Family Photos When Children Are Clingy

Clingy child being held by father at Olinda


I think one of the greatest fears for parents booking professional family photos is how their babies and young children will be on the day. So much so that I’ve previously written advice on how to prepare for sessions with children. But what if you do all the ‘things’ and your little one still is out of sorts? Or what if you have a particularly shy child or one who isn’t used to strangers and new environments (where are all my covid baby mamas!!)?

Do not fear I have a range of tips, tricks, poses and prompts in my arsenal and I can virtually guarantee at least some of them will succeed with any given child. I have developed these strategies over time through my attachment parenting journey with my own extremely high needs daughter and in my baby and child led photography business.

So whether you are a professional photographer, a client with an upcoming session or a mum at home with a camera or mobile phone these are the secrets that can work.

1. Time and place

Some of us are morning people. Some of us are night owls. Some of us love loud and busy places. Some of us like quiet and solitude. And just like adults our little people have the same natural preferences. So my number one tip is pick the time and place to take photos based on your children’s temperaments. YOU are the expert on your child so if you are getting photos done share this information with your photographer (whether it is me or someone else). If they can’t accommodate the time or type of location that you think will work best for your family move onto someone who can.

2. On the shoulders

Popping children up on mum or dad’s shoulders is one of my favourite tactics. I often use it when I have a slightly older, wild child who doesn’t want to stand with their family as a means to contain their energy. However, in recent times I have also started using it to capture individual portraits of my shy youngsters. Typically portraits are taken with a child standing or sitting alone in a spot that will create a beautiful soft, blurred background. But what happens when said child literally won’t let go of mum or dad? Answer: prop them up on the shoulders. Yes, mum or dad literally serve as a posing stool. I then climb my ladder so I am back at eye level (or higher) with the child and we happily carry on. Each of the below portraits of 12 month old Isaac were taken while he was propped up on his dad’s shoulders.

3. The dog squeaker

Yes, a dog squeaker. My round, orange squeaker lives permanently in the backpack I wear during sessions and has saved me on many an occasion. When other things aren’t getting the result I want I pull out this bright little $5 toy from Kmart. It is guaranteed to get a little one to look in my direction, even if only for a split second, and that is often all it takes to get “the shot” with their eyes starring straight down the lens.

4. Close snuggles

I am all about capturing the personalities of the people I photograph so when a child is shy or clingy it only makes sense to really focus in on these kinds of images. After all this is typical of your child and what you will remember about them. For the sensitive little souls I meet we will frequently circle back to doing close snuggle moments throughout the session to repeatedly reassure them and meet them where they are at.

5. Upside down

For most children, regardless of their personalities, they can’t help but open their mouths and to smile or laugh when they are placed upside down. Therefore I will often ask parents how their children respond when they do this and if it is positive we add it into the session. It can be done while the parent is standing or if the little one needs more security it can be done with them hanging off the side of mum or dad’s lap. This is the perfect pose for getting images of little, little teeth and a different perspective to the norm.

6. Bubbles

Along with the dog squeaker a bubble wand is another staple in my tool kit. There is a reason many doctor’s surgeries have bubble machines when they do vaccinations and it works the same for photos. They are a great distraction and little hands can’t help but reach out to them.

7. Up in the air

I love using variations of this pose to capture parent-child interaction. For older or slightly bolder children it can involve them being actually thrown in the air and for babies or timid kids it works well with them just being help up above eye level by a parent. It creates movement and often relaxes the adult (which in turn helps reassure the child) and usually results in great eye contact between the child and their mum or dad, which is all part of the story.

8. Moving away

If a baby or child is struggling or having a hard time I will always ask the parents what their attachment to the adults present is like. If the issue is strangers (i.e. me) I will move away to give the child more space and will use my long lens instead so I am not up in their face. At times I have even hidden in or behind bushes and encouraged the parents to keep interacting and playing with their bub or toddler while I capture images without the child being aware. On other occasions the issue can be that the child is super attached to one parent so going for a walk a little way away with the child and the other parent can provide a great circuit breaker.

9. Feeding (or during a nappy change)

And speaking of circuit breakers there is no better one than a feed, or for toddlers, a snack. After all none of us can expected to be happy when we are hangry. These everyday activities actually make for beautiful photos so there is no reason not to include them. Even a humble nappy change can be an opportunity to get a head and shoulders shot of a youngster on their back gazing up adoringly at their grownup.

10. Aeroplane

This little game is one of my all time favourites. In many ways it combines the best of upside down and up in the air and usually results in the tot looking straight at the camera as they are flown back and forth, outstretched on the hands of mum, dad or both.

11. Taking a break

Sometimes when other things aren’t succeeding the best tactic is to take a break. This instantly has the effect of diffusing any built up tension or angst that may be present. Once the perceived pressure is off things often almost immediately improve and beautiful, organic moments will happen. If things can be bought back on track it is more than worth taking five or ten minutes of time out.

12. Trying another day

With all the tricks I have up my sleeve and taking plenty of time the overwhelming majority of littlies do come around and start to enjoy themselves. However, on very rare occasions absolutely nothing works. If it is becoming a miserable experience rather than something enjoyable and fun I will discuss with parents whether we should just concede “it is one of those days”. If that is the case I have no issue arranging to meet up again on another day to complete the session. The few times this has happened it has turned out that unbeknownst to us all the little one was so miserable because they were either beginning to teeth or coming down with illness and the second time around we have a totally different experience.

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