Toddlers to teens

Children need different styles of interaction as they mature

By Sandy Pucí
Images By Sandy Pucí
First Published in February 2006

Each stage in a childís life lends itself to specific poses, props, backgrounds, presentation, and add-on products. In this second of a two-part series, Sandy Pucí continues her helpful guide to working with children.

Here we wrap up our two-part series on photographing children, with tips, poses, props and products to keep things fresh for the older crowd.

3- to 4-year-olds
This is my all-time favorite age. Three-year-olds are old enough to communicate verbally and are usually willing and excited to participate. They are full of energy and generally like to make people happy. They still have that toddler look, with chubby cheeks, tiny teeth, and pudgy hands. This is an excellent time to create a “timeless” portrait. Use story-telling props to help create reasons for your clients to visit your studio more often. Our popular set themes include fairies, baseball, fishing, little ballerinas, and other storybook sets. We also encourage clients to bring things that are special to the toddler. At this age children are just starting to use their imagination. Watching them get excited over the props and sets makes the job even more fun.

The best part about this age is the effectiveness of using bribery. Most 3- to 4-year-olds are very familiar with candy. Using simple snacks like Smarties and lollipops can keep the session going.

5 to 6-year-olds
This is a huge turning point in a child’s growth. Most children are just starting to lose their baby teeth. The last little bit of chubbiness in their faces represents the final stage in the transition from toddler to child. They are highly interested in what you’re doing, and generally will participate willingly. This is also the stage when subjects start to make the forced “say cheese” smiles, as their parents have been telling them to do whenever there’s a camera present. The child believes it’s what his parents want to see. The irony is that it’s exactly not what the parents want, even though they taught the child to do it!

The best way to head off fake smiles is to keep the child talking. Have him repeat short sentences that are sure to make him giggle—“Mommy is a monkey” and “Daddy wears diapers” are giggle gold mines. I also ask the child if he’s brushed his teeth today, as I pick up my feather duster tickler and threaten to use it on his teeth. Another fun game is “give me five.” I pull my hand away just before they can slap it, saying “too slow!” The second time I let our hands connect, then yell “ouch” all the way back to my camera. They love this game. Acting silly is totally okay.

7- to 10-year-olds
I call this the “scary teeth age.” The face is getting thinner, the body is lengthening, and most children have lost several baby teeth. With all the gaps and crevices, their smiles look like the Manhattan skyline. Be careful—if you press for a smile you run the risk of having Bugs Bunny smiling back at you. This is the time to focus on more serious, thoughtful expressions. Try traditional poses, and stay away from tight close-ups.

11- to 14-year-olds
Somewhere between first acne and braces, these awkward young adults long for someone to listen to them and fill them with confidence. A little attention goes a long way. You can often take an indifferent or nervous child out of her shell simply by mentioning one of her attractive features. Don’t go overboard, a simple mention is more than enough to crack a smile.

You can mention a boy’s attributes for a sweet reaction, but generally it’s better to skip the compliments and harass Mom a little instead. Many times I’ve asked a mother to go get a water bottle down the hall, and when she’s gone, I tell the young man that if his mom licks her hand and fixes his hair one more time I’ll have the hair police remove her from the building. This always creates a bond between the photographer and the subject. From there on out, all I need to do to get a perfect, genuine smile is mention the word “police.” Unlike girls, boys at this age do not respond favorably to the mention of the opposite sex. In addition to eliciting a sour face, you’re likely to lose any trust you’ve earned.

Photographing children is a delight I never tire of. One the biggest rewards is being a part of a child’s life. I often realize with awe that I’ve loved every minute of my career as a professional photographer. How many other jobs offer that?


Specialty product suggestions

3- to 4-year-olds
Making Faces:
A collection of personality shots.

5- to 6-year olds
Eclectic: A 4x10 image of three different poses, typically a full-length and a three-quarter shot with a really tight headshot, and just one of the three with the child looking at the camera.
Oil portrait: a 5-year-old’s session is an ideal time to create an heirloom portrait. These “oil paintings” are created digitally but have an old-world look and feel.

7- to 10-year-olds
Emotions: A montage of images showing the child’s interest in sports, hobbies, and other pursuits. The montage comprises three to six images with an emphasis on movement, and for impact, with just one image of the child looking into the camera.
Storyboard: A framed collection of images that portray the theme of the session.

11- to 14-year-olds
Element: A high-contrast art image that brings out the powerful look of the preteen. These art prints sell very well.
Portrait handbags: Every mom who sees one wants one. Portrait handbags are an ideal way for your clients show off her children, and a powerful endorsement of your portraiture.

Expressions by Sandy Puc’ is in Littleton, Colo. See more of her work at

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