If there’s one question I get asked most often it’s, “How do you get so many photos of Adeline? How do you get her to smile and look at your camera? Better yet, how do you get her to stand or sit still in the first place?”
Just Kidding. It mostly just comes down to experience and a little bit of knowledge. But even though I’ve been doing photography on the side since 2011, I have photographed enough kids to know that it doesn’t always go as planned, and isn’t near as easy as it looks!
And when it comes to photographing your own toddler, it’s not without struggle. It may look like someone gets “the perfect shot” every time, or on the first try, but I can assure you it is not that simple. What you don’t see is all the energy, sweat, frustration, grace, and humility that comes with it! For every “perfect” image, comes probably a dozen outtakes that will never see the light of day.
To help make things easier for you, I thought I’d share my top tips for photographing toddlers! I’ve never shared my secrets, but it’s my most requested post!
Tips For Photographing Toddlers
Pick your battles. Give yourself grace. Don’t force it.
This is a big one. I promise you will be setting yourself up for failure if you go into it expecting perfection. Your toddler is doing the best they can, and the ball is in their court. Make it fun for them. Don’t force it if they simply aren’t in a good mood!
Time it right.
This goes along with the above point, but is more so about being smart with your timing. Is your toddler always more cooperative in the morning? Do they wake up from naps extra happy? Then those are the times when you want to aim for photos!
Know what you want ahead of time.
I always advise to not go into a photoshoot unprepared. Same goes with a photoshoot of your little! Plan ahead of time their outfit, the vibe you want, the lighting you want, where will your toddler sit or stand, what distractions will you use, what direction will you shoot from, etc. Go ahead and mentally set the scene because the clock is ticking as soon as you and your toddler get out there! You want to be efficient and quick!
Wait for the best light when possible.
This is KEY. I am a lover of beautiful light, and always, always make it a priority. It’s pointless to try and shoot in crappy lighting. If you’re going to use the energy to try and photograph your toddler, do you research and know when your best lighting is. For me, finding good light is second nature, but it definitely takes practice learning to work with it.
Quick tips for great lighting:
- Use backlighting when possible (put the sun behind your subject, your subject will almost look outlined in light)
- Shoot in the morning or in the evening, take advantage of the golden hour
- Shoot when it’s cloudy when you want a softer picture, and no shadows
- Shoot near a window for natural light
- If shooting inside, always face your subject so that the light shines ON their face
- Create a faux studio in your garage – garages have amazing lighting!
Give them a toy or something they love.
I do this all.the.time. with Adeline. You want your quick session to be happy, fun, and feel natural to them. I always bring one of Adeline’s favorite stuffed animals to either use as something to make her smile, or to play with during or after. If it’s a toy that they absolutely love, it’s actually cute to include it in your photo with them because it’s just a part of the phase they’re in!
Shoot on Manual.
I almost always shoot in manual mode, unless I’m being lazy and then I shoot on aperture priority mode. Shooting in Manual is something you really need to learn, and it can be intimidating at first. Essentially it gives you complete control over you camera, which is something equally amazing as it can be frustrating if you don’t get everything right. If you’re new to this world, Manual mode will allow you to control your ISO, your aperture, your shutter, your focus, etc, and with one easy click you can change whatever you want as you go. If you want to learn more about shooting on Manual – I would suggest reading a, “CAMERA NAME For Dummies” book. Seriously – something like that would be very easy to follow and absorb quickly.
Get that shutter finger ready for rapid fire.
This is one that comes with experience. You have to learn to shoot quickly, while still being able to focus and get the shot off. Set your camera on Continuous High mode (or it might be called burst mode on other cameras) so you can capture a handful of sequential images in an instant. A lot of times I’ll rattle off several images while Adeline runs towards me, then pick the best one.
Use an in-between aperture.
A lot of people when they’re starting out on a DLSR or learning to shoot manually think they HAVE to shoot wide open on 1.4 or 1.8 because “it looks cool.” And while shooting wide open does give you amazing bokeh, it’s not always the best way to focus on an active toddler. Shooting on 1.4 or 1.8 is beautiful in situations where you want to focus on a specific spot while blurring out the entire background. Photographing a toddler though simply doesn’t call for that much depth of field, unless you’re shooting up close. I prefer to shoot on 2 or 2.2. Sometimes I’ll even go down to 2.8 if I really want to make sure I get everything I want in focus. If you’re still not sure how apertures work, then I would suggest doing a little research because it is absolutely something that will affect the quality of your photos.
