How To Get the Best Photos of Young Toddlers
What I love most about this post is that it’s not just coming from the photographer in me, but from the mom in me as well. To be honest, I have no idea how a photographer can take great photos of 12-24 month olds without having some semblance of maternal or paternal instincts. It sometimes seems impossible to work with young toddlers for two reasons: 1. They have minds of their own and cannot understand what they’re being asked to do or why they need to do it and 2. they cannot be reasoned with because they aren’t developed enough to understand what good behavior is. Yes, they should be able to understand a simple “no” and “good job!” but that isn’t enough to get them to sit pretty for photos. So, if you’re just a mama wanting to take better photos of your kids, or if you’re a photographer trying to get some tips on these sweet little monsters, keep reading for my process!
1. Shutter speed is key
Okay, this might be a foreign language to a mother, so let me explain. Children are movers, I swear they sense when the camera is out and run/turn directly away from it. So, in order to stop time you need to increase your shutter speed. Make that your priority. Shutter speed is exactly that, the slower the speed is, the longer your camera takes to take the photo leading to motion blur. The faster it is, the less likely you are to get any motion blur. However, if you increase the shutter speed, you will decrease the amount of light being let in which can lead to a dark image if you are in a not-so-bright lighting situation. Better cameras will have higher ISO capabilities (I know more Mandarin) which essentially opens the hole in the shutter to let more light in. Cameras that aren’t as good will create a lot of noise (the little dots all over the image) so this all has to be taken into consideration and you have do decide what is worth compromising! If you’re a mom using a cellphone, this may not be an option for you, but a lot of them are being made with manual capabilities. Go to your camera and see if “manual” is an option, or do research on your phone.
2. Follow their lead
I know that sometimes you just want your little one, or your clients little one, to sit still for a photo, but sometimes the most beautiful photos are the ones taken of children playing. So follow them instead of force them to sit somewhere. Forcing them will make them upset and angry, and what’s more important? Having them sit somewhere all perfect and posed, but with a crying, red face, or having them play with a huge grin on their face? The parents, or yourself, will want to remember how happy their children were, not how well they could sit for a photo. Now, this doesn’t mean to completely forgo the posed pictures. If you can get them to sit, by all means go for it. I’m talking about the session where kids want nothing to do with siting still. Instead of making them miserable, give your client or yourself a good memorable image of them playing rather than freaking out over the fact that they wont sit still. Work. With. The. Child. As a mom, this will make you less stressed (because I know I almost went completely grey a couple of times trying to photograph my own child). As a photographer, your clients will remember how well you worked with your kids. In today’s day and age, people are steering clear of photographers who are more about the technical side of photography. Instead, they’re leaning more towards the ones who focus on creativity and diversity, and that is what forgetting perfection and going for candid photos is.
3. Avoid distractions
So, I know most of you will immediately think “oh, he won’t stop crying, give him his blankie!” but NO! Don’t do it. I’ve lived and learned this. When you give them something they love, that’s it. You’re either going to have to take every photo with their blanket or you’ll just turn an upset toddler into an angry spawn of satan, and then you’ll be getting no pictures 🙂 In my experience, the best thing you can give them is a snack or a drink because it’s temporary. Once it’s gone, they should be happier and they won’t have the mental breakdown of having it taken away. It worked perfectly yesterday for my 18 month old during her Halloween Costume Session 😉 Every time she started getting upset, I handed her her juice for a minute or two and she was ready to go!
4. Do what makes them happy
Even if it compromises the photo, run around like a fool or make that weird noise they like, because in the end, their smile is what matter the most. I parent can tell their child’s pure happiness smile apart from the smile that they were forced to do. Mostly because kids exaggerate their fake smiles to the max or sometimes they just barely lift half of their lip. Point is, the real smile they give while running around and laughing is like nothing else. Aim for that. If everything else fails, I hold my daughter’s binkie up. This is something that can never be “out of sight out of mind” once she sees it. Even though it might only get me a few good pictures before she catches me, it’s always worth it.
5. Be patient
I know this is a no-brainer, but you have to make a conscience effort to do this. I think about how every successful session went, and I’m not just talking about success, I’m talking about photos that I am so excited to get into Lightroom and edit because of how perfect they are. Without patience, 1-4 will not work. Toddlers will reciprocate your emotions, if you’re upset and showing it by rushing them or being stern, you’ll lose them. If they aren’t listening to you, just stop caring about the photos for a second and play with them. Then start again in a little bit. Stress will ruin any chance at good photos, so just relax and have fun, as hard as that sounds. Just tell yourself that toddlers will be toddlers and they cannot understand your frustrations. They do not intentionally sabotage your work for their own satisfaction. They are essentially one step further than babies, and we don’t think twice about their misbehavior, right? Right, so stay calm!
Okay, so I know to a mother this all makes sense. However, to a photographer with no kids, this may seem like too much. Honestly, if you can’t to do all of this in oder to work with children successfully, then you should rethink your line of work. Children take a lot of time, most of the time. Every once in awhile you’ll find one that listens flawlessly, but it’s rare. If you have to raise your prices a little to make up for the time spent on making a toddler feel at ease, you can. I can’t guarantee your clients will be okay with knowing they’re paying more simply because they have a child lol. However, you can charge for the extra time. I’m sure that they will understand when the pictures of their family are beyond their expectations. I hope this helps, make sure to tell me in the comments or give us your tips for toddler photography!