There is nothing like a Santa photo to capture the expression of the holidays—from magical to tragical.

Assuming you prefer smiles to tears, we asked our team of Santa’s helpers for their best guidance, based on professional experience (thanks to the photographers) and trial and error (thanks to the rest of us).

Timing matters. Morning is best for photos. Children get tired and cranky later in the day (adults, too!).

Bribery works. Think candy or other yummy delights for the children and a favorite treat for Fido. Snacks mean less crying. “It has never failed me,” one experienced helper says.

Bribery, part II. The clock is ticking. “From the moment little Luke is handed off,” a practiced Santa photographer says, “you’re on a countdown clock dropping faster than nighttime temps outside. You have precisely six more minutes left for an image, and it’s time to resort to unabashed parental bribery.” As in, cooperate and you will get that Red Ryder BB gun.

Be the distraction. Behind the camera, do a dance, sing the “Puppy Dog Pals” theme song—whatever gets a smile.

Bring extra outfits. Accidents happen. Children will spit up on that cute white sweater. Put on the fancy duds right before the shoot and keep wipes nearby.

Wear the right thing. Avoid bold patterns and remember Santa is already decked in red.

Bring help. A favorite stuffed animal or blanket helps, especially if tears are likely.

Hire out or tap a family Santa. One enterprising grandma started a new tradition during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her family hires the same Santa and Mrs. Claus to come to her daughter’s house in early December. With family gathered, the children visit with the jolly pair. Then come pictures, putting everyone in a festive mood—all in time for holiday cards.

Finally, remember the bottom line. All Santa pics are memorable. The worst of them can be the most humorously delightful.