10 Sneaky Ways to Photograph Uncooperative Kids

Photographing uncooperative kids can be challenging! Kids can be squirmy little subjects but with a little trickery and maybe a few incentives, great photos are possible. Check out some of my favorite tips for photographing uncooperative children.

Have you ever seen photos of adorable kids doing adorable things and wonder how the heck parents were able to capture them?

You might be thinking ‘My kids would never sit still long enough or cooperate like that!’

Kids are wild, unpredictable and some times downright oppositional, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get good photos of them.

Whether you are wanting to document your season of life or need some new photos for a birthday card, some to frame or perhaps just want something cute to post on Instagram, follow along.

As a mom of two “spirited” little ones, I’ll let you in on a few secrets I use to capture great photos of my not always cooperative children.  

1. Use reverse psychology intentionally.

If you are struggling to get a little bit of compliance, try telling them they are NOT allowed to do something, go somewhere…etc. It’s amazing how quickly kids will be interested when they know it’s something they aren’t supposed to do!Example: Whatever you do, do not kiss your little brother on his cheek – just don’t!

We were exploring and I asked her to not look at me.

2. Make them the director by giving them some choices.

You are much more inclined to get a willing participant if you can get them on board by making the mini photo session their idea. Distracting them with options always works great and gives them some control.

Example: Do you think we should smell these flowers or walk along the bridge?

This location envoked many questions but a quick mention about smelling some flowers gave such a cute photo op.

3. Pay attention to how you frame it.

So much of our experiences, and how we handle them, are shaped by our expectations. Get your child excited to be apart of the experience in advance by telling them how fun it will be to ___(fill in the blank)___. Example: We are going to dress up and do a princess photo shoot.

I was testing light and a new location and got this little princess on board as my model.

4. Let them be the photographer.

If your child is old enough, feel free to let them play along and let them take some photos too in exchange for them letting you take some photos. Example: After I get a few good photos, you can take some pictures of me, deal?!

I’d more likely recommend giving them your phone but in this case I made a deal with her. We survived!

5. Play with them rather than pose them.

Posing is for the birds but playing is for everyone. Get creative in how you approach the photos and be engaged in the moment with your subject. Example: Playing something like peek-a-boo or making funny face is fun for all and a great way to get a candid shot.

“Be careful or else your face will stay like this” seems to be true. Forever captured in a photo!

6. Use a chair or a stool as a prop.

Sometimes younger kids that are extra squirmy need something to keep them stationary, at least for a few seconds! Consider it a little speed bump to distract them for just the tiniest bit for a photo.

Little ones, especially new walkers are wiggly. Giving them a temporary home will usually give you a few seconds.

7. Be patient and wait for the moment to happen!

You can’t always rely on an on-demand smile but good things come to those who wait. Be patient and ready as you observe whatever they are doing. Tiny little smirks or genuine smiles will happen and when they do — be ready!

I was observing my daughter taking photos when I got this look from him and my heart melted!

8. Show them the photos as you are taking them.

Let them in on the excitement of the photo shoot by showing them the photos as you go. Kids love seeing the photos you took and will sometimes give you a little more cooperation once they see what you are doing.

This cute little dude was super ready to “pose” and wanted to see his picture afterwards.

9. Give them something to do.

Keep your child interested and engaged by giving them little prompts that interest them. This is a good distraction and much more engaging than “posing” for photos.Example: Can you smell those flowers? Can you show me how you twirl in your dress?

I asked if she wanted to twirl like a princess.

10. Offer an incentive or a reward for cooperation.

I am not above bribery. Period. Sometimes kids just need a little carrot (or a lollipop) dangling in front of them to get them moving in the right direction. Plus, if they are being great participants, you should want to reward them for their help!

Preparing Yourself with the Right Mindset

Cooperative subjects need cool, calm and collected parents so use these little reminders to help you be a pro.

Let go of perfection. If you are photographing anyone younger than a young-adult, you are in what I like to call the “messy middle.” Life doesn’t always go as planned but you should embrace it anyways and give yourself some grace in what you expect.

This is what he thought of taking photos after the first few mins but I love it.

Keep your cool. If trickery isn’t working and you can’t seem to get the perfect shot, don’t allow yourself to stress. Trust me, it is not very flattering. Last year I failed to get Christmas card photos until the last minute and I tried to force some quick backyard photos. I was stressing and all that resulted was me yelling and the kids not giving a care at all. Not what I was going for! LOL

Once I regrouped, got them interested and practiced some patience and flexibility, I was able to get some of my favorite Christmas card photos that year.

(see the annoyed faces on the left, followed by a much warmer photo the next day)

Don’t force it. We all have days or even moments when we aren’t feeling things. Kids are no different. If you can’t seem to reach them and can’t manage to pull out enough distractions in your bag of tricks, don’t force it. They will begin to hate photos with you if you force them. My children haven’t fallen ill with “photographer’s child syndrome” just yet but I try to keep myself in check when they don’t want me to take photos.

With a little bit of trickery, some patience and some perfectly placed incentives, I hope you can get some beautiful and authentic photos of your sometimes uncooperative children.

If you love these tips, please share with a friend that might need a few more tips for capturing beautiful photos of their squirmy and sometimes not-so cooperative children.

I am a lifestyle Pittsburgh family photographer that enjoys working with families and newborns. My sessions are relaxed and casual with a focus on capturing candid moments and connections. I understand the stress that comes with family photos and work with my clients to make the whole experience enjoyable and as stress-free as possible. All my sessions come with a complimentary styling service and full planning resources to make your photo experience a great one. Interested in session? Let’s connect!


Danielle Blewitt

P.S. For more tips and trick for documenting your children, please subscribe to my mailing list below and follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest!

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about Danielle Blewitt

Life Moves Too Fast!

Hi, I’m Danielle. I’m a Pittsburgh Family + Newborn photographer. As a mom of two, I know how fleeting the early years are. Since we can’t slow down time, we can record the moments that mean so much. I help Pittsburgh families hit pause by recording these memories in photographs and films and I would love to work with you. Let’s see what we can create!

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