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  • Writer's pictureSophie Schillaci

Mission Impossible? Getting a Toddler to Smile for Family Photos

Hands down, my most prized possessions are photos.

For someone who's not particularly skilled or professionally trained in the world of photography, it's one of my favorite things in life. Not for the 'gram (although I do love sharing the good ones there), but for my memories.

Ever since I was a kid, I would spend hours pouring over cardboard boxes in my parents' basement, digging through photos of my infancy and childhood, as well as theirs. I would dream up memories that weren't my own, imagining what life was like then, and ask lots of questions for the context behind the camera. (They didn't always remember the answers, but someone usually had a valuable story to share.)

Today, one of my greatest fears is losing all the beautiful memories I've been fortunate enough to create in this lifetime. Where my mind sometimes slips or runs out of storage, photos are always there to remind me of what once was. I take comfort in the notion that, along with my journals, they'll still be there for me (and my babies) when I'm old and gray.

As a mom, I've become even more fascinated with how to preserve memories and moments for Everly and Colton. I know that they won't remember their first Christmas in our home, but I take comfort in knowing that they have the option to look back and imagine it for themselves someday. I hope that they'll see and feel the love my husband and I have put into creating a beautiful life and home for them.

I know... That's a tall order to put on a few single frames.


We've been fortunate to work with the lovely Alicia Chandler in Los Angeles for the last several years on a series of projects, but my favorite sessions with her are our annual end-of-year shoots that inevitably end up on our Christmas card.

But this year, Everly has fully transitioned from an agreeable baby to a strong-willed -- and photo-averse -- toddler. As I'm learning, the whole, *DON'T * TAKE * MY * PICTURE* thing is painfully common at this developmental age and requires quite a bit of creativity to snag a candid smile. (Sorry, but I'm not going to NOT take her photo. She's changing and growing too fast!)

Below, an accurate depiction of almost every photo shoot I've tried with her over the last year:

Holiday 2020

But, to be fair... compare this to the last two years:

Holiday 2019

Holiday 2018


So, how did I get her smiling so big for this year's portrait?

Long story short: I placed Dad and Brother in one spot with our photographer, Alicia, standing by at the ready.

I ran around like an insane person, carrying Everly, chasing our dog Opie, and screaming about having "THE ZOOMIESSSSSSS!" Then, when I had her giggling up a storm, I jumped into the shot and Alicia snapped away for a few frames. Then I did it all over again. A few times... It made me hot, tired and sweaty, but I got a smiling shot of Evie, so it's a win!

First and foremost, having a great photographer who is seasoned at photographing kids and families is huge. (Bonus points if they're a parent themselves.) And if your kid won't stop tantrum-ing, take solace in the fact that every toddler on the planet does the exact same thing. Lower those hopes and expectations before you even start. I didn't get every shot I wanted (still nothing of the siblings together!) but what we did get is still beautiful.

I've tried it all now: Bribery (works for most kids, but not Ev), music, bubbles, playthings... the works. The only thing that has helped us is PURE SILLINESS!

Dressing comfortably and engaging in toddler PLAY was the best way to get the sweet shots we'll cherish forever. That, and a SHORT session.

Quick Tip: If you manage to get the *almost* perfect shot -- but someone's eyes are closed, it's worth asking your photographer if they can work some photoshop magic to combine two photos into one, editing someone's face in from another frame.

I'm including our full shoot below! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, loves.


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