Parents love pictures. As soon as our children are born we begin snapping - digital cameras, video cameras, disposable cameras, phone cameras. Professional photographers and studios make money on us, too, often convincing us to have pictures taken of our children at every stage of life. And of course, we all need an annual family photograph for grandparents and extended family members. However, photographing young children and families can be frustrating.

When my first baby was 1 month old, I took him to have his picture taken. I laid him on a little rug on the studio table and the photographer snapped a few photos. It was easy! He was asleep. He didn't move. He didn't cry.

My picture experience a few years later was completely different. By then I had three children, ages 3 years old and under. The nightmare started as soon as we arrived. We waited in line for 45 minutes. When it was finally our turn, my children were fussy and hungry. Their once perfectly-combed hair looked like haystacks. Their shirts were hanging out, and their pants needed changing. No one would smile. No one would sit still. No one would cooperate. We took a few pictures, all with tears running down my 1-year-old daughter's cheeks. I finally gave up and took my children home.

I vowed that I would not relive such an unpleasant experience. The next time I ventured to a photo studio I had a plan and prepared for every possible mishap, including long lines and weepy children. This time, everything went smoothly, and when it was time to order prints, I had several cute poses to choose from.

Now, with nine children, I have had many positive experiences taking photos both individually and as a family. Although every experience is not perfect, I've gathered a few tricks of the trade. Here are some tips for taking nearly-perfect pictures with imperfect little people:

  • Plan ahead - Many parents want pictures with their children wearing coordinating clothing. Plan your outfits a few days in advance of the photo session. Then, lay out all of the picture clothes the night before. Make sure you have every sock and every shoe, every hair bow and every prop you may want in the photo. Remember that splashes of contrasting colors add interest and variety. Be creative and think outside the box. One friend snapped a cute picture of her children's feet. Another friend took books for her children to read in a photo. Plan these details with ample time to gather what you need.

  • Morning matters - Schedule your pictures early in the day. Children are brighter and happier in the morning. Serve a good breakfast beforehand. Children should eat in their pajamas, and then dress in their picture clothes. Ten o'clock in the morning is the perfect time for my children. Plan extra time with a newborn. When my twins were one-week-old, I scheduled an early-morning photo session with a photographer. Unfortunately, I didn't calculate dressing TWO babies before our appointment, and we arrived late. But, as a general rule, shooting photos when children are fresh is key to success.

  • Practice makes perfect - Prepare your children ahead of time for the photo session. Explain who the photographer is, and what will happen at the appointment. If you are planning on traditional photos, practice smiling while you eat breakfast. Ask children to show you their "picture smile," and praise them in preparation for the real thing. This is especially effective with toddlers who may not remember what it is like to go to a studio but who love to be hams on camera.

  • Dress to dazzle - Comb every hair and button every button before you leave your home. Although some of your efforts may unravel in the car as you travel, your children will only require touch-ups once you're at the studio. Dressing before you leave will also spark your memory if you have forgotten anything.

  • Be prepared - Pack a bag with extras.

-Comb or brush

-Spray bottle to touch up hair before a pose

-Wipes to clean up unexpected messes


-Treats - cereal, bite-sized crackers, or fruit snacks work best

-Books and small toys for entertainment during waiting time

-Any coupons you need

  • Plan to wait - In a perfect world, the photographer would be ready when you arrive, but most likely there will be some waiting time. Take books to read or other quiet activities to keep your children occupied. If you are in a shopping center, do some window-shopping to pass the time. Don't just sit and watch the clock or your children may start to misbehave.

  • Bribes are OK - You need results on demand, and bribes can work wonders when smiles are at stake. They can be effective both during the sitting (a Cheerio or fruit snack can coax a smile during poses) and as a reward afterwards. Let children know ahead of time that there will be something special for cooperative children once the pictures have been taken.

  • Stand back - At the beginning of the session, let the photographer know what you are looking for. However, as pictures are taken, stay out of the photographer's way unless she asks for your help. Let her do her job. If you need to express your opinion, be polite and respectful.

  • Praise your children - Positive feedback works wonders during stressful times. Tell children how well they are doing, and that they look beautiful, handsome or cute. Encourage older children to set a good example for their younger siblings.

  • Stay calm - Remember, these are only pictures. Sometimes, the imperfect poses make the most memorable photographs. Expect some frustrating moments, but stay positive. Although nobody is perfect, you can have practically-perfect pictures.

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