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{behind the scenes} meltdowns and crazy towns | Washington DC documentary family photographer

a mama recently told me

during our consultation call ahead of her family photo session, “My kids can be a little … wild. I hope you’re patient.”

A quick peek through old emails turned up:

“Thanks so much for your patience with [REDACTED]’s stubbornness. I hope we got some good pictures anyway!” 

“…again, so sorry [REDACTED] spit on your shoe! I am still mortified.”

“[Redacted] is really opinionated so we’ll just hope she cooperates when the time comes.”

(c) Red Turtle Photography | Washington DC children

Why am I putting these comments out there (with the permission of the senders, I promise)?

So that you, kind, conscientious parent of a “wild” child, know one important thing: Your kiddo is normal.

And no matter what happens, I am Never. Judging. You. Who knows what goes on inside those goofy little kid heads of theirs – whatever happens, I am cool with you, and nothing your munchkin does is going to faze me. Meltdown? I’ll chat with you while it passes. Tear-fest over a boo-boo? Take all the time you need to make it better. Total refusal to smile? You should see my beautiful pictures of serious-faced angels. We’re good. You don’t have to worry. And whatever your kid gets in her mind to pull, I know you’re a great mom/awesome dad. I know this little window of time where we’re trying to make photo magic happen isn’t the total story of your family life.

I am not an expert in what makes kids do the weird/wonderful/hilarious/infuriating things they do. I do read a lot by people who *are* experts. So I asked one of them about this. Meghan Leahy is a parent coach and columnist on parenting for the Washington Post, and she says

“No matter how calm the parents are, there is generally a feeling of pressure. Clothes have been chosen, checks have been written, locations have been selected. The child feels the parents energy and reacts to that. This isn’t conscious, it is just what it is. Also, parents tend to forget to feed and water children before and during these photos. The worst case scenario is if the family is uber-controlling about how the pictures need to be. Tons of staging = STRESS.

I could not agree more – kids definitely pick up the energy of their family and it makes sense they’re running high on picture day. What can you do to prepare for that and (maybe) head it off at the pass?

“Feed and water the children more than you need to. Take pics as early in the day as you can. In an age-appropriate way, help the kids understand what to expect. I would use dolls and toys and pretend to the photographer…just keep it light and fun.

And what about on the spot, in the moment at the photo session?

Have the kids bring their favorites toys, sports stuff, lovies, etc. These can both be in the picture, as well just something to occupy some time. Don’t focus on perfection and “smiling” too much. Allow the photographer to be “the boss.” The children are more likely to listen to her! If the child has a meltdown, take the child into another area to soothe them. The more public the tantrum, the more frustrated [you] become…AWKWARD. And I am not above a bribe. Lollipops, little candies, promises of technology? Go for it.  Whatever [happens], do not talk about the child as if they are not there…and don’t shame them. Stay patient, stay calm, have [your] partner help, and move the moments along!


One thing I’ve seen time and time again: your kids love connection with you. And that’s what makes for great photos anyway, right: all of you, together, being your awesome selves, connected into one great family. If you can focus on that connection (and don’t worry much at all about looking at the camera or smiling or sitting still) and just shine love on them like crazy, things are going to go well.

Not perfectly. They’re going to do something silly. Or mean. Or cry. Or wipe snot on their new clothes.

And I’m probably going to just keep taking photos. I’ll pause if/when they need some space, or when you do. I’m good about that. If I think something’s going really badly, or if I think we should make a change to ease up the energy, I’ll let you know what I have in mind. Otherwise, I’m going to be chill, and commiserate with you, and hand you some Boogie Wipes if you need them.

(c)_Red_Turtle_Photography _Washington_DC_Children


All this is to say: don’t let your “wild” child worry you. Let THEM know how happy you are to get pictures with them because they’re awesome and you love them. I’ve got your back. And we’re going to make beautiful pictures together.

xo, Katie

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