Yes, photographing toddlers can be hard. They move around all the time, they certainly do not follow directions, and you will probably shoot more frames during a toddler session than when shooting an adult. But, shooting toddlers is not just about snapping away like crazy and hoping to get a few good ones in the camera. Here are my ten best tips to get some great shots of toddlers.
1. Be ready to start shooting the moment the session starts. Toddlers are usually a little shy and coy in the very beginning. This is your golden opportunity to get him or her to sit still for a few moments, and perhaps get some good close ups and other natural shots. Therefore it is crucial to have all gear tested and ready before session starts.
2. Sit the toddler down. When the toddler starts feeling confident and wants to move around and explore all the exciting things in your studio this is the time to sit or place them. The toddler can be seated on a chair or stool, in a box or a bucket, whatever you have handy in your studio. If you are outside look for a bench, a big rock, or anything similar. This way you have a few moments to shoot while the toddler is occupied with sitting. For bigger (and faster) toddlers, I try sitting them on higher chairs so it takes a few moments for them to figure out how to get down. (And of course I keep mummy close by to avoid any accidents!)
3. Props. Have some nice looking (or the toddler’s favorite) toys to play with during the shoot. It is all about distracting the toddler from running away. I have a few teddy bears, some nice cars and fire trucks, and some girly teacups with pretend cupcakes on hand, even more girly stuff too, like some really nice and long pearl necklaces. And if this fails, the next trip up my sleeve is….
4. Bubbles. Lots of bubbles. They never fail to get the toddlers attention. I even have small bottles of bubbles to give away after the session.
5. Dancing. Another way of getting your toddler in the mood is to get them dancing. And for a photo session everything is allowed, even dancing on the bed!
6. Cake smash. I love cake-smashing sessions; in fact they are my favorites! Granted, it is messy and dirty, but I always get tons of great images from these sessions. It takes the toddlers full attention, and I am usually able to get a ton of different expressions plus they will sit in one place for a good few minutes. Just make sure the cake smash is the last part of your session, and to have a bathtub or shower nearby for cleanup. Wet wipes is just not enough in this case.
7. Change your angles. I am sure you already know to get down to the child’s level when taking pictures of children, and I am happy to state that I spend about half of my work day lying on my belly. But, like every other rule, it has its exceptions. During a session I always try to get as many angles in as I can. Front, 45 degrees above, 90 degrees above, etc. And to get even more variety, if the kid is willing to sit still, I change her angles too, to shoot her from the front, diagonal, from the side, looking outside (I have a window in my studio and I always ask my kids to look out and see if they can see the birdies…). And I even love pictures where the toddler is sitting or standing with her back to me, or walking away from me.
8. Magic tricks. I know I am steeling this trick from someone, but I am using it anyway, it works wonders for older toddlers. The penny-trick. Place a penny or any other coin on the floor, and make the toddler hide it with his little feet. Another version of this for slightly smaller kids: stickers. Have them stand on the sticker, just be careful to get the stickers that are easy to remove, so you aren’t stuck with editing them out in every single frame afterwards.
9. Talking about stickers, there is another funny way of keeping the toddler busy, and that is putting a little bit of scotch tape on his finger. The kid will give all his attention to getting the tape off and in the meantime you have some moments to shoot. (Do I sound like a really mean photographer by now???)
10. Noises! How could I almost forget this trick? I always always always have squeaky toys up my sleeve; no exception. It is the most effective way to get the toddler look at me (and in the camera), and it will work for at least three or four times. After that the toddler gets “immune” to the noise.
Bonus – we added two more tips…
11. Treats. As if 10 tips were enough, here is a bonus. After a session, I always give my toddlers a treat. They deserve it! Parents permitting, I will give them a little packet of cookies or a chocolate. If the parents don’t like sugary snacks, I will give them a tiny toy, like bubbles or a little car. Everyone loves treats! The mum’s treat is usually a sleeping toddler, this modeling thing is hard work!
12. Don’t push it! Okay, so even 11 tips obviously weren’t enough. Here is one more. It is almost my most important one, AND it goes for all my sessions, be it babies, toddlers or kids: don’t push it! Kids are kids, and kids (and grown ups) can have off days and some of them are just not happy having their picture taken at that particular moment in time. Don’t try to make them do something they don’t want to. If a difficult situation occurs, first we try to take a break and leave the shooting area, and we have a mummy cuddle and/or a snack. After a few minutes we try again. If the toddler still isn’t feeling it after a break or two? Reschedule. And DON’T feel bad about it. And make sure the mummy doesn’t feel bad about it either. I always spend a few extra moments reassuring the mummy. I remind her that kids are kids and they should be, and I never ever want to push them to do something they don’t want to. I have done a re-shoot twice in my life, and both times it was absolutely the right decision. Second time around was so much better!
All the images in this post have been edited using MCP Newborn Necessities Photoshop actions, they also work great on toddlers!
Mette Lindbaek is a photographer from Norway living in Abu Dhabi. Metteli Photography specializes in babies and kids portraits. To see more of her work, check www.metteli.com, or follow her on her Facebook-page.