiful lifestyle, family photos even with a busy toddler. But the reason things will go well has little to do with how your toddler reacts and more to do with his parents. Here are my top tips for beautiful photos from your family photo session with a toddler.

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of a toddler boy pointing at the sky

Change your expectations about your photo session with your busy toddler.

Okay, stay with me here. I don’t mean for you to lose all expectations that the photos will turn out. Instead, forget the expectations of what you think your session will be like, and what it will feel like. If you’re imagining a stuffy studio with weird props and everyone sitting still in awkward poses, you will be completely (maybe even pleasantly) surprised that a lifestyle family session is NOTHING like that.

I also want you to drop your expectations about how your child “should” act. I want them to act like a kid, have fun, and show off their personality.

As a Seattle family photographer, I approach family portraits differently. I want there to be movement, playfulness. Sitting still is boring, and I’d say you’re busy toddler would agree with me.

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of toddler boy leading parents around

Embrace that your child is in charge.

Let’s have a heart-to-heart here. I’m not the type of parent that gives my children full control of anything. I am the parent and I’m a guide. But we aren’t talking about life lessons here, we are talking about family photos. I’m also not telling you to tell them that they are in charge (that would be crazy), but just mentally prepare to give them a bit extra grace when they don’t do what you want to do.

Before every family photo session, (whether or not a busy toddler is involved or not), I give parents a special pep-talk. I remind you that we will have fun, it won’t feel like we are getting anything because you’re just playing, and to trust me to worry about the kids.

I have plenty of tricks, games, and prompts up my sleeves to get your child excited about participating. Don’t worry about your busy, busy toddler.

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of boy looking back while parents and horses in the background

Let your toddler be busy. Don’t force it.

The more you try to push a child into “smiling at the camera” or sitting in a specific spot the more they will want to run the other way. I mean, I don’t like being told what to do either, so I get it! Don’t you?

Instead, relax, and let your toddler explore. While you can suggest something when they try for something else, go with it. Again, see above and embrace that your child is in charge.

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of toddler boy with parents in background

Just keep smiling while trusting in your photographer.

Does this point bring Dory from Finding Nemo to mind? “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” But this time, just keep smiling. Have fun with it.

You chose your photographer for a reason. You loved their gallery of photos. I promise you, the children in those photos were not “perfectly” sitting still. Your photographer has seen it all (I know I have) and expects Photo sessions with toddlers to be busy and full of personality.

The other point here is to keep smiling and loving your family. The last thing you want is for your child to be giving their best smiles and laughs while you’re scowling in the background. (Note these parents were rockstars. This guy wanted to explore and show me all over his property and they were amazing, trusted in me, loved on their son, and their gallery shows it!)

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of parents swinging toddler boy

Join in on the fun.

Your child will love nothing more than if you’re tossing leaves, throwing rocks, dancing, running, spinning circles. When you’re silly, curious, fun right along with your busy toddler you will get a gallery full of authentic smiles from your entire family.

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of toddler boy in moms arms

Have clean snacks on hand.

Fed kids are happy kids. And toddlers seem to be able to eat nonstop. So even if you just ate before your session, it doesn’t hurt to have snacks tucked away just in case.

Note I said “clean” snacks. This means that your child won’t get messy eating them. Goldfish crackers tend to make teeth and the mouth orange. Berries can stain teeth and shirts. Think snacks like graham crackers, cheerios, etc.

Bonus tip: Fruit snacks are like gold. If you want your child to sit still with you for a few minutes, hold some fruit snacks in your hand!

Tips for Beautiful Photos with a busy toddler, Neyssa Lee Photography, Photo of family in blues and burnt orange for family photos

Dress your toddler in something they can run, play, and get dirty in.

Of course, you want everyone looking their best for family photos. But stiff, itchy clothing means unhappy (and busy) toddlers.

Select things that are comfortable for him to move in, and be okay if they get a little dirty. When they run, they will tumble, or they will find rocks to throw and wipe their hands on their pants. It’s okay! Just don’t pick all white and they will be just fine!

Bonus tip: It is often a good idea to arrive a few minutes early and dress younger kids once you arrive at your session location.

Seattle family portrait session with young child and two parents

In the end, if you follow these tips you will have a gallery full of beautiful photos. They may not be ones where everyone is sitting “perfectly” posed, smiling straight at the camera (which if that’s what you’re looking for, you wouldn’t be following me anyways!). However, they will be real, full of your own family’s personality, love and joy.

Ready to fully embrace the chaos and beauty of this busy toddler stage? Contact me to book your family photo session.

Looking for regular tips on ways to make the most of your family photo session? Subscribe to my newsletter and receive tips on how to have the best portrait sessions, use those photos, and even a few motherhood tips thrown in too.

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