Be creative with your angles. Get on their level.
Toddlers are shorter than you, so naturally you need to get down on their level. Crouch down, sit on the ground, crawl on your knees. Whatever it takes to get on their level. It will also make them feel more comfortable with you. When you’re looking for a unique perspective, try shooting from a different angle. You could shoot up at them, down at them if they’re sitting, or simply widen your frame, and take a step back.
Take pictures of things other than just their face.
Don’t forget to document the whisps in their hair, their fun bows, their toes, or a close up of that sweet belly!
Don’t be afraid to get messy.
If you see an opportunity for a great photo, but it’s maybe freezing, or muddy – DO IT ANYWAY. Take the shot anyways. Is it freezing outside after a snowstorm? Put on your big girl panties, a pair of gloves, and get outside and document these days!
Get close for a beautiful perspective.
Too often I get in the habit of only photographing Adeline from a distance. It’s easy. It’s safe. It leaves room for cropping if needed. But it leaves the majority of my photos looking fairly similar – most are shot from basically the same distance. When I really want to mix things up, or capture something a little more meaningful, I’ll get as close as possible. I love being able to focus on her sweet face and blow out the background for a beautiful portrait.
Capture the meltdown. Just do it.
It may be sad at the time, but really, it’s hilarious.
Don’t always shoot vertical.
This is also something that’s easier said than done, and it might just be a preference thing. My preferred way to shoot is vertically. I feel most comfortable holding the camera that way, it’s always more flattering, it’s easier to get your whole subject in the frame, and I just simply prefer vertical images to horizontal images. But on the rare occasion that I go horizontal, it’s like looking at the world through a whole new lens! It really changes things up, and allows for a whole new vibe.
Don’t be afraid to look silly.
You would not believe how ridiculous I look trying to get the shot. There’s toys, there’s loud and annoying noises, there’s singing, there’s dancing, there’s peekaboo, there’s jumping, there’s crazy hand movements – whatever it takes to get their attention for that one split second of perfection!
What you don’t see behind a lot of my photos is the help I recruit in order to make them happen. If I need an extra hand, most times it’s either Adam, a trusty friend, or sometimes a family member who are jumping around behind me, trying desperately to crack a smile and maybe, just maybe some eye contact! More often than not, I’ll have Adam run outside with me for 5 minutes, and I’ll position myself between Adeline and a tree so that he can play peekaboo with her while I shoot away. It’s usually a fool proof method, but sometimes she’s just not in the mood. In that case, see my first few bullet points.
Just let them run.
Some of my favorite pictures of Adeline are of honestly just of her running around. These photos perfectly capture that wild and free phase.
Capture the candid.
I preach this all the time to my friends asking for photography tips – capture the candid! Capture those in-between moments that you might not think are significant, even if it’s a perfect photo capturing a moment on-the-go. Most times, the unposed photos are the ones that turn out best. Be aware of what’s happening in-between posing or positioning, and see the beauty in what’s not planned.
Capture the process.
By this I mean, capture the steps it takes to do something. So, if you’re wanting to capture your toddler simply standing in a field of flowers, ALSO capture then walking through the field, touching the flowers, bending down and playing in the flowers, etc. Whatever you’re wanting to capture, take a few extra minutes to also capture those moments on either side of your goal frame.
Remember that it only takes one.
This is something that comes with a little bit of experience, but remember that you really only need ONE. You will never frame a million photos from the same 5 minute mini-session with your little. Be picky. Get the shot you really want, and make it perfect.
Practice, practice, practice! Be so familiar with your camera that it feels like second nature to quickly scoop up your camera and snap a rushed photo. Be so familiar with your camera that you can quickly switch between ISO’s and apertures, and know how they interact. Research shooting on Manual. Know your preferred settings. And if you don’t know, ask!
Accept that they aren’t always going to cooperate.
And that’s ok. It just has to be ok or else you will lose your mind! You are capturing their personality and a very unique age, so just roll with it! Sometimes they will just want to play, scream, or do anything but stand still!
Keep your camera on hand for the gems.
If you really want to capture meaningful moments, keep your camera on hand so you can! Keep it nearby. Don’t keep it locked away!