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Picture Perfect

A photographer’s secrets to beautiful portraits

As a photographer, I’m always asked, “Why do all of the children you photograph look so happy and natural?” No, I don’t drug them, and no, the people on my website are not paid models. I simply talk with my clients ahead of time to prepare them for their session. So I thought I would share some secrets on how you can prepare your child for her next portrait session.

Preparing for a portrait session can be stressful. Believe me I know. Between getting myself and my daughter ready, all while having a tug of war about what she’ll wear (no sweetie, you can’t wear your nightgown), making sure everyone has been to the potty and telling my husband he better enjoy himself, it’s a feat just to get out the door. So grab a cup of coffee and take my advice. You can thank me later.

Please, I beg you, think about the clothing. So many times, I have clients who wait until the last minute and then put their child in white shirts and jeans. If you want your child’s portrait to be unique and a representation of him, find some color somewhere. White shirts have no personality and most of us do not have the skin tones to wear white. You will be much happier with your portraits if you take the time to find adorable clothing.

If your child is like mine and wakes up one morning deciding there is no way you are putting that dress on her, then you need to begin preparing a few days ahead of your session. Hang the outfit on the outside of her closet and begin building excitement about the portrait outfit. Soon, she’ll be asking you when she gets to wear her special clothes.

You also need to think about the time of day. Just because a time is convenient for you, does not mean it is a good time for your child. Do not schedule your child’s portrait session during a regularly scheduled nap. If you want your photographer to curse your name, bring her a child who is ready to take a nap and say “he is really tired, and cranky, but I am sure you can make him smile.”

During the session, the less you engage the child the better. Let your photographer do his job. He needs to build rapport with your child to get her to look in the right direction, give the right expressions, etc. You are hiring a professional. The more you interfere, the harder it is for your photographer to create an amazing portrait for you.

Please, do not yell at your child. Just because he isn’t smiling at the beginning of a session, does not mean your photographer isn’t capturing beautiful images. Besides, do you really think yelling is going to miraculously cause your child to giggle and produce that smile? Control your emotions and take a few steps back. The same goes for bribery. If you start offering bribes right at the beginning, you leave your photographer no place to go with the session.

I have thought about putting up a jar that says: “If you use the word cheese in my studio, put $1 here.” Don’t tell your child to say cheese. There is nothing more fake and more, well, cheesy than a child who says cheese. You can do this at home. This is not why you are hiring a professional. You are hiring a professional to capture the reality of your child: their real laugh, real smile, real mood, real pout, etc. Personally, I think the word cheese should be forbidden. So don’t use it.

Lastly, here are some things that should be obvious, but I will point out them out.

Don’t get your child’s vaccinations the day of your portrait session.
Don’t drive to the photographer’s studio or location with your child in their outfit. Car seats cause wrinkles. Spills and stains can happen too easily.
Don’t bring your child to the photographer with temporary tattoos on his arms.
Don’t put sparkles or fairy dust on your daughters. They look like blank pixels on your image and have to be retouched out.
Don’t make your child wear something itchy and expect her not to scratch or complain.
I know many parents work and scheduling a session in the evening is convenient but remember the session is about your child. If your child is cranky and ready for dinner or a bath, he is not going to be a happy camper for a portrait session.

I hope this helps you plan for your next portrait session. I will leave you with one final tidbit. Your child can pick up on your mood. If you are stressed about the session, she will react to that. Stay relaxed, be extra happy that day and remember children are full of personality if we just let them be children.

Jeanine McLeod is the owner of Cloud 9 Studios and specializes in the creation of children’s portraiture. Visit to learn more.

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