How To Get The Perfect Holiday Photo with Your Toddler

When people see photos of my daughter Molly on my Instagram and on my blog there’s always one main question I get. And that is, how do you get a toddler to smile for all of your pictures?! Some people assume Molly is just happy all the time. Trust me when I say, she is a typical two-year-old and is definitely not smiling all the time. And others probably assume I bribe her with candy and cupcakes! Ha! And while there is some bribery when things get really tough, for the most part I try to avoid it.

So the other day we were taking our photos for our Minted Christmas card and Molly started off in pretty rough shape (See below photo – ha!). She woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning and was in quite a mood right up until my photographer and friend Ashley arrived. I thought for sure there was absolutely no way we were going to get our family photos. But with a few tricks up my sleeve, we were able to get the absolute cutest pics and I wanna share with you guys how we did it! So today on my blog, I’m sharing my top six tips for getting super cute pictures of your toddler!

And look, getting cute photos can be hard. I try to never push Molly to take a photo that she doesn’t want to. But these holiday photos were so important us! We hired a photographer to come to our house that day just to take them and I even got my make-up done! So for Molly to decide she’s not in a good mood didn’t really work for our family on that day. I know other parents and families have had the same experience! So hopefully I can make the experience a little bit smoother for you today. And in the process, I’m also going to share what holiday card we picked out and how that process on Minted’s website was extremely smooth! You literally text them the photo you want to use and they send you back 5 holiday card options that look absolutely perfect with your photo! It’s crazy cool! But I’ll get to that in a minute.

First the photos. Here are my 6 tried-and-true tips.


Molly absolutely loves music! I’m sure many of you remember her singing Havana nonstop when she was one, and although sadly Havana is not at the top of her playlist anymore, she loves a bunch of other songs including the entire Moana soundtrack! So whenever we’re taking photos and she’s in a bad mood, I’ll put on music and it usually instantly puts her in a better mood! She’ll dance around and sing and smile and laugh. I’ve gotten some of the cutest photos of Molly while she’s been dancing and jamming out to her favorite tunes.

Be Mobile

What I mean by this is don’t expect a toddler to stand in one place while you’re taking photos. Instead, set up an area or a general space where you would like to take your picture and let your toddler run around and play. There have been so many times I’ve tried to get Molly to smile at the camera while I’m holding her in my arms, or to stand next to me to take a photo and it almost never works!

So when we took our holiday card photos, we decided we were going to take them in the formal living room of our house and we just let her explore and do her thing. Instead of trying to smile and stare at the camera, we interacted with her and tried to make her giggle. Candid shots always turn out to be the best photos anyway!

Give Them a Prop

Props work wonders. It distracts the child and also gets them to genuinely smile because they like the item they’re playing with. It’s like a new toy to them! I feel like kiddos need something to do with their hand at all times. They’re busy bodies and just wanna keep moving and exploring. So like I said above, give them the space to explore and by giving them a prop you give them something to stay busy with. So for these photos I gave Molly a big decorative candy cane because I knew she would have fun playing with it and would hopefully give us some super cute smiles!

Teach Them How the Camera Works

Kids are endlessly curious. They want to know how things work in their world. So try this – let you toddler take YOUR picture! I mean, if you’re using an expensive camera obviously you’re not gonna hand it over to your two-year-old. But what we will do is when we’re shooting photos my photographer Ashley, who is amazing by the way, we’ll let Molly come sit on her lap and look through the camera view finder and take some pictures of mommy! It allows Molly to feel part of the process. She likes pushing the button and then seeing the image. So she gets more excited about getting in front of the camera herself and getting to come back and look at the photo. And that’s another thing, after you take one or two photos, let your kiddo look at them on the screen on your camera. It might encourage them to make a silly face and then come back over to the camera to see the silly face played back to them! Molly enjoys “taking picture” so much that she now has her own little camera that she carries around the house.

