I started taking pictures when my kids were cute, camera-loving babies. But now? Now I live in a new world. 

Our family has entered the strange and exciting world of all things tween. It seemed as though the change came in an instant. We went from kid to tween without the obvious new milestones that you have going from baby to toddler. 

It was as if overnight we were transported from a world of playgrounds and toys into a world of cell phones, questionable clothing choices, and makeup.

When I finally embraced the tween world, I realized how amazing it actually is. I was inspired to begin photographing this unique age just as I was inspired to photography my little kids. And I want to let the world know that tweens are one of the greatest stages to photograph! 

Tweens know what clothes they like. They are not afraid to have their picture taken. They know they are fabulous and can’t wait to show it all off in front of the camera.

When I set out on a tween photoshoot I have a simple formula that I like to follow. Use these steps to create an experience that the tweens love!

tween girl with pigtails denim overalls posing in city street kristina mccaleb

What to wear

The first thing that to talk about before your tween session is clothing. Clothing is truly one of the most important pieces to the tween photoshoot. It allows them to express themselves. Clothes give them an opportunity to show their style. And as such, most of tweens have a lot of opinions on what they want to wear.

You will want to collaborate with your clients to guide them toward clothing choices that will be flattering in photos while also letting them show their individuality.

My recommendations for clothing are simple. Try to avoid writing or distracting graphics on clothing. Make sure everything fits and covers everything that mom and dad need covered.

And do not forget about the shoes! I typically recommend anything except athletic type shoes (unless they are an athlete and that is their thing). Tweens should wear what is comfortable so that they can move freely and feel confident.

tween girl with top knot and pink headphones kristina mccaleb

Accessories are another great way to add personality to an outfit. That cell phone that seems to be glued to her hand? Let it be in the photo! It adds a sense of age and stage and someday, her kids will marvel at the “old” technology she used as a kid.

Other ideas for accessories are headphones (for the music lover), a camera (for the budding photographer), or a book (for the creative poet). Encourage your tween subjects to bring it all.

Pro tip: I bring my wagon to carry any clothing changes and/or accessories brought along for the session. A parent is usually in charge of the wagon while I am shooting.

four tween girls posing on curb kristina mccaleb

Where to go

Your location can set the tone for your entire session. As I live in the fairly large city of Dallas, we almost always venture downtown. Tweens love it! They feel older and more worldly navigating an urban environment and the photos show them as capable.

As a photographer, I love how the lines of city streets and architecture create natural framing. The busyness of the city is a perfect juxtaposition to my subject standing still in the midst of all the action.

Of course, safety is key when shooting in a busy environment. Look for quieter streets and have a parent be in charge of looking out for oncoming traffic.

tween girl with black curly hair denim vest smiling portrait kristina mccaleb

The gear you need

When creating tween portraits, I want to completely separate them from the background. I also want to be far enough away from them to give them some space and get comfortable with me.

Even though they are a bit older, tweens still can be hesitant with new people and take a bit of time to show their true selves.

I find that I am always reaching for my 85mm and 135mm lenses. These lenses are known to create beautiful bokeh, allowing the background to fade to blur while the subject is tack sharp.

must haves


Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens

This lens is perfect for portraits where you want beautiful bokeh, great subject isolation, and a little space between the camera and your tween.

canon 135mm f:2

Canon 135mm f/2 lens

This lens has beautiful compression, resulting in portraits that make your subjects the center of attention while creating smooth, blurry backgrounds.

collapsible reflector

Collapsible reflector

A collapsible reflector is a great tool for bouncing light back onto your subjects and can even be used to create wind for some dramatic hair movement!

With these focal lengths, I am close enough to have a conversation with my subjects while far enough away to not be invading their personal space. The compression from these lenses creates subject isolation, ensuring that the tween is the center of attention. All of the distraction fade away into a beautiful blur.

The other piece of gear I can’t do without on a tween photo shoot is a collapsible reflector. It can bounce light onto your subject to get great catchlights and illuminate their face. And if you have an assistant wave it around, it is the perfect wind source of a little dramatic movement in hair!

tween girls posing together in street kristina mccaleb

Invite some friends

Even with the perfect clothes, the best location, and the right gear, there is something that any tween NEEDS to show her true self in front of the camera. Her friends!

If you have even interacted with a twee.n you know how dependent they are on their friend crew. And can you blame them? Friends make everything better! To share this photo experience with the most important people in their lives will make them truly happy (and might get you some new clients!).

Of course, you want to be sure that the friends’ parents know where you are headed and what you are doing. I like to invite the friends’ parents along for the fun so that they can be 100% on board.

tween girls laughing on stairs kristina mccaleb

If your group of tweens is feeling a little uncomfortable posing for the camera, try breaking the ice with some silly prompts. Have someone whisper an embarrassing secret to someone else and watch the giggles happen naturally.

I suggest that when starting out, keep the friends down to 3 or 4. It’s not that the extra kids are hard to control, but more people in the frame makes for more variables. You will want to be fully comfortable getting sharp focus with big groups and know how to do face swaps in Photoshop should you need to.

I like to start with smaller groups of friends and then have everyone come together for one big group shot at the end. I have them all squeeze together for big smiles and a sense of connection in the photos.

Pro tip: Give each friend a job! Have one be in charge of hair and another be in charge of clothes. This age group knows how to pose too, so they can help each other there!

tween tutorial link image

I like to start with smaller groups of friends and then have everyone come together for one big group shot at the end. I have them all squeeze together for big smiles and a sense of connection in the photos.

Pro tip: Give each friend a job! Have one be in charge of hair and another be in charge of clothes. This age group knows how to pose too, so they can help each other there!

tween girls laughing together on city sidewalk kristina mccaleb

Focus on fun

The most important part of a successful tween photoshoot to make sure your tween is having fun. If they are, then those amazing photos will happen naturally.

Tweens are just starting to find their way in this world. They are just now beginning to find out what they do and don’t like. Your job is to let them shine so that they can see themselves in your photos.

Let them have their serious, not so smiling photographs. And take the full on laughing photographs too! Emotion is at the heart of a tween.

The tween stage is an amazing time to document a kid. Make the session all about them. Let them be seen and have some fun. And chances are, you will have a blast, too!