Prepping your child for a photo session

By Guest Blogger Kate Cabanas, Licensed Professional Counselor, LPC
(And AMAZING client of mine! Thank you, Kate, for this incredible resource!)

This Christmas Kate and her family planned a lifestyle session with me to capture holiday memories of their family decorating cookies, dressed in matching PJ’s, and spending time together. When I arrived, their 2 year old daughter was excited to greet me at the door, show me her tree and share with me that they would be decorating cookies together. Kate and her husband asked her questions like, “What is Heather here for?” and “What color is her camera?”, all correctly answered. I knew that she had been lovingly prepared for what to expect and it made the portrait session run incredibly smooth straight from the start rather than needing to take 10 minutes or more of “warming up” to a stranger with a camera. I was unbelievably impressed! (And still am!) With Kate’s professional knowledge and experience as both an LPC and a parent I was eager to ask her to share her insights on my blog with my readers. She has written an incredible resource here for parents of toddlers wanting to prepare their children for a portrait session. Thank you, Kate!! She says…

“Kids feel more confident and capable when they know what to expect. Part of ensuring your family photo session goes smoothly (or as smoothly as it can with a young kid!) is to make the unknown known. With any new event, there are so many unknowns for young kids! Preparation involves putting yourself in your child’s shoes and considering what questions might be circling around in their heads the day of. Here’s a few questions we thought our daughter might be asking herself the day of our shoot and how we worked as a family to make the unknown known.”

Who is this person and why isn’t their camera on their phone?

As adults, we have the luxury of browsing photographers’ websites, reading their bios, and combing through their portfolio to get a sense of who they are. Children deserve to know who is coming to take pictures of them and their family. To prepare for our photo shoot, we showed our daughter pictures of Heather so she would know who to expect in our home. We also visited her photography Instagram so she could see Heather’s lovely photos of other kids so Abigail knew this was a safe person who was an expert in taking family photos. We also showed her pictures of a professional camera as we knew it would look significantly different than the iPhone camera she’s grown accustomed to posing for. 

*Please feel free to right click + save or download these two photos of both myself and a DSLR camera to show your child. You can keep them on your phone to show your child or print them and hang them on the fridge at eye level.


What am I even supposed to do?

For young kids during a lifestyle shoot, you want to keep it moving…because that is how life usually rolls! Our family took pictures decorating cookies, adding ornaments to the tree, and reading a book. We practiced all of these things in the week leading up to the big day. During our practice runs, we asked questions to get Abigail thinking what it might be like to do this with someone else around. For example, where do you think Heather will stand when she’s taking pictures? Where would you like to stand when she’s taking pictures? Do you think she likes sprinkles on her cookies too? It’s okay if your child doesn’t have any answers to these questions! This isn’t a quiz. The goal is to have their mind start to consider what it will be like to have another person in their space when they recreate these fun activities. 

When will they be here?

In the days leading up to the photoshoot, spell out exactly what their day is going to look like. Point out their consistent anchor points that feel familiar. For example, we told our daughter she was going to go to preschool, eat lunch, take a nap (all standard fare) and when she woke up things would be different because Heather would be here! If at times you feel like a broken record, that’s okay! Consider how much more comfortable you feel singing karaoke to a song you’ve heard a million times.  

Where will I be?

Orient your child to where they will be taking pictures. We chose our kitchen and living room…as outdoor venues in the winter are limited! If it’s a new space for your family, in the spirit of making the unknown known, visit the space or show your child pictures of the venue. 

What will I wear?

If your heart is set on a certain outfit (ours was!) don’t let the look be a surprise. Our family had matching pajamas so in the days leading up to the photoshoot, my husband and I would bring up how excited we were to all match and wear the same outfit when Heather came over. To add to the excitement, we told her we can’t wear the special pajamas until it was time to take pictures. This increased her motivation to want to wear them because it made it seem like a fun treat. 

& a last reminder:

Ultimately, if your child seems initially nervous or hesitant about having a stranger take their picture, kudos to them! In the age of social media, helping children distinguish between a person who is safe and their parent(s) trust versus an unsafe stranger is an important skill. Validate their hesitancy and continue these steps until they’ve picked up on your confidence and leadership to keep them safe. 


About Kate’s Practice:

Kate is a licensed therapist in Yardley, PA specializing in adolescents and teenagers. Learn more about her practice here

She says, “Growing up isn’t easy. In my practice, I focus on children, adolescents and young adults who need support as they navigate life’s stressors. I provide coping skills for young people struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, mood swings, major life changes, disruptive behavior, grief, and many other issues. In therapy, your child will feel heard, understood, and important.”