Surprise Them With a New Outfit

Molly is a bit of a tomboy. She is absolutely obsessed with sports! Whenever a sporting event comes on the TV she’s glued to it. If soccer or football or baseball comes on the TV she gets so excited! Honestly I don’t know a bigger Cubs fan than Molly. And that’s coming from somebody who is married to a man who has been a fan of the Cubs for 35 years. Molly is for sure a bigger fan! Ha! Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. My point is, even though she’s a bit of a tomboy she absolutely loves clothes! She for sure gets that from her mom. So if I know I want to get a cute photo of Molly, I’ll often surprise her with a new outfit. I’ll pull out a new dress and talk about how pretty it is and she gets so excited to put it on and twirl in front of the mirror. I think sometimes when people take holiday photos, they think to put their child in the outfit beforehand to get them used to it, but that doesn’t work for Molly. She loves the surprise of a new outfit and when she sees how excited I am about it, she gets just as excited. The PJ’s she’s wearing in these photos I gave to her minutes before we started taking them. She couldn’t believe her luck that she got to match with Mommy, Daddy and Baby Riley.

Have An Option B

I always think it’s important to have a option B if everything doesn’t work out your first go around. For example, we first tried to do these photos with Molly and Riley in cute little outfits in front of our Christmas tree, Molly was NOT having it. I tried all my tricks – we put music on, I gave her a candy cane prop, put her in a pretty, pink sparkly new dress, I even give her fruit snacks! But she just wasn’t in the mood. So we decided to abandon the idea. But even though it wasn’t working we did get a couple cute pics as you can see from the pics in this blog post.. But because she was having such a hard time with it we decided to try something completely different and that’s when we changed locations to upstairs in our bedroom, put her in some comfy PJs, and let her play on the bed! So because toddlers  can be unpredictable, I definitely recommend always having an option B! Especially because if you’re taking holiday photos you probably hired a photographer and invested some money in it and it would be a shame if you walked away without a cute photo of you and your family.

When All Else Fails – Fruit Snacks

Remember how I said above that you don’t necessarily have to bribe your children with candy and cupcakes? Well, sometimes bribery really will do the trick! There have been times when I REALLY wanted Molly to smile for a picture. For example, when I put her in her Halloween costume, or for Easter when I dressed her up like a bunny and wanted a cute photo. But she just wouldn’t smile. I tried all of my tricks that I just listed and nothing was working. That’s when I broke out the fruit snacks! Not everyone’s going to agree with this. But I am not above bribery! Ha! I say let me see your teeth and show me a big smile for a fruit snack! And sure enough she will smile so big and I will get that perfect picture! Plus, we give her pretty healthy fruit snacks. So even though she thinks it’s a treat, it’s not really. Oh, and we call her chewable vitamins candy. So sometimes the fruit snack I gave her is actually just a chewable vitamin. Btw, Riley’s face in the below photo is the BEST!

Order Your Cards From Minted to Make Your Life Easier!

And look, none of these tips and tricks are ironclad. They won’t always work. And sometimes you just have to be OK with that. Or sometimes you go at it for a good hour to and eventually get something. But it can be exhausting! That’s why this year I wanted our holiday card ordering process to be super easy (taking the photo is hard enough)! When my friends told me about Minted’s text Us Your Photo service, I was immediately sold! All you do is text the photo you would like to use on your card to Minted at 415-915-CARD (2273) and they will text you back 5 different holiday card options that were specifically chosen for your photo! And it’s totally free!

Btw, Minted is having an extended Cyber Monday sale and you can get 25% off their cards right now, free shipping AND a $30 Minted gift-card! So now is soooo the time to order your holiday cards!

In the past, I’ve spent hours on websites trying to choose a holiday card design. And to be completely honest with you, when I sent the text to Minted, I was almost positive I wasn’t going to like the designs they chose. But they totally proved me and my skepticism wrong because I absolutely loved two of the options they sent back! They sent me back this option and this option. And I’m honestly kind of still torn on which one to order because I like them both so much! So I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to ask you guys to help us choose! I’m not even going to think about it and completely let you decide. Vote in the comments below! Do I go with this white and gold design or this simple white design? I love the simplicity of both cards. The card that gets the most votes is the one I’m gonna order tomorrow and I will share the one I pick on my Instagram story with you guys once it arrives! And help me choose a photo too! My top 4 pics are the 4 photos below! Which do you think we should choose?!

