How To Get Awesome Pictures With Santa

Jacob with Santa in 2010

For the past 9 years, I’ve been working as a manager at a  Santa Claus photo operation. I’ve seen everything from screaming children to biting pets come through, and have learned a lot about what it takes to get a really good pictures with Santa. If your child is one of the few that sits perfect and smiles beautifully on command, this post isn’t for you. Although I would be eternally grateful if you could show up at my mall during one of those really rough days! For those of you who have kids who do the dreaded “cheesy smile, (Jacob is guilty of this one)” squirm, need to be bribed (Jacob again), or completely pitch a fit the moment you get within 50 yards of Santa, read on.



Getting an Authentic Smile Versus the “Cheese” Grin

This is the one issue we see the most. Kids feel pressured to smile, so they give their biggest, brightest fake smile in the hopes that their parents will find them utterly charming and allow them to do what they came there to do: give Santa their mile-long list of must-have toys for the season. Here are a few tips to get a real smile without spending two hours doing it:

  • Don’t pressure the kid. If you keep saying “no honey, a real smile!” he’s just going to give you faker and faker smiles in an effort to give you what you want.
  • Don’t give him an example by saying “no, look at Mommy! Smile this this!” Seriously, you’re frustrated, so the example you’re giving is going to be a fake smile.
  • Do give him a minute to relax and talk to Santa. Sometimes once he’s had a chance to recite his list, he’ll relax and be ready to give a real smile.
  • Do keep your child’s personality in mind. If he smiles a certain way in every single picture, don’t expect him to do it differently this time. That cheesy grin will mean just as much in 20 years from now as the perfect model smile.

Getting Your Terrified Child to Sit For Pictures With Santa

Kids between about ages one and four are prone to a higher level of anxiety over the strange bearded red-suited man. Also, just because your child talked about visiting Santa and was excited all the way to the mall doesn’t mean she isn’t going to turn tail and run the moment she sees him in person. If you are patient, though, the majority of kids come around, or at least can be worked with to get some semblance of a decent picture.

  • Visit frequently. Exposure to Santa over a few weeks really does make a huge difference.
  • Visit during slow hours. We really do want to help you get great pictures with Santa, but if we have a line all the way around the set, we can’t spend an hour working with you and your child. Come when it’s slow, though, and we’ll beg you to stay and give us something to do!
  • Let your child watch other children with Santa, but be wary, as this can backfire. We’ve had chain reactions, where one child freaked out and others in her age group in line behind her suddenly decided maybe Santa wasn’t such a great idea after all.
  • If your child will not sit with Santa, ask her if she’s willing to stand in front of him or, if possible, sit on a stool in front of Santa.
  • If all else fails, you can sit with your child but not be in the picture in most cases. Just sit on a chair to the far left or right of Santa, place your child as far out on your knee that is closest to Santa as possible, and lean back. Your hand will most likely be in the picture, but the photographer should be able to crop the rest of you out.
  • Know when to give up. If your child is truly petrified, shaking, and sobbing in hysterics, it is time to call it a day.

Getting a Good Group Picture

Getting  really awesome group pictures with Santa is challenging because most sets only have so much space, and their cameras only zoom back so far. It is possible though, if you’re flexible.

  • Go when it’s not busy if possible. Not only will this enable us to move things around for you a bit more, but it gives us more time to get you the best picture possible, which is hard when there are many faces that need to be smiling.
  • Be patient. We often have to rearrange your group several times to make sure we’re not cutting anyone out.
  • Designate one person in a spot that is easy to get in and out of to be your picture checker. Make sure it’s not someone who really wants to get out of there quickly, unless you want a picture with half your eyes closed.
  • Don’t expect perfection. It is really hard to get a group of ten people all smiling exactly perfect at the same second. If all ten are looking at the camera and nine are smiling, call it a win.

General Tips For Getting a Good Santa Photo

  • Do not go five minutes before your child’s nap time. That NEVER goes well.
  • If possible, go during the week, when it is less busy. Even a week night is typically slower than a weekend day. Busy times vary depending on the mall. For us, Monday and Tuesday afternoons are really dead and we get downright giddy when customers show up.
  • Be nice to the staff at the set, and they’ll go above and beyond to help you get as close to a perfect picture as possible.