How to have a successful family photo shoot with kids under the age of 5

So a few years ago I stopped taking wedding clients. It wasn't that I didn't like photographing weddings. It was because I discovered that my talents are better aligned with kids. I LOVE taking photos of kids.  With 10 years of experience, I have some tricks up my sleeves to help you have a successful family photo shoot.

You're investing a lot of time and money into your shoot - and what if your kids are just a disaster???? It's risky! But listen up to my tips so that it's successful.  

#1 First when we talk about time of day it really is "what's best for your kids"? Sure, you might have more time in the day to get hair and makeup done if you have your sessions in the evening, but if your kids are melting down - let's plan on having the shoot in the morning. So if you have kids, think first when they are most happy. 

#2 While your photo shoot is for a certain time, an hour or two typically, I don't expect your kids to perform for the whole time.  Your kids (or you!) are encouraged to take a break, eat a non-messy snack, or drink.  You know your kids best, so I'll leave it up to you to tell me they're reaching their limits and need to take a break.  While they're breaking I can get brother and dad together, mom and dad together, or another combination.  

#3 Let me work with your kids.  You might have a special phrase you say with your kids to get them to smile, maybe it's "monkey poops" or something like that.  Leave that for when you're photographing your kids and let me take charge.  Most of the time with those phrases I get smiles that makes them look like they're pooping.  So I'd rather get them genuinely smiling or laughing. I do have some "games" that will get them to look natural too! 

#4 It's ok to bribe them.  In fact, I suggest that you talk about a fun thing you can do after your session because of their awesome attitudes during the session. You could consider donuts, ice cream, blowing out birthday candles, or going to a new park!

#5 Not all of your family photos will be you sitting, smiling, and looking at the camera. Personally I think that the best family photos are the non-camera aware photos where everyone is looking at each other having a good time.  This doesn't mean that I don't try to get the looking at the camera smiling photos - I know this is the holy grail of family photos. Some of your photos I'll ask you to specifically interact with each other so that everyone looks natural.  Other times I'll have everyone looking at the camera for the holy grail shot.  When I'm working on the holy grail shot it's really important for you as the parent to resist the urge to look at your kids.  If you just hold your gaze at me then I will use my tricks to get your kids to look at me.  But I think it's helpful to know that not all of your family photos will be you looking and smiling at the camera.