And obviously the style and design you choose for your holiday photos will depend on what kind of picture you have! If you have a picture with a lot of warm tones in it, you might want a card with warm tones. If you have a photo with cooler tones you might go with silver or blue in your design. Whatever you pick will be amazing! And if you wanna know the designs that I love most, I am sharing a few more of my favorites below.

Good luck taking your Holiday card photos!!!!!

Thank you for sponsoring this post Minted!!!

129 Thoughts

129 thoughts on “How To Get The Perfect Holiday Photo with Your Toddler

      1. Where do I vote for the photo and the card? The photo I liked was option 2 but havent seen the cards yet.

      2. Love how everyone looks so happy and relaxed in the pajama photo. Beautiful family. Wishing you all a Joyous and Merry Christmas!

  1. Your family is so beautiful! The kids are so cute and I love how honest you are about motherhood/parenting. I don’t have kids, but I hear things from my sister and friends who are parents about their kids.

  2. Not a parent, but love your blog! My goodness those two are so adorable!! Molly’s cranky face photo is still so darn cute.. and Riley is just a natural at photos it seems!! Love his little hand on the pup.
    I may have missed it, but do you ever blog your makeup routine? Or is your skin just that perfect.. You always look gorgeous, even in photos that look more natural, such pretty complexion! Thank you for keeping it so real on here.

  3. All of those pictures of you guys in your pj’s are so cute! I really love both designs, but I think I would go with the simple white design. The white dots make me think of snow, which makes me think of Christmas! But whichever one you end up with, your cards are going to be super cute!

    1. That is a good point about the white dots! It does feel like snow. Which we don’t get in SoCal so it’s nice to have “fake” snow. Ha!

  4. I like the first photo of you guys in your pjs with the simple white design! I totally agree that it looks like snow and I love that cozy vibe!

  5. I LOVE the “hand-written holiday” card design! And the pictures in your family PJ’s 🙂 Adorable! As a mom to almost two-year-old myself, it was a learning process, but sometimes you just have to let go of what you want to happen in situations like taking photos and embrace that they are little kids, and sometimes things don’t go the way you had hoped. I love how real you are about that aspect of life with kiddos! 🙂 And I agree, the candid shots are the best, anyway. Happy Holidays, Manno Family!

  6. Such sweet pictures of your family for your first Christmas of a family of 5 (gotta include Owen). I love either of the family pj pics and the gold/white card design. Blessings on your family during this holiday season. May it truly be special and memorable for you all. I love reading your blog and insta posts. From one mama to another, thanks for keeping it real.

    1. Oops I didn’t think my first comment posted because of the link (to the foil version of the snowy design) sorry to double post!

  7. You guys are so cute! If it’s just the kiddos in the pic, I think the white and gold option. But the family shot HAS to go on the white one with the snow. So fun!! The look on Riley’s face in the one family shot is priceless. My fave!

  8. The flurry design is classic and cute! Do the foil option like someone above said for a little extra because foil ALWAYS looks good! The other card is too common. It is all over instagram. Oh and I vote for the candid shots too. So much more fun.

  9. The picture where you and Riley are watching your husband tickle Molly is so perfect!! And the flurry design, love it!

    Our Christmas card was a mishmash of photos this year. Between crazy schedules and everything we weren’t able to get together with the photographer we’ve been using for my daughter’s milestone photos, but that’s part of being a mom to a toddler and baby! I still feel like our card is very much us which I love.

  10. oooo. I love that flurry design so much. The dots give it that extra sparkle and pizzazz – a much more festive vibe. It would look super cute with the foil option too. I’m not sure you could go wrong with your photo choice – all so cute!

