If you’re anything like my family, getting ready for family photos is a marathon in and of itself. A lot of work and preparation goes into this!

As a photographer, I’m blessed with opportunities to photograph all kinds of beautiful families. While each family is unique, they all have one thing in common, particularly in families with young children (ages 3-6): Parents that hope and pray their kids actually smile during the annual family photos.

Have no fear! There’s a way to not only get genuine smiles out of Littles (and adults) but also invite your children to get involved in the process and actually look forward to having photos taken! 



This year, my son wasn’t at all looking forward to having photos taken for the holidays. The photographer-heart in me broke a little when he said it and my mama-heart wanted him to enjoy the experience and have fun. Plus, this homeboy needed to smile for at least some of them!

One night, while (im)patiently waiting for my son to fall asleep in his bed, I was surfing the web on my phone for the perfect dress. I was startled when a sweet small voice suddenly goes, “It’s the perfect dress!”

Two things popped in my mind: 1) Why the f&%$ aren’t you asleep?! And 2) You wouldn’t catch me dead in a skin-tight, leopard print dress.

Out of all the flowy, boho dresses my son must have seen over my shoulder when I really thought he was sleeping, it was a saucy, animal-print bodycon dress with a rather scandalous slit running up the side that won his heart.

As a woman who practically worships neutrals, and loves wearing low-key simplistic clothing, I cringed at the thought of wearing something so bold and loud. My son, however, was all about it. Every day for the next week, he asked when I would wear “the perfect dress”. 

His enthusiasm inspired me. 

Later that week, I asked him again if he was excited about family photos. All I got was a look of indifference. So I go, “How would you like to pick out something you’d want all of us to wear in the photos? Mommy can pick the first outfit, and if it makes you happy, you can pick anything you want Mommy, Daddy, and you to wear next?”

He beamed- it was the kind of smile that says, “I have all the power”.

Fast forward to picture day and there we were: My son in a blue Power Ranger costume with dinosaur slippers, my husband in a hot dog suit, and me, donning the vision of my four-year old’s best life, in the skin-tight leopard dress he picked out (I’ll share a few at the end of this post!).




If you’ve got family photos coming up and are looking to stir up some excitement, this one is for you!

Have your kid(s) choose an outfit.

Before you get all Amazon-woman on me (that’s kind of how I felt in this dress), this doesn’t mean you have to forget about the three Pinterest boards you started for family-photo inspiration. Not at all! Go ahead and put together outfit #1 with confidence, complimentary style, etc.

Mom, Dad, whoever is in charge of coordinating the outfits, do just that. Focus your attention on one outfit to use first and make this your primary style for the nice portraits.

Once you’ve got the first outfit settled, let the kid(s) do the rest! Ask them to choose something for everyone in the family to wear.

Get creative with going about this! It doesn’t have to cost much and it pays off big time!
– If you’re allowing them to choose new clothes, set a budget for each person.
– Make it a rule that the outfit has to be something you already own (but let them get creative and pick without your input!)
– Assign colors to each person and have the kid(s) pick out clothing and accessories in these specific colors.

Whichever way you go with it, the point is to have fun!


There’s more to this than getting a couple of funny photos and getting your kids excited about family photos.

Giving your kid(s) the choice to choose an outfit empowers them.
It gives them choice, encourages them to make a decision, be creative, and allows room for self-expression.
It allows your child to know you care. Giving them this option tells them they have a say and you respect what they have to offer. Kids care when they know you do.
This is way more than having funny photos.

It makes for genuine laughs.
One of the most stressful parts about family photos is the fact that there’s a very real possibility that your kid
won’t be feelin’ it. It happens all the time. Letting them have fun with choosing an outfit virtually assures for some good smiles. Sure, the smile is primarily a reaction to how ridiculous you look, but it’s a smile.

I mean, come on- it’s hard to not smile when your husband is standing in front of you in a hot dog costume.

It’s stress-relieving.
Laughter is medicine and it’s good for the soul! And you’ll most definitely be laughing when you see what they choose and when you see the finished product.
Not to mention, letting the kid(s) decide means you don’t need to stress about selecting a second outfit yourself. Relax, and let the kids do that part!

It makes a great reward.
Instead of bribing the kids with sugary snacks or ice cream afterward, use this as a way to enforce positive behavior.

Let the kids know that if they participate in the first outfit, they get to put on the outfit they picked out!

Now, if you want ice cream, do it. Because let’s be real- parents don’t just use it as a bribe for the kids. We totally use the ice-cream bribe card because we want it, too. And we deserve it after surviving the annual family-photo marathon!

It celebrates the quirks and uniqueness of your family.
Every family is different and that’s something worth celebrating.
What better way to add a more unique style to some family photos than by letting the kid(s) set the tone.
Your Christmas cards will be the first to go up on the fridge.



Family photos can be stressful and it can be tough to get genuine smiles out of your kid(s), but it doesn’t have to be. It might take a little surrender on your part. It also might mean letting go of a little control. But it’s totally worth it and SO much fun.

This might be a bit late to plan for your holiday photos this year, but add it to your mental inspiration-board for prepping your family for next year’s photos! Just a fair warning: What you consider the “perfect dress” will very likely not be what your four-year-old considers the “perfect dress”.

But hearing my son tell me, “Wow, Mom. This is perfect on you” and telling me to put on red lipstick…now that’s priceless. Allow at least some of the photos to be imperfectly imperfect.

And friend, if your kid still throws a tantrum, at least they’ll look hilarious doing it.

– Maddie Adeline

PS- Don’t forget to grab some lovey-dovey photos with your honey.




*Thank you to my sweet friend at fellow creative, Lee Anne w/ Petal & Vine Photography, for taking these for our family!