Toddlers are notoriously hard to photograph. Toddlers are endless bundles of energy. This makes toddler photography about as easy as snapping the Looney Toons’ Tasmanian Devil.
There are three main obstacles:
- They don’t want to sit still for ANYTHING, and certainly not for a photo.
- Even if they do stop moving, it’s hard to get them to look into the camera.
- It’s almost impossible to get a good smile from a toddler just by asking for one.
Photographing moving objects is always tough to tackle. Add in a dash of unpredictability, mood swings, and a bit of oh-so-sweet defiance, and the task seems impossible.
Toddler years are one of the toughest to photograph. However, pint-sized toddlers have some adorable antics that parents want to remember.
With a few toddler photography tips -and a whole lot of patience – you can capture great photos of the toddler years.
You must ensure your child’s safety during a photoshoot.
Any time you are taking pictures of a baby/toddler, you must have another adult acting as a spotter that stands near the baby at all times. In addition, any backdrops that you use must be secured.
Do not try any poses that aren’t safe, and when trying any poses, ensure another adult is within arms reach of the toddler at all times. You are responsible for ensuring the safety of your children or anyone else you photograph.
Tips for Taking Better Pictures of Young Children and Toddlers
Give the Toddler Somewhere to Sit.
This tip is essential for younger toddlers, who have learned to walk recently enough that they do it every waking minute.
It’s tough to get your photos in focus if you’re chasing an 18-month-old around the room.
It’s much simpler if you provide somewhere for the child to sit – a stool, rocking horse, stump, bench, chair, etc.
Have your camera out and ready before you sit the toddler down because he may only stay there a moment or two – but even a few moments of stillness is better than running around like a crazy person snapping photos while calling to the kid to please stop and look!
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Give Her Something to Hold.
Again, this is more helpful for the younger set.
You might have your daughter trapped on a stool that she can’t get down from, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to look at you or smile at you.
Be prepared with a small toy (or grab a leaf or flower if you’re outside). Hand the item to the toddler and give her a few minutes to look at and play with it.
Then wait, camera at the ready, until she looks up at you to share her delight – then captures the expression.
Give Her Something to Look At.
Toddlers seem to know you want them to look at you but do everything in their power to avoid making actual eye contact.
Wheedling, threatening, and bribing occasionally work, but giving them something fascinating to look at works better.
Did you know that if you file down the feet of a Pez dispenser just a bit, it fits into the external flash attachment of your DSLR? No kidding. It’s fantastic.
Pick a princess Pez or a Lightning McQueen Pez and stick him on top of your camera, then show your child that Pez gives out candy for kids who look at him.
Or, grab a bunny ear headband from the dollar store at Easter (or a Shamrock one at St Patty’s, etc.) and pop it on your head when the child’s not looking.
Then keep asking them what’s on your head and how it got there. They’ll stare right at you and probably laugh.
Also – move around a bit while you talk to the child – stand up, sit down, lean to the left or right.
Your motion will naturally draw her eyes toward you, and you’ll be able to get photos from a variety of angles.
Getting a great photograph of a toddler starts with the prep work. If you photograph a client and not your child, that begins with getting to know the subject.
Ask their parents what the toddler likes and dislikes. Ask which time of the day the toddler is usually happiest.
Prepare to bring a few fun props to pull out if needed, like bubbles, puppets, or a noise-maker.
Choose a location that allows for room to explore. But you may want to avoid a spot where the toddler can see the playground equipment unless you want to take pictures on the playground.
If you are photographing your children, then you start with an advantage. First, think about all the things that make your toddler laugh, and keep those in mind as you plan for the photos.
Keep Your Options Open
Avoid going into any photo session with a toddler with an exact picture in your mind.
While it’s great to have a plan ahead of time, photographers need to be flexible and patient when working with toddlers.
If the plan isn’t working, adapt the shot to what the toddler wants to do. Go into the session with a few ideas, but be willing to stray from those original concepts.
Avoid Photographing a Tired, Hungry Toddler
Everyone tends to get cranky when tired and hungry, and all emotions feel much more significant when you are a small person.
For a much smoother photo session, avoid taking photos when the toddler is due for a nap or too close to bedtime.
If the toddler is always cranky in the evening, schedule the photos for the morning. The golden hour may offer incredible light, but great smiles are more important.
Along the same lines, make sure the toddler isn’t hungry. Have the parent bring along a snack that’s not messy – and if the toddler starts to get cranky, take a snack break.
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Shoot from a Toddler-Friendly Height
Toddlers see the world differently with their small stature. Therefore, photographing them on their eye level helps capture a bit of how they see the world.
Instead of photographing the toddler standing, kneeling, or sitting, so that you are level with their eyes. This creates a more intimate portrait and leads to less distortion.
However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule to follow 100% of the time. Shooting all your photos from the same perspective will make everything feel similar.
Having the toddler sit and look up at the camera brightens their eyes because their face is turned more towards the light.
Photographing them from your eye level will also make them look smaller and add variety to the session.
Use a Fast Shutter Speed
Toddler photography has more in common with sports photography than portrait photography.
Most toddlers are always on the go, so be sure to use a fast shutter speed. Even when the toddler is staying seated, they might turn or move their hands quickly.
Use a shutter speed of at least 1/250 if possible. A wide aperture can help you reach those quick shutter speeds in limited lighting.
It can also blur the background for a more traditional portrait look. Continuous autofocus mode and burst mode are also musts for photographing toddlers.
Choose a Location in the Shade
A golden hour photoshoot can often interfere with bedtime, and you wind up with a grumpy child.
Working in the shade or outdoors on a cloudy day will help you follow the child’s antics.
