With all those adorable back-to-school pictures showing up on your Instagram feed in August and September, it's easy to think that everyone but you has kids who will pose for photos. The truth is, a lot of parents struggle to get their kids to smile for the camera as the new school year gets underway.
As a photographer, I've worked with a lot of kids over the years and developed a few tricks for getting them to cooperate when that's not really on their agenda at the moment. You can totally use these to get the first-day-of-school pictures of your dreams.
1. Let Them Know the Photos Are Coming
Most kids like to have a little advance warning (or in the case of my son on the autism spectrum, a lot of advance warning) before something happens, especially if it's something that requires them to act a certain way. In the week before the first day of school, talk about how you'll be taking photos. No matter how old your kids are, they'll appreciate the head's up.
Talking about the back-to-school pictures ahead of time gives you a chance to explain your expectations too. Let them know what kind of pictures you want to get and how long you expect the photos to take.
2. Give Kids Options About the School Picture Timing
Traditionally, school pictures happen on the morning of school starting, but this isn't always the best time for kids. There's a lot that changes when school starts, and this can be a stressful time of transition for kids. Imagine having someone take pictures of you on the morning you were about to start a new job. But the morning school starts isn't the only option for taking first day of school pictures.
Give them a couple of options for when you could take the pictures. You could do it any time in the days leading up to school starting, and this could be a way more relaxing experience for all of you. Also, kids like having choices and the power to say what they want.
3. Brainstorm Some Great Bribes for Your Back-to-School Pictures
As someone who has photographed her kids nearly every day for almost a decade, I can tell you from experience that you'll get better photos if you pay your models. Talk to kids about what they might want and then make a deal. This isn't the best strategy for babies and toddlers who haven't yet learned to delay gratification, but it's an instant win with school-aged kids.
What works for my kids might not work for your kids, but as their parent, you probably know what will. You can always ask the kids too. Here are a few ideas for incentives that tend to work well:
- Fancy school supplies
- A new school outfit or accessory
- A special first-day-of-school lunch treat
- Candy (probably better after school)
- Screen time
- An after-school outing to a favorite arcade or park
- The chance to skip a chore
4. Let Them Suggest Some Photo Ideas
You know how you can get people to agree to something if they have some creative buy-in? That's true of kids and photos too. Sure, they might suggest the standard goofy-face picture or something super strange involving stuffed animals or even real animals, but chances are, you're shooting these with your phone or a digital camera. You can take a lot. Take some with their ideas and some with yours. You'll get some weird ones, sure — but you'll also get some great ones.
You might find you actually love the weird kid-idea photos just as much as the ones you planned to take. I love doing side-by-side comparisons with a goofy face picture and a regular smiling one.
5. Set a Time Limit and Let Them Watch the Clock
As kids get older, their time matters more to them. It makes sense; they have more demands on them. They may not want to sign up for taking back-to-school photos if they think it's going to be too time-consuming. Agree on a time limit (try to negotiate for at least five minutes per kid, but take what you can get). Let kids set a timer or watch the clock.
6. Ask Kids Before You Post the Pictures
If you have older kids, they might be hesitant to do school pictures because they don't want you to post them online. Talk about this ahead of time to see if they'd like to have some say in what you do with the photos. Worst case, you won't get to show off the pictures online, but you'll still have them for yourself.
Have one kid that just refuses to be in your back-to-school pictures, no matter what you do? Take a picture of their backpack or lunch box as a stand in. It's not what you want, but it's guaranteed to be funny when you look back on it in years to come.
Capture a Milestone That Matters
Going back to school is kind of a big deal — both for kids and for parents. This is a milestone that matters, and back-to-school pictures can help you capture it. If you can get the kids on board, you'll end up with some great shots you can share with friends and family.