One of the things I am asked most frequently about is whether I have any tips for photographing toddlers, so I thought I'd put together some for you! Although these tips certainly apply to professional photographers wanting to capture this age group, I've written these with a parent photographing their own child in mind - so in natural situations, not necessarily studios or formally posed.
Before we start, let me say that children over the age of one and under the age of four must be one of the hardest photography subjects there is - they never sit still, won’t take any instruction and a tantrum can happen at the drop of a hat (As much as I miss those days, I am quite glad they are past ha ha!) There is an upside to photographing toddlers though - and that is you will always get an honest and natural photo as they simply don’t know how to fake it yet and to me, that is a wonderful thing!
1) Shoot from afar
One of the best methods is simply to shoot from afar. I put my longer length lens on my camera, sit back and let them loose in the back garden to play. They are relaxed and happy and totally absorbed in play, which leaves me free to click away and capture some natural shots having fun. It doesn’t have to be the back garden - the park, beach or forest is also ideal - anywhere where you can let them away from you safely so you can stand back and observe (Please have someone with you so that they can supervise, whilst you get on with photographing!) It also happens to be the least stressful method, which is always a winner in my book.
2) Set up an activity
One way to get your toddler to sit still long enough for you to take their photograph is to set them up with an activity. This could be anything they normally like to do – painting, mucking about in the sandbox, or even just playing with their cars – these can all make for a great photo. Just make sure you set up the activity in a room where you have lots of natural light coming in, or outside, and always have your camera set up to take the shot before you bring your toddler in, otherwise by the time you’re ready they’ll be ready to play with something else! Getting them involved in an activity will simply help with keeping them in once place and not scooting off and you'll get some great lifestyle shots.
3) Go for the details
Why not get in close and go for the details. If your child drops off to sleep on the couch, or is happily watching TV, grab your camera and zoom in for the little details like their eyes, mouth or feet – these are the shots you will never get if they are not relatively still. They won’t mind as long as you don’t block the view of the TV!
4) Bring in the Lovey
One fairly guaranteed way to get a smile on your toddler’s face is to bring him his “lovey”, whether that is their comfort blanket or a soft toy. You will not only capture a photo of your child with a happy and contented smile on his face, but also a memory of a little part of their childhood.
5) Bring in an Assistant
This is probably one of THE best tips for photographing toddlers - bring in outside help. Running around after a toddler whilst simultaneously trying to take his photo, entertain him AND stop him running into the road is hard work. Draft someone else in to give you a hand – my husband has been known to play peekaboo from behind the camera, blow bubbles and even hit himself on the head with a plastic bottle in the interest of my getting a photo. Having someone else about will help you be able to focus solely on taking pictures, and will keep them entertained whilst you rattle of a few shots.
6) Get them to show you a skill
Most toddlers will happily perform on a daily basis - well, if they are in the mood that is. This can be a great photo opportunity as they are in one place and in their element “performing”, and will generally look quite pleased with themselves. These are also the type of photos you will treasure as you have captured them mastering a new skill, and it’s these simple things we tend to forget as they grow up.
7) Take a child size chair outside
I have no idea why this works but it does. Simply take a small child’s size chair out into the garden and leave it on the grass, somewhere in good light and with an uncluttered background. For some reason, the novelty of having the chair in an unexpected location seems to be a draw for toddlers, and they clamber to sit on it. You won’t get long, a minute maybe (unless you bring something else into the equation) so make sure you are ready to take your pictures! The same also goes for rocking horses etc - anything that they might sit still in for a few minutes.
8) Come down to their level
Your toddler is just a snip of a thing, so it’s best to crouch down so you are taking the picture from their eye level to stop them looking dwarfed in each photo. Your knees won’t thank you for it, but you’ll get much better pictures! Getting down onto their level really helps draw you into their world.
9) Contain them
Another great tip for photographing toddlers is to contain them in some way - for example on a swing or on a sit in ride. This is a touch more tricky if it’s moving, but at least you have the benefit of anticipation! If they are younger, something like a high chair or bumbo seat can work too - again, it’s just keeping them contained long enough to rattle off a few shots.
10) Be prepared
At this age, they can start doing the cutest things at the most unexpected times so always have your camera ready to go so you don’t miss any photographic opportunities that come your way. Leave your camera in a place you can grab it easily, and get into the habit of “zeroing” out your camera at the end of the day – make sure your settings are back to normal, your battery isn’t running low, and you have enough space in your memory card, so you are good to go when needed.
11) Make it Fun!
Try to make any "session" as fun as possible - blow bubbles, have them jump on the bed, or put on some music and get dancing! Some other examples might be playing peek-a-boo from behind the camera (or if you have taken my advice and got someone else on hand to help, get them to peek out from behind you) or tickling (get a large feather duster and tickle them yourself, or get your helper involved!) or have your helper hold them upside down. (Told you you wanted a helper!!) All fun activities, guaranteed to get your toddler smiling!
Rather than blindly running after your toddler, If they are old enough to take basic instruction take control and play a game with them which helps you anticipate the movement. For example, you can get them to run on the count of five, or in the case of an older toddler, maybe even jump on the spot, again on 5. Or you could play the traffic light game - red for stop, green for go, yellow for get ready -the general idea is to have them run between one place and the next ON YOUR TIMESCALE - not for you to run after them. You can get shots when they are poised on the spot waiting for your command, or running toward you!
13) Close it up your aperture
I know we all like a bit of bokeh from shooting a low apertures, but toddlers are pretty unpredictable, so it can be easier to shoot with a more closed up aperture than you would normally.
14) Crank up the shutter speed
Toddlers are also fast little things, so I would suggest cranking up your shutter speed to capture them without motion blur! The higher the better, but personally I wouldn't go under 1/250 for a stationary toddler, or 1/500 for a moving toddler. I would aim to go much higher than that if I could.
15.. Keep it Short
Don't expect to get your toddlers attention for any longer than 40 minutes at an absolute maximum - they will tire of the photography "game" and want something else. If you are the parent photographing your own child, then that will probably be your undivided attention, and I would suggest well under that time - 20 minutes or so. If you are prepared, it's perfectly doable!
To help you out with even more ideas for photographing your children, I've also created a book that gives you 100 prompts for capturing your family. Simple click on the image below to download and start capturing your days!