Toddlers from 12-24 months are often uncomfortable with Santa. So, expect it. There are a few of ways to deal with this:
First, embrace it. Get a picture with the child being upset. You can use it for “revenge” when they get older.
Second, if the setting allows it, let your child watch for a while. Perhaps they will get more accustomed to Santa and will eventually sit on his knee or beside him, for a good photo
Third, you hold your child and let Santa “photo bomb” the picture from behind. This typically works pretty well.
Practice smiling in front of a mirror. Most people don’t know how a good smile feels. When I was first preparing to be Santa, I stood in front of a mirror for five minutes at a time, until I memorized how my best smile felt.
In the best photos, all the faces are in the same “focal plane.” That means the photographer can focus on one face and they will all be in focus. To achieve this, people in the back may need to stick their necks forward. It feels a little different, but it doesn’t show in the photo. It also has the effect of thinning the look of your neck, if that’s something you’re concerned about.
You can get a better group photo, if you gather around Santa, while he’s sitting on a bench or stool, rather than a chair. A chair often distracts, when there are more than a couple of persons in the picture.
Crowd in close, even if it feels uncomfortable. Act like you like each other!
With a large group, which includes a couple of uncooperative children, everyone who is not dealing with the uncooperative ones should stay focused on the camera and smiling. By doing that, the photographer can snap the photo with the best chance of getting a good picture of everyone.
To mothers, especially. I know you love your children and know them better than anyone. But Santa (and/or a professional photographer) has taken many more pictures than you have. No one is upset by your fussy or crying child. Or, even a screaming child. Please listen to their suggestions. It may not work out, but they do this much more than you do, and are more likely to be right than you are.
For the impossible children: this only works in some settings, and certainly not in a mall. But I’ve encouraged parents to set up a photo of their children a little way away from Santa, but with space behind them. Then, I can sneak up behind them and photo bomb the picture. With one little girl, I did this, in collaboration with her parents, for three years, but this year, she stood right beside me with a big bright smile. Mom even brought the photos from earlier years, to show other parents.
Taking your own photos, when the professional photographer takes one. Your children will naturally look at you, while they sit with Santa. So, please stand next to or behind the photographer, so they are looking right at the camera. Telling a two-year to “look at the camera” never works!