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In this post we’ll focus on tips for photographing toddlers. Because I’m listening to my readers and realizing one very important thing: you all LOVE my toddler posts! And I don’t blame you, it’s the subject I’m probably most verse in since I have a little toddler of my own.
One thing I absolutely love about photographing toddlers is their curiosity to everything. They love to explore and they see the world in such a different way than we do.
So, slow down, observe your toddler, and let expectations go out the window, because the toddler is in charge.
You might also like my other toddler posts:
- How to get eye contact from a toddler
- Compositions to consider when photographing a toddler
- 9 photography tips for moms
- Photographing a toddler 101
Along with my toddler posts, I actually created a course outlining how to capture your everyday life, which is perfect for toddlers (especially since I only have a toddler, I have a lot of examples with toddlers in it). This course is now open for enrollment!
It’s all about how to Capture Your Everyday Life and Create Art. In this course you will learn:
-Simple compositions to use everyday
-How to use and see the light
-6 Creative Exercises to help you capture your everyday
-5+ Editing videos
-Tips on taking Self Portraits featuring your everyday
This course is now open for enrollment!
10 best tips to photographing toddlers
By following these 10 tips to photographing your toddlers, I believe you will start to see improvement in your pictures with your toddlers.
I also have high hopes that you won’t be frustrated, I know I was at first! My son literally NEVER sat still for pictures and I was pulling my hair out. It doesn’t have to be like that, if you change your expectations and rules for photographing your toddler.
Alright, are you ready to learn the BEST tips for photographing toddlers?? Let’s go!
1. keep it short
This is so important: keep the photo session short. Whether you are just simply taking pictures of your toddler or if you have a client shoot that involves a toddler, keep it short. You don’t make your toddler sit there for 3 hours to color, do you? Why would you make them sit, stand where they don’t want, do things they’re not used to, for a long time? Keep it short. I find that around 10 mins is a toddlers limit.
I find I get my best images when the toddler is first fascinated by my camera. The beginning of the shoot is the most important. It’s when they’ll be the most willing to sit still.
2. make it fun
Do you like sitting there, being told what to do, having your mom or dad telling you to smile or laugh? I mean, I think I would have a stink face on if it were me, so why do you expect your toddler to do exactly that? Instead of expecting them to sit still….expect them to run! And let them! Run after them! Chase them! Run around a tree and play ‘peek-a-boo’ with them! If you make it fun, you’ll keep their attention better.
Some more ideas to make a photo session fun:
- Play tag with them
- Play peek-a-boo with them
- Play red light green light (or go and stop)
- Ask them to make animal noises
- Ask them to look for a bunny (or their favorite animal)
- Ask them where mommy or daddy is
- Tell them to jump
- Ask them to run around
And these games can work for your own kids or for client kids. For client kids, you want them to get comfortable with you and realize that you are all about having fun!
3. increase your shutter speed
Kids are fast, like, really fast. So of course when you are photographing kids, you’ll want to increase your shutter speed. A general rule I keep is to always keep my shutter speed around 1/250. This helps eliminate any chance of camera shake (which is a big no-no). However, when I’m photographing toddlers, I like to keep my shutter speed 1/400 or higher. In fact, I really love 1/1600. But sometimes that’s not always an option.
When I know I’m going to photograph my son, I set my shutter speed first. I think about what he’s doing in the moment, is he running around? Then my shutter speed can be a little slower (but never below 1/250). Is he running around? Then I need my shutter speed higher! Do I want to capture motion blur? Then I will of course have a slower shutter speed (maybe even slower than 1/250, but you have to stabilize your arm when you shoot lower than that).
By increasing your shutter speed, you’ll ensure that you get crisp images of your toddler. Every time.
4. capture them naturally
I never tell my son to say ‘cheese’. Never. Somehow he’s picked this up (probably from other family members). Instead, I try to capture his natural joy. Or maybe his natural tears. I don’t ‘pose’ my son. And I definitely don’t make him sit still for long. If he’s already sitting somewhere, then I will quickly try to capture the shot. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
By waiting for them to do something naturally, your images will look more professional. You don’t want a force ‘cheese’ smile. And sometimes I get clients who tell their kids to say cheese. I let them say it, and then I usually give the family a prompt that gets them even better smiles (I really try to not make my clients feel like they did something wrong).
