How to Photograph Your Own Children

I recently took my boys out for a photo shoot, just the two of them. I wanted to create Christmas gifts for our family that were meaningful and would last for a long time to come. It’s hard to go wrong with fancy-pants pictures of the grandkids, yes?

We live in Montana and while it was a milder day, it was still cold. I knew I was going to have to be quick or I was going to lose them among complaints of the cold. I drove to our destination, gave a Churchill-worthy motivational talk, and got us quickly unloaded. I had already made a drive-by and highlighted exactly where I wanted to shoot so we walked straight for that location. We were right next to the train tracks and a train happened to be going by just at that moment. 

Because of course it was right at that very moment. 

And here’s where I lost my common sense photographing my own children. 

My sons are 4 and 2. Anything bright and shiny and noisy is going to have their immediate attention and priority. But instead of rolling with it, I went into Drill Sergeant Mom mode. 

Boys! Look at me! Hands in your pockets! Look at Mommy! Don’t look at the train! Look at Mommy! Smile! Don’t look at the train! Look at Mommy! Smile!

After only about 3 minutes, all of their goodwill and cooperation was out the window and down the tracks. I hadn’t fostered an ounce of fun and enjoyment; I had barked it right out of the whole experience. 

I snapped only a few shots before I realized that what I was doing wasn’t working. Their faces were so serious and lacked all of their normal joy and contagious happiness. I got jackets back on, loaded us back up, decided to stop for a fun lunch, and then gave it another try with a radically different attitude. And I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that I was able to snap some of my yet favorite and unforgettable moments between my boys. 

So what can we learn from this about photographing our own children?

Be realistic

Always keep at the front of your mind your children’s ages and have appropriate expectations of their attention span and areas of interest. If something grabs their attention, go with it. You will most likely catch some adorable candid moments of them exploring their world. 

Maintain a positive attitude

I know it’s easy to become impatient or frustrated when it’s our own children, but they’re going to quickly catch on to that and will most likely lose their good attitude and cooperativeness. But if they see us smiling and being encouraging, they’re most likely to stay light-hearted as well.

Keep it fun

It’s easy to remember that when it’s another family but it’s just as important when it’s your own. Make silly faces and animal noises. Play peek-a-boo behind your camera. Have them run in a circle or give each other a big squishy hug. Don’t be afraid to be over the top. Those captured giggles are priceless on camera.

Don’t make perfection your goal

Since these photos are for yourself and your family, you have more freedom and leeway. For example, on our second try a couple moments happened so quickly that I just managed to catch them. No, the pictures aren’t as sharp as they should be, but their giggly faces melt my heart every time I see them, and their grandparents never saw the soft focus, only the joy on their faces! 

I hope our experience and what I learned from it helps the next time you take your kids out for a family shoot! 

What other lessons have you learned as you’ve photographed your own children?

Sara lives, writes, and photographs in Missoula, MT. She’s married to Matt, they have three children, and are expecting their fourth the summer of 2014. Visit her Facebook page, Sara McNutt Photography, or her blog,, to learn more.