Capture Personalities in Portraits (Wrestling the Alligator!)

“A two-year old is kind of like having a blender, but you don’t have a top for it.”
-Jerry Seinfeld

Wrestling the Alligator

For some of you, especially those of you with young children, the thought of taking family photos makes your hands clammy and fills you with more dread than a root canal. I understand your anxiety.

Children have abundant stores of energy and usually choose to release bursts at the most inappropriate times. These bursts often bring about fits of laughter in those of us who are parents, but generally, getting those kiddos to behave is like wresting an alligator. Eventually, you tire them out but expect to get bit a few times in the process.


When the time comes for taking that trip to the photographer’s studio or (perish the thought) out in public, here are a few tips for getting the best photos of your children that you’ll cherish forever.

Capturing Personalities in Portraits

I know I’m not the only one who’s laughed at silly family portraits online. You know what I’m talking about; those awkward family photos. Everyone is trying to be so serious while one child is knuckle deep in his nasal cavity. It happens. It’s the reason America’s Funniest Home Videos was so popular. Staid and static are boring.

In this photographer’s space, there’s no chastising for goofy behavior. In fact, playfulness is encouraged. We’ll talk about that in a minute, so hold on.


Can you relate to the evergreen musings of Erma Bombeck?

“When my kids become wild and unruly, I use a nice, safe playpen.  When they’re finished, I climb out.”


Here’s my suggestion to parents of toddlers and young children before we start the photo session. Don’t expect your kids to suddenly become little robots, who will sit still until you give them the command to move.

The expressiveness and unabashed nature of a child is really what we want to capture. When your adorable rambunctious 4-year-old has grown up and suddenly breaks out the old photo album, laughter trumps cringing any day of the week.

During the time I spend behind the lens with the children, I want to not only see, but feel their energy and personality in the finished product. Believe me. You’ll thank me later.

Remember, our precious babes are small for such a short period of time. It’s so much more fun to capture that magic together and then enjoy the pictures for a lifetime.

Can’t You Just Settle Down?

What I encourage the parents to understand is not to expect the tykes to settle down. How has that worked the rest of the time? I thought so. Let them have fun with the whole process.

My motto is: If they want to run, let ‘em run… and jump… and twirl. Let them burn off the excess energy. If that expressiveness is stifled, you better believe it’ll show up in the pictures.



Most photographers who work with children have seen it all, and a time out will not improve the situation. A pouting child does not a good memory make.

Leave the duct tape at home.

Encourage, Don’t Discourage.

Each child has their own individual personality, and it’s that uniqueness you want to capture. Encourage them to make faces and behave silly for the camera. These are the so called “Kodak” moments.


A forced smile on your unhappy child will make you cry when you look at these family photos on his/her wedding day, but for the wrong reason.

It’s Not Play Time?

It may seem counter intuitive but preparing for family photos is exactly the time to play. Getting your wee one to act natural in an unnatural situation isn’t easy. Making up games, or playing old standbys, like Simon Says, can be an excellent way to get your stiff soldier to loosen up and have some fun.

If your shy, quiet child won’t smile, try playing a game where they’re not allowed to smile. Reverse psychology works.  Music works too!  Load up a few of their favorite songs on your phone.  Of course, for your wee ones, singing a few verses of “Baby Shark do do do do do do” is always engaging.


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Security Blankets and a Hairless Barbie

Another tip I like to tell my parents is to bring props (e.g., favorite toys, stuffed animals, sports equipment, and hats) which is a good way to get your child to focus on something else besides the lens.

Candid shots with an unaware child at play can be the best. I know you weren’t expecting to have a pink bear in your photos, but a big smile on your little one’s face is priceless.

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My Kingdom for a Fruit Snack and a Juice Box

No matter if the session lasts 20 minutes or two hours, kids are always either starving to death or dying of thirst (when they’re not running to the bathroom) within ten minutes of starting the session. Am I right?

Children’s metabolism is usually on eleven and they burn more fuel than a fighter jet. It’s wise to pack some light, non-sticky snacks (NO SNICKERS or other chocolate/sugary stuff) and water, especially when outdoor locations are scheduled.

Now, whether you use it as a reward or bribery is up to your discretion.

Relax. Kids will be Kids

To sum this all up, kids will be kids. Every moment is fleeting and never to be repeated. Try to relax and enjoy the ride.

As they grow older, you’ll long for these days. Enjoy their exuberance and innocence. Make memories for your children by letting their personalities shine like diamonds in these photos.

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Do a little exercise for me now. Think about what brings you joy. I bet a screaming and crying child was not conjured.

So in order to set you up for success for your next family portrait session, do these things I suggest. You, too, will be seen as content when the finished product is seen hanging on the wall.

Wouldn’t you like your memories to reflect the sweet, silly and fun time you spent with your family in front of the camera? I thought so.

“I capture personalities in Portraits.”  ~ Donna Edman



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I am a Southern California based Portrait, Commercial and Fine Art Photographer who sees the world a bit differently.

You can view more of my work here > Donna Edman Photography.
If you’d like to book a session, I’d be honored > Contact Me.

Together, we can Capture YOUR Life, One Image at a Time!