This way, you won’t have to worry if changing positions creates terrible lighting. Shady or cloudy conditions are also easier for beginners or parents to work in.
When Shooting Indoors, Set up by a Window
Outdoor portraits aren’t always an option, but that doesn’t mean you have no control over the light. Indoors, set up by a large window to allow for the most light.
Position the child so that their side or face is towards the window. If you are photographing the child lying down, avoid having the window light coming at their feet.
With window light, you may need to turn the shutter speed down to 1/100, but be sure to use burst mode to take several shots and check for the blur on the LCD screen.
Enlist Help to Get the Best Smiles
If you photograph your children, your face will be tucked behind a camera, which is not the best spot to elicit a smile. Instead, enlist the help of someone the toddler enjoys being around.
Have this person do goofy things behind or right next to the camera. You’ll both get smiles and up the odds that the toddler will be looking at the camera for a few shots.
Keep the Session Moving
Toddlers have short attention spans and are often pretty short on patience. So keep the photo session flowing.
Move quickly to the next pose or the next idea. Avoid taking too many photos in one spot, or you won’t have the time to try any other ideas before the toddler’s patience for photos wears out.
Follow the Toddler’s Lead
Some of the best toddler photographs have come from simply letting the toddler do what the toddler wants to do. For example, if a toddler wants to run around, asking the child to sit won’t create those big grins.
Turn on your camera’s burst mode, turn the shutter speed even higher, make sure the camera is in continuous autofocus, and photograph the toddler running towards you.
Take what the toddler wants to do and brainstorm ways to make whatever is more photogenic.
For example, you can move the toddler to a better location. Or use that preference to inspire another idea. For example, a running toddler may want to move – you can ask if he wants to jump instead.
Use Active ‘poses’
Posing is a sport of misnomer when it comes to toddlers – you can’t ask a toddler to hold their hands in a position.
But, you can create some scenarios that tend to lead to good poses. For example, we generated a list of different posing ideas for kids that don’t like to sit still. Use statements like these to keep the happy toddler while also getting great shots.
Toddlers may not quite understand what you are asking of them, even with more fun poses. So don’t be afraid to show them yourself what you want them to do.
Work With Fun Props
Props can be a big help when working with toddlers.
A noise-maker by the camera, for example, can get them to look towards the camera. Favourite toys sometimes help during photo sessions too.
Bubbles are great and tend to photograph well, along with props like balloons (be sure the toddler can’t bite the balloon!). Giving the toddler support to hold can also help keep their hands still.
Props can also help keep active toddlers still. A toddler who is sitting in a bucket or basket, of course, isn’t running everywhere. Just make sure the prop is safe and that the toddler won’t be injured trying to get out.
Let them see themselves inside the camera. Getting pictures taken is just a chore to a bit of kid who’d instead be running around and playing.
So snap a few whether she’s cooperative or not, then show them to her on the back of your camera.
Tell her you got her inside the camera, and she’ll immediately be more interested in the camera and more likely to look at it when you start shooting again.
Ask Him to Play Copycat.
This works better for older toddlers (2&3 yr olds) who will be able to understand what you’re asking.
Sit or lie down, strike a simple pose, and ask the toddler if he can do the same thing. Try a few funny poses first to get him involved, and tell him what a great copycat he is when he copies your pose.
Then move on to other poses and ask him if he can be a copycat and freeze in that position while you take his picture.
As long as you keep telling him what a great job he’s doing, he’ll likely continue to copy you for at least a couple of poses.
Get Down to Their Height
This might seem like a compositional tip, or it might seem like a psychological tip, and the truth is, it’s both. While taking many shots from my standing height is a standard, you may want to get down as close to the floor as possible.
On the compositional side, the low angle separates itself from stock photos of the child and offers better background separation.
On the psychological side, I am certainly no expert — it seems to be more engaging and fun, and the child is more likely to interact with you.
Be Patient and Miss Shots
Tantrums, short attention spans, and refusal to cooperate are just a few of the ways photographers can be annoying, but children are, on occasion, challenging too.
You need to factor in enough time for the shoot, and you’ll likely want to budget more than you usually would for portraiture.
You are mainly at the mercy of that child’s mood, so we would recommend doing two things: be patient and shoot constantly.
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How Do You Photograph Toddlers Indoors?
Indoors, capturing a sharp photograph of a child that’s always moving is tough. If possible, move the toddler towards a large window for better light.
If not, use a high ISO setting and a vast (i.e. low number) aperture. Then, try one of the posing ideas below that keeps the youngster (relatively) still, like tip five or six.
How Do You Photograph a One-Year-Old?
One is a difficult age to photograph. But the same toddler photography tips below work for one-year-olds, too, and babies that are already mobile.
Please work with the one-year-old’s antics, not against them. Be patient, and use the camera settings that you’d use to photograph sports, not a portrait.
Remember that you may not get traditional poses looking at the camera, but it cannot get any more authentic than a genuine smile.
How Do I Get My Toddler to Cooperate?
I was just kidding. The best way to get a toddler to cooperate for pictures is to work with their antics.
Forcing a toddler that wants to run to sit still won’t result in smiles. If you are getting photos done by a professional, choose someone accustomed to working with toddlers.
Bringing snacks or a favourite toy along can help. Make sure, though, to avoid scheduling photos right at nap time or bedtime.
Use your knowledge of what your child likes and dislikes to help make the photos go as smoothly as possible.
If you take the photos, read on for more toddler photography tips to help get your little one to cooperate for pictures.
Even with all the best toddler photography tips, every photo session requires patience and flexibility.
Toddlers may not be easy to work with, but that mischief can also help create fun, unexpected photographs. With enough patience and tricks, you can capture great pictures of even the most active toddlers.
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