I have talked a lot about the non-camera specific things you have to do to create nice images of toddlers. Now it is time for some specific technical details for us camera nerds, on how to photograph toddlers.
I have three lenses I use for my sessions:
To photograph toddlers I use my 24-70mm 2.8 80 percent of the time, as I need the possibility for zooming when the child is moving a lot. I do however often use the 50 mm as well to get some nice wide-open frames too. I often start with the 50mm, as the toddler is usually running around a little less in the very beginning of the session.
The 85mm I almost never use for toddlers, but it can be great for both babies and bigger kids, that will sit still for more than one second at a time.
I love to shoot wide open, my favorite images are usually just that. Shooting toddlers, however, you have to be careful not to go too wide; otherwise you will not get the sharp images you want. I hardly ever go below f1.8, since they are always on a move. But, at the beginning of a shoot, or if I have managed to place them somewhere where they will sit still for a few moments, I often use an f-stop of 1.8-2.2 to get some nice close ups and/or slightly more artistic frames. For this to work it is absolutely crucial to move your focus points to the child’s eye! Only one eye will be in focus at this aperture, and I always focus on the eye that is closest to me.
When using my 24-70mm 2.8, I usually stay in the range between f2.8 and f3.5. This works well in a studio where there are limits to how much and how fast the toddler can move. Outside I will increase the aperture to f3.5-f4, or often even more, as I live in a place with A LOT of sunshine, and high aperture just isn’t an option.
So I guess my point is, I will always shoot as wide as I can, and still get the sharpness I want. These aperture settings are very specific for sessions with one child only. With more than one, I try to keep at the very least an aperture of 3.5, or even f4.
Personally, I think more about the aperture than the shutter speed, but that is due to two things: I live in a very sunny and bright area (Abu Dhabi if you are curious) so I hardly ever have trouble with too little light, so that isn’t a factor. Secondly, I often use studio lights, and when I do the lights define the shutter speed, I usually keep it at 1/160s.
Even so, I have some general rules that I always follow when it comes to shutter speed:
- For moving kids, crank the shutter. For outdoor sessions with running kids, I will make sure I have a shutter of at least 1/500s, and even faster (at least 1/800s) if jumping or throwing the kids in the air is involved.
- For natural light and more “quiet” sessions, I will keep the shutter at least at 1/250s, just to make sure to get the sharpness I want.
- If the light is low, be sure to never go below 1/80s, or you won’t get sharp enough images. Use a higher ISO in that case….
Nothing beats natural lights for kids. No matter how spectacular studio lights you have, I will always choose natural light if I have the opportunity. So 80% of the time I use natural light in my studio.
In my studio I am lucky enough to have a large floor to ceiling window. To make use of this great light I have set-up the whole studio accordingly, to get a nice and soft side light for my pictures. For fast moving toddlers I usually use a single source, natural sidelight. (example image here). This way, there is nothing the toddlers can break or tear down or play with. It is much easier, and safer.
If the natural light is weak, I will either use a large reflector to reflect and fill in for the natural side light. If you use this, make sure to place the reflector close enough to your subject, otherwise is it useless. To be honest the reflector I use mostly with smaller children, around 7-8 months who can sit, but who don’t move too much.
For toddlers I prefer using a single studio strobe with a soft box or an octobox together with my natural light. I will measure the light to make it even with the natural light, or just a little bit stronger to get a different light angle and some variation in my images.
I also often use the strobe to blow out the background depending on the look I want. But don’t worry, if you don’t have a strobe and you don’t know how to blow out your background to get it completely white, you can always use the MCP Studio White Backdrop action.
For outdoor sessions I also try to find locations where I can use natural light. Again, I will look for a place with a nice side light during the golden hour right before sunset. I also love backlit portraits, and for those I will occasionally use an off camera flash to fill in light in the subjects. A reflector also works great for this, but as I usually don’t have an assistant, I find it difficult to manage the reflector while running after the little ones.
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.