How to Get Great Portraits for Children Under 5


I've had the privilege of photographing this little girl since 2016 and just like any annual photo session, love seeing how much a family or child changes or grows from year to year. This year, she was so much more talkative and we had fun. By the end, she gave me a big hug goodbye.

Even if children see me each year, like G, they tend to forget me in between and naturally don't feel as comfortable right away when we start our session. Naturally, children are cautious and I always respect that. Because I expected this, I had a plan. So, how do I set up a session to be sure to get gorgeous images every time even while a child is warming up? Read on for more!


This session was at the Arboretum at The Pennsylvania State University and G. hadn't been there in awhile, so it all felt like an adventure! When children go to a place that they regularly go to, they don't feel the sense of exploration and desire to discover the space. When we are somewhere new, we get to discover things together and the expressions of amazement are very real. This way, the photo session becomes a memory in and of itself. Kids are less aware of the camera too and can allow us to capture them naturally.

Parents Being Photo-Ready:

For this session, I sent a message to G's mom, Sarah that morning and told her to come also ready to be in a few photos.

This is good advice for any child under 5 because its really common for them to want to hold on to Mom or Dad at first. If you look good and lean in for a whisper or a tickle, you'll feel good that you're photo-ready when these moments naturally happen, it will allow you to end up with a few more great photographs!

So, while G. warmed up to me, she played with her mom. They pretended to walk on a tightrope. (They had been to the circus the night before.) They ran around the open green space together and I'd have them freeze and whisper to each other. Naturally, G started to feel more comfortable and she and her mom were making amazing memories together!

Something To Do:

After G felt much more comfortable, then I set up something small for her to do and pretend with for her photos.

If you follow my work, I'm not typically focused on props, but I do think for children under 5, its nice to have a few things for them to do or hold so that they don't feel like they are getting their photo taken. Sometimes this is just something unique to sit on (an old suitcase) but they'll carry it around first and check it out. In other moments, children like to hold stalks of wheat or pick apart a flower. Busy hands help children take in their environment but also allow them to look like they do in their daily life at home!

So, I brought the basket and lace and Sarah brought the balloons to match her outfit. It gave G something to do and think about too! It was a perfect fit!


When I work with children, I like to grab a few shots where their attention is diverted. Sometimes its more diverted as in this photo, where G is checking out the daffodils growing in the Arboretum. In other moments, I get to catch a thoughtful and faraway glance from a child that is watching something. I love these moments. They remind me most of what my children look like when they are actually at home playing and memories of these postures are actually something I want to hold onto just as much as big bright smiles. So, when I photograph children, I shoot for what you want for the living room frame, but I also shoot for what I know you'll want to hold on to in another 15 years - the thing that triggers your memory and makes it all come flooding back.

If you're interested in being more connected, you can inquire about a portrait session or wedding package or sign up for my once-a-month newsletter to stay connected to the Photographic Memories community.

Check out the previous blog post about a recent spring session with 21 people here!

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