Okay mamas. Sit down. Let me tell a little you a little story about the optimistic mom-tographer.  She may or may not bear a close resemblance to you and yours truly.

She is a loving mother and she loves to capture all of the cute things her kids do with her fancy camera. One day, she sees her kids doing the most adorable thing. And she knows it is going to make for photo GOLD.

The ideas start brewing for a photo shoot. The wheels are turning in her head. She has outfit ideas, Pinterest boards, and big dreams. And she knows that this is the photo shoot that is going to win all of the awards and all of the adoration from her photography friends. She hopes that Instagram is prepared for the brilliance she had in store.

And then she pulled her camera out and all of the dreams came crashing down. The kids started whining. Our fearless mom-tographer bribes and begs. She threatens to take away Christmas. She contemplates dragging them along and forcing them to be cute. And then she gives-up because the stress of making the big photo dream happen is just all too much.

Have you been there? Because I have!

But I also have really great news for you: your photo dreams can totally be a reality. Sessions with your kids don’t have to be painful. In fact, they can be downright FUN. With these five easy steps, you will be on your way to mom-tographer success and the kids will be begging for more time in front of your camera!

Make the photo shoot an adventure

You don’t have to fly to Hawaii for this (but if you do, can I come?!).

But really, kids are pretty easy to please. Taking them somewhere as simple as a creek, a local park, or on a little stroll through your own neighborhood can be a great adventure. All you have to do is set the tone with your own adventurous spirit!

Frame your excursion as an opportunity to explore. Have everyone find “treasures,” encourage them to run and play, and use your imaginations to transport you to exciting far-off lands.

I will caution you to limit the time it takes to get to your adventure. No one likes being stuck in the car and if you force them to do so every time you want to take a picture, they aren’t going to be happy about it. Work to find locations close by that allow you to capture the fun so that most of your time is spent playing rather than waiting to play.

Let the kids lead the way

Giving children choices empowers them. And a child with power is a happy child.

Now, am I saying to let the kids run the show and lose control of them? Of course not! What I am saying is that loosening your grip on the vision for the shoot and letting the kids have their own ideas about what should happen can actually earn you more cooperation in the long run.

For example: you have a color scheme picked-out of the clothing you want the kids to wear at a particular location. Rather than telling them exactly what to wear, give them some options within that color scheme.

In much the same way, let the kids try their own poses and facial expressions throughout the shoot. It only takes a few seconds and yet can make them feel so much more confident and proud as you continue to take pictures. It also shows that you believe in and respect their ideas which makes them that much more likely to reciprocate.

Reward them

Being in front of the camera isn’t easy. Be sure to shower your kids with praise when they are being photographed! And if you ask me, there is nothing wrong with a good old fashioned bribe every now and then. If a little piece of chocolate is going to get me the picture I want, it’s more than worth it!

Rewards don’t have to be extravagant. In fact, it’s often the simplest rewards that go the longest way. I have been known to carry around a bag of Dum Dum lollipops…kids will do backflips for those things! If there are food allergies, keep little rubber pencil toppers or cheap trinkets with you to reward good behavior.

And really, I find that verbal rewards are really the best way to get kids to cooperate in front o the camera. Telling them that they are doing such a good job and that they look so cute makes them beam with pride. So dole out high fives and words of affirmation often and you will likely have happy subjects most of the time.

Take a step back

I really like to be in control of a given situation (Type A personality all the way over here!). However, the most amazing stories unfold when you give the kids a little room.

It can be as simple as putting your kiddos in some pretty light with an activity they enjoy. Then step away and let them have at it! When you do this, not only are you giving them something to do that they love, but you are allowing them to be themselves and are able to capture authentic moments of happiness. By not directing the scene too much, you are really showing their unique little personalities…and they are having a blast!

In the same way that letting the kids share their ideas about a photo shoot shows that you trust them, taking a step back shows that you want them to be themselves. Documenting that shows that you value who they are and often leads to the best pictures with the most perfect expressions.

Let them play

If you ask me, kids were put on this earth for the sole purpose of playing. It’s how they learn and grow and discover. And as a mom, few things are better than witnessing the joy of my kids as they play together.

If you want genuine laughs and smiles, nothing brings it about more easily than play. Of course, play styles vary between kids so this requires some observation on your part. Pay attention to what your kids love to do and then plan a shoot around that.

Perhaps it is playing in the yard or maybe it is drawing for hours on end. Simple play items like dress-up clothes or bubbles can make for the most fun photo-worthy moments!

My little boy seems like he is perpetually moving. Any game or task where he can be active is going to be the most fun for him. So I know to get great pictures of him I need to give him big spaces, make my shutter speed nice and fast, and then let him move all around.

More than anything, I want to look back on my photos with my kids someday and have wonderful memories behind the images. I don’t want them to remember dreading my camera and I don’t want to remember all of the stress in making my photo dreams come true.

Instead, I want us all to smile looking at those pictures. I want us to cherish those photographs because we had so much fun making them together. Now I know that I can still make the pictures of my dreams and enjoy the process with my children.

And you can too! Keep being that optimistic mom-tographer and use these five tips to help get the kids on board. I know you will make photographs that make you proud and your kids will love them, too.