I might think of a shot that I’d like to take, set up the scene, and then let my toddler explore the scene. However, I never get the shot that I was thinking of when it comes to toddler shoots. Change your expectations. Don’t force your toddler to do something they won’t like, because that will result in them being fussy and upset and your images will be full of negative emotions (which is definitely sometimes what I’m going for – I love a good cry photo). But don’t expect your images of your toddler to be exactly what you envisioned.
5. for eye contact: tell them to look for a _____ in your camera
That headline is too long, I just know it. But I’m sticking to it!
When I’m wanting eye contact, I tell my toddlers to look for an animal, their favorite tv show, a dinosaur, whatever you know they love. Ask them if they can see something in your lens. They will give you some great eye contact then.
Of course, I’m not always striving to get eye contact, but sometimes I do want to capture my sons beautiful blue eyes, and this is how I do it.
If that trick doesn’t work, then I usually resort to strange noises. And that usually gets me eye contact with a smile. Which is also great. It really just depends on what I’m going for!
6. close down your aperture
We talked about the importance of a fast shutter speed above, so let’s talk about your aperture this time. Having a wide open aperture (f/1.4 or f/1.8 depending on your lens) can lead to difficulty getting your subject in focus and in the focus plane. And toddlers move so much, that small sliver of focus doesn’t stay still for long.
By closing down your aperture you eliminate the chance of them moving too much to get them in focus. You make it easier to get them in focus and in the focus plane. Leading you to crisp images of your toddler.
I usually like to keep my aperture at f/2.5 or higher. I like to still have bokeh and blurriness to my background, so I keep my aperture somewhat wider open. However, I believe there is a sweet spot for every lens. For my 85mm, I find that I get a lot more images in focus if my aperture is f/3 or higher. For my 24, I find I get a lot more images in focus if my aperture is f/2 or higher.
You need to find that sweet spot. I very rarely shoot wide open (meaning as low of an aperture as your lens can go, for my two lenses mentioned above, that would be f/1.4) because I like to have a little bit more of my image in focus.
When shooting a face up close, it’s important to close down a little bit more than you normally would because of how many planes a face has. If you don’t close down, the nose could be out of focus.
By getting crisp images of your toddler, you’re ahead of the game! That’s part of the challenge. So, fast shutter speed and closed down aperture, and you’ll be golden.
7. capture the details
Sometimes my son really doesn’t want pictures taken, especially of his face. And he often looks away from the camera. When this happens, I can usually get some shots of the details. Try focusing on their feet (toddler feet and thighs are the best!). Get a shot without their face. Take a picture of what they’re playing with. Take a picture of their eyelashes. Capture the little details of their curly hair. Take a faceless image.
By focusing on the details, it can help distract your toddler and they’ll be OK with you photographing them.
Remember to respect their space and if they tell you they don’t want the camera, then you need to put it away and just be with them.
8. give them a snack
Give your toddler a snack that isn’t messy (or maybe it is messy, I have this dream shot of an ice cream shot that I will one day be brave enough to capture!). Blueberries, cheerios, something that will look cute photographed but will also be yummy for them to chow down on. This could go hand in hand with getting a detail shot, too. It would be adorable to see their little hands reaching for a snack.
9. give them an activity to do
I love sticking my son in the high chair and giving him something to do. This helps him sit still and also provides something fun to photograph.
I like to give him any of the following activities to do:
- picking flowers
- playing with toys
- helping me cook
- playing with chalk
Whatever they like to do and will enjoy doing, is something I usually let my son do and photograph him doing it. I also love to photograph my son playing with bubbles. He doesn’t care about the camera when there is bubbles. And I mean, what toddler doesn’t love bubbles!!
10. jump in the photo with them
So, I get it. Getting in the frame can be quite intimidating. But, I promise years down the road you won’t regret getting in the frame with your little ones. Hand the phone or camera to dad and jump in there with them. Don’t worry about it being perfect, the main goal is for you to be in the image with your toddler. Holding them, holding their hands while they walk, playing with them, dancing with them. Endless possibilities.
You won’t regret jumping in the photo with your toddlers, I promise!
As always, if you have any questions please leave them below. Tell me in the comments below which tip was your favorite! Thank you for reading my blog and I hope to see you around.
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Alyssa (sometimes going by Aly) is a hobbyist photographer who loves to teach. Her love of photography started before she ever had any kids. Now a mom of two, she loves to photograph her kids, flowers, and landscape. She specializes in capturing her everyday life. She loves to teach fellow beginner photographers how to take control of their cameras and get the images they dream about getting.