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The Importance of a Kid-Led Philosophy

May 14, 2024

The importance of a kid-led philosophy, you carefully selected a pre-school, private school or school district that reflects your viewpoint on how your kid(s) learns best, choosing an environment in which they will thrive, and mirrors your personal values. At Ivory Tree Portraits, we have a kid-led philosophy because we believe it’s important.

A kid-led philosophy means creating an environment that encourages play, self-expression, and individuality! This approach supports the idea that kids learn best when they are deeply engaged and have a stake in their own learning process.

I know, it’s not normal for a portrait studio to have a philosophy deeply rooted in the educational system. But we do and we do a lot of training with our entire team on the philosophy because it creates an incredible experience for kids and for parents. It helps create a fun environment which makes the entire process easy, for everyone!

I’m a mom, I know first-hand, and I hear it all the time. Moms want annual portraits. Kids, hate it. Dads, tolerate it at best. But that doesn’t have to be the case. What you’re really looking for are memories. Images of who they are at this point in time because they will never be like this again. But you don’t want it wrapped up in the memory of yelling just to get them to participate. If kids can enjoy themselves and it’s not a chore, everyone wins.

How a kid-led philosophy combats the top two biggest concerns with annual family portraits.

We know what goes into a portrait session. It’s a lot and there is a lot of pressure to get it right – the right outfits, the right hair, the right attitude, no one crying.

We adopted a kid-led philosophy because it gives kids the space to relax, gain confidence and be themselves. It also takes the pressure off of you because you know what to expect and that you can trust the team.

Biggest Concerns With Family Portraits

  1. I’ve invested all this time and money in this one shoot and my kids aren’t going to behave and we won’t get the images.
  2. My family hates the experience, it’s like pulling teeth to get them there.

Taking a kid-led approach ensures a relaxed & fun photo session for them (and you!) that prioritizes capturing their true essence while fostering self-confidence. And, we promise, we won’t end the session until we know we have the images!

By making the session fun (and painless) for kids, they don’t dread or fight you to come each year. And a big part of our kid-led philosophy is to not stop shooting until we have THE image. So you never have to worry about the investment of time or money, you know we’ll get the images for you!

Three Ways our Kid-Led Philosophy Puts Your Mind At Ease:

We believe every kid is unique, every kid learns differently, every kid has different needs. We take it one step further and believe in celebrating that difference and really making kids feel special for what makes them different.

We adopted a kid-led philosophy because it gives them the space to relax, gain confidence and be themselves. It takes the pressure off of them and of you.

  1. Kids set the pace
  2. We don’t stop shooting until we know we have the images
  3. We’re experts in working with kids

Kids Set The Pace:

Taking their lead ensures a relaxed & fun photo session for them (and you!) that prioritizes capturing their true essence while also fostering self-confidence. When you pay the session fee, you aren’t paying for a set time in the studio, you are paying for the experience. Our sessions can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, depending on your kid(s).

Some walk into the studio ready to go but fade quickly. While others need some time to warm up. Our kid-led philosophy gives them the time and space to do that. We believe in meeting kids where they are which means they feel empowered, giving them the ability to relax and be themselves.

We don’t stop shooting until we know we have the images

Every session is guaranteed. It’s that simple, we don’t stop shooting until we know we have it! Our goal is of course great images but it’s equally a great experience. The only way to get both is for mama to relax and trust us. We know how much goes into prepping for a session. So, we promise we won’t stop shooting until we’re sure we have the images.

We hear it literally all the time, that was crazy, no way you got anything. Or my kid is spirited, no way will they sit for portrait session. These are our favorite sessions, the spirited kids give the best expressions. And we train our team on how to meet kids wherever they are. So it’s ok that you feel like the session might be crazy, we’ll get the images. Pinky promise.

Here’s the deal, we don’t look at each session individually. Our goal is to work with you every year, to watch kids and your family grow. 

We’re Experts in Working with Kids

This means, our entire team loves working with kids. It’s not that we love photography and will take portraits of kids. It means if you’re on the team, your first love is kids and you’re also an artist (they aren’t mutually exclusive).

It also means that you get to relax because our team knows how to get the most out of the session and your kid! Trust the process, we work with hundreds of families every year, and we’ve seen it all before! We specialize in it!


Being kid-led doesn’t mean we hand over the reins and let kids run the session. Your photographer still has control of the session (if you let them) ensuring we get what you want ! Here are three easy tips you can do to help the experience:

  1. Don’t offer a reward
  2. Relax, so they can
  3. Trust your photographer

Don’t offer a reward

I know it’s so easy, “if you just do this for mommy, smile for a few then we’ll go get ice cream (we recco Vanilla Bean) or to Target and you can pick a toy!’. But when you say that what they actually hear is, this is something you don’t want to do…”.

We recommend you let them know the plan and how much fun this is going to be. “Ok, we’re going to go to Ivory Tree for our annual portraits, it’s going to be so much fun and then we can go grab lunch or go to target”. They are doing something different, so explain the plan so they understand and can prepare.

Relax so they can

Kids feed off your energy. They know when you are stressed. So if you are behind the camera saying, no that’s not your natural smile or sit up straight. They will tense and you won’t get what you want. So, relax and trust us. This is the exact reason you come to us. We look at all the little deets so you don’t have to. You’ve heard the expression live in moment or capture the moment. You live in it and just enjoy the experience. We’ll capture it for you.

And guess what, little kids will lose it because that’s what they do. Oh, teens too because, again, that’s what they do. When a meltdown happens, don’t over stress, because that will make it worse. Give it over to your photographer, we’re experts in this. We work with kids all day long. We will reign them back in and get what we need from the session. 

Trust Your Photographer

Here is our promise to you, we don’t stop shooting until we have the images. Every session. Like teachers, we do extensive training on how to work with kids. Interanlly, we are constantly evaluating how we increase self-confidience through portraits. We train on all the best angles, looking for the details and how to engage and capture authentic connections. Trust the expert!  

The Importance of a Kid-Led Philosophy

Our ultimate goal is yes, amazing portraits that reflect your kid’s unique personality but our goal is equally to make the entire experience easy and enjoyable. If you haven’t been with us before, that might sound like a stretch but our over 90% return rate lets us know that our clients love the experience and the images.

Our Kid-Led philosophy ensures kids have fun, you can relax and you’re guaranteed to get amazing images.


  • Never book during naptime
  • If they’re sick, reschedule (you can see it in their eyes)
  • Don’t book the same day they get shots

Some Sources:

Family Education

Texas State University

About the Author

Lara Aman Mattey

Founder I Owner I Ivory Tree

Lara is the coolest person alive, according to her husband, Nick, & two little ladies, Caitie & Lorelai. But she thinks her time is limited on that statement as they continue to grow older. Lara comes from a large family, with whom she is still very close with & you’ll often see shared through the blog and on social media. She went to Penn State (We Are…) where she met Nick.

Ivory Tree's very own photographer, Marcy shot her newborn photography sessions & Lara was hooked! Lara is not a photographer, super weird, we know. But lives for the experience, creative direction, and meeting all the cool folks who come through the Ivory Tree Portraits studio!

In addition to studio awards, Lara was also recognized at a Women of Influence on the Main Line in 2023.

Follow along as she shares studio antics, personal antidotes, & fun stuff going on in the community.

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