When friends compliment those cute black-and-white family photos hanging on your wall they have no idea what went down behind the scenes—sweat-drenched parents desperately begging their tots to look at the camera and offering progressively wilder bribes to a little kid who’s suddenly decided pants are optional. Trying to wrangle a toddler for a family photo shoot is a special kind of challenge for any mom or dad who just wants a few nice snaps to hang on the wall and share with family and friends on Tinybeans. Aside from ditching the poses and taking natural shots that lend themselves to your tot’s boundless energy, there’s also the matter of managing your expectations and working with your little one’s unpredictability versus fighting against it. Read on for tips to help you get a set of family photos you’ll truly love.

Find a local photographer who does minis

Minis are a great, less expensive way to get family photos. Plus, the shorter the period that your toddler has to focus, the better. And don’t worry that your photographer won’t have enough time to get the shot because they’re professionals and used to this, says family photographer Jalyn Clemens.

Don’t force your toddler to look at the camera

Posed shots are out, and fun, natural photos are in. If your toddler isn’t looking at the camera, that’s okay. “If one person isn’t looking at the camera it’s best that all of you are not,” says Clemens. “Just keep talking and smiling at your toddler or partner because smiling at the people you love is way cuter.”

Never stop moving

Clemens says if you never stop moving, it gives your photos a more natural look. Plus, toddlers never stop moving anyway, so this one should be easy!

Let go of expectations

“Let go of any and all expectations of how your session should go,” Clemens says. “A good photographer will adapt to the session and to your family’s personality and can just go with the flow.” Besides, your toddler might lead you to some weird and wonderful results.

Be yourselves

Most photographers will say it’s best to just be yourselves and let the photographer tell your story. If your kid loves to run and roll on the ground, great! Follow them and laugh along as they do it. Do you like playing on the ground with your toddler? Perfect! Get on the floor and make some photo magic.

Scope out your location early

“If you’re doing it outside your house, get to your location a little early,” Clemens suggests. “Kids have a natural desire to explore—or they could feel a little bit nervous at a new location—so arriving early can give your kid a sense of security and confidence.” This will also increase the likelihood of your tot staying close to you, as they already had a chance to explore.

Try to let your toddler have fun

If everyone is stressed and tense and getting hollered at for not posing right, the photos will definitely reflect that. Tracy Englund, with This Is You Photography, says to let your toddler have fun while they’re there. They’ll lighten up, and you will, too, which makes for some sweet, relaxed, happy photos.

Give them fun toddler-friendly props

Englund says whether it’s a book, bubbles, a toy, or even a mirror (they do love looking at themselves), giving your toddler a prop to play with and focus on will make your photos stand out.

Have someone stand behind the photographer

By positioning someone familiar behind the camera with a favorite toy or a particularly silly face, you have a better chance of your toddler looking in the right direction (and maybe even dropping that million-dollar smile).

Bribery is always an option

We’re not above bribery for family photos with a toddler and Englund agrees. It always works, but she notes that if the photographer is the one doing the bribing they should first check with the parents and make sure they’re okay with the treats or toys on offer.

When you’ve got more beautiful candids than you know what to do with, share them with your family and friends near and far on the Tinybeans app. The secure platform puts parents in total control of who sees and interacts with photos and videos of their kids.

Your daily dose of joy and connection
Get the Tinybeans app