  11. I like the first two pajama options! You can see the joy in everyone’s face (I love seeing the pup in the first option also!) I think the gold font is better if you go with the pajama pictures because the majority of the picture is all white. All are beautiful options tho 🙂

  12. The gold and white, with the first photo. I love how none of you are looking at the camera, and Owen is just watching over his crazy family! I also like grumpy face Molly (very first picture of the blog I think), and might add that on the back if they let you! It’s real life and perfect. And frame the last one of Molly, Riley and Owen for your office!
    Merry Christmas Manno’s! xoxo

  13. I love the snow flurry design and I see it comes in foil too! I agree with someone above that the other card is too overly promoted – I’ve seen it 100 times this year.

  14. Thanks for the tips! I’ve had a setup st my house for several days and am trying to get a photo of my toddler when she’s in a good mood. Lol!

    I love the 2nd and 3rd photos!!

  15. Your family is so adorable and I love that you share them with us. I have been following you since you were on “that show”. Lol! I live in Columbia, Mo. I like the simple white card choice and love the photo of Molly being ticked. It’s such a precious picture of you and your family.

  16. I’d go with the all white design and the family pj photo with the dog on the pillow. Your little ones are so cute!

  17. Photo 2 for sure (but please put a pic of Owen on the back!!) — it totally captures SO much love and personality of your darling family!! Pic 2 will probably got better in the second card choice, which I also love. Merry Christmas!! (After 23 years of being a parent I’m kind of a Christmas card expert (and waaay too critical) – haha!)

  18. Go with the “Happy Holidays” card — it’s more inclusive! (For your friends who maybe don’t celebrate Christmas)

    Also the photo with you all the bed giggling is the best! So authentic and happy!

  19. Such a hard choice! Your photos and the designs are so great. I love the matching pjs and simple white snow/dots though. It’s perfect!

    I still haven’t had a chance to get our photo this year but these tips are great – now to figure out how to wrangle the kiddo AND the dog! lol

  20. Love these tips! Thanks Ali 🙂 my little one is almost three months and smiling all the time but gets camera shy already! Haha. I think she gets distracted by my sparkly phone case! Such cute pics of your family! I voted on Instagram 🙂

  21. I love the “JOY” card with the photo in the middle. I think it matches your theme! AND I think I may like the perfectly imperfect first photo!😁 But also the 2 big cards, second and third are nice too if you want more of a “picture” as a focus.

  22. I love the second photo of the kids on your shoulders! You should definitely go with that one for the card! I also love the simple white card design. Although, honestly you can’t go wrong with either design or any of the four pictures. Such a beautiful family! Happy Holidays to you all ❤️

  23. Have you looked into supplements for increasing supply? Check out company legendairy milk.. I have used lactivist When I was sick with a cold.. and increased my supply. Or try pumping more frequently.. I know it’s annoying and hard.. also we produced more prolactin at nighttime so maybe a few nights of pumping middle of the night would help! Try the supplements first 🙂 coming from a post partum nurse and breastfeeding mama !

  24. Hi Ali

    Love the photos and the designs from Minted. My vote/favourite is for the white/gold design and the first picture with all four of you!

  25. Ali, try increasing your supply first. There’s nothing like breast milk since it has Over 200 vitamins. Formula is not even close to it. I know it is so much work but worth it. In order to increase my supply I pumped every 2 hours for a week and it Worked. Now I pump 5 times a day and make over 50 ounces pumping for only 15 minutes at a time. My son eats 6oz 5x a day so I freeze about 20 ounces a day. Moreover you could just breastfeed him while at home maybe? This way he would make you increase supply automatically. 🤷‍♀️

  26. Hi Ali

    Beautiful photos. I have a girl and 2 boys and the boys were NOT cooperative this year. I wish I’d thought of the music tip!! I ended up choosing a card in just sortof liked. But we ended up doing a joke card, with all the bad/funny pics- to give to just a few of our closest friend. It’s so funny that it makes the whole stressful experience worth it!

  27. I love Minted cards and Christmas minis! I like the “flurry” card…AI many good choices! Our photographer bribes the kiddos with beautiful sugar cookies 😍

  28. I love the photo of you guys all laughing on the bed! If you did that with the flurries card with foil, it would look so beautiful!

  29. Simple white design and the first photo since it has the whole family. The others either are missing you and Kevin or Owen

  30. Love the pics!! I have a 2.5 year old too… I get it!! Great tips! Two ridiculous things I have learned that usually work: instead of telling him to smile in a pic, I tell him to show me his teeth (it usually results in a smile). Also, sometimes I will tell him “Don’t you smile! Don’t smile! I mean it, don’t smile!’ and he can’t help but smile. =)

  31. Hi!!! You have such a beautiful family!! Not sure where to post about formula supplementing but wanted to reply:). With both my baby boys, I ended up needing to add formula. I found my little guys would not take a bottle of only formula when they’d been eating only breastmilk so I’d mix in formula. I’d make a 6 oz bottle with 1 oz formula to 5 oz breastmilk and then once they drank that for a few days then I’d do 4 oz breastmilk and 2 oz formula and then half and half. Good luck with it all:)

  32. The handwritten one is my vote! 💕 my kids are the same age as yours (daughter is 2.5 and my son is 8 months) so I get a kick out of your blog!

  33. I’m a fan of the second photo with the babies on y’alls shoulder and I like the white/gold card…but I’m sure whatever you choose will look darling! 🥰

  34. This is your most applicable-to-my-life post yet! I have a two year old who is SO happy go lucky until she sees a camera, then she totally clams up! I am definitely going to start using music and faster shutter speeds! Thanks so much for this post :-)!

  35. White and gold! I love minted cards. Got them for my wedding invites and Christmas cards this year. They never disappoint! ❤️

  36. Hey Ali!! First time commenting! I’ve always been a huge fan if you since the bachelor! I was watching you’re story about how you’re going to start giving Riley formula ❤ I’m currently breast feeding my 2 month old on demand but I give her one bottle of formula a day along with her liquid multivitamin so in case I do run out of my breast milk or I stop producing milk I’m not shocking her stomach with something new.. maybe start that and see how his tummy reacts? Lots of love to you and your family!!

  37. Gosh, that is one tough decision. Maybe do a collage as they are all SO aDORbs. Final choice would be pj’s white backdrop. Merry Christmas, Ally!

  38. The photo with Owen it it of course! 🙂 Actually, that is the one I like best – It looks so spontaneous and fun. (That is, the first photo in the Order your Cards section above.) Owen in the background is hilarious.

  39. Hi Ally,

    This is my fiance and I’s first Christmas in are own home and I wanted to do the matching pjs but I can’t find a site I like. Where did you go for your?

    Marry Christmas

  40. Season’s Greetings to your family. My vote is either of them that is of the whole family, which includes Owen. Hard decision for you, I’m sure, as so many good ones.

  41. the pajamas pictures are the cutest
    what ever you do get a big copy of the first one with Molly pouting
    It will be a great Christmas decoration to use every Christmas.

  42. Ali, you have a beautiful family and I follow you all the time. I have a toddler boy named Duke (basketball fans) and I had my beautiful daughter Stella around the same time you had Riley. I follow alongside you for reassurance in this whole parenting of 2. Both are currently home full time with me and I love it so much. There are trying times but the love outweighs the hard times. Thanks for everything that you do. You inspire me in so many ways! Lots of love from Canada! Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas. PS I put my Christmas tree up super early like you 🌲

  43. I love all of the options for the Christmas cards but please pick one with Owen in it, he’s just as much a part of the family!! Enjoy every minute you can cause they grow up oh so quickly!! Now I’m enjoying my grandkids!! That’s how fast time flies!

  44. Love them all!! I love the peace on earth picture the best with the second photo of y’all! So cute Ali! Love all your blogs and your honesty!

  45. We are taking family photos this weekend and I’m trying to figure out outfits, especially for husband and I. Only the kids are doing a pjs shoot. Any suggestions on clothing ideas? We will be taking pictures in front our Christmas tree.

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