In the blink of an eye, babies go from, calm, sleeping creatures that stay in one place, to pint-sized bundles of constant energy that never stop moving. That constant energy makes shooting toddler photographs (and sometimes, even photographs of older kids) feel impossible.
The term ‘poses’ in kid poses is used loosely. Posing a toddler or young child doesn’t fall under the traditional definition of directing adults where to sit and where to place their hands. It’s more about creating a scenario where the youngster will smile naturally and stay in a position that’s a bit more photo-friendly.
Stop getting blurred balls of energy and capture smiles with these tips for photographing toddlers, kids and even their big siblings.
15 Toddler Photography Ideas and Poses for Any Lids That Hate Sitting Still
Toddlers and active kids don’t ‘pose’ well, not in the traditional sense of the word anyways. Go into the children photography session with open expectations.
The best toddler photography and children photography comes from working with that child’s unique antics. Embrace the fact that the resulting photos probably won’t look exactly like the ones in your head.
1. Follow Their Lead
I usually head into a photo session with toddlers with a few go-to ideas to capture genuine smiles. But the best photos often stem from simply following what the toddler wants to do. If needed, you can modify that activity with what works best for the photos.
For example, I recently photographed a wedding with a very young ring bearer. He did not want to sit still for a photo with the bride and groom. He just wanted to run after sitting through the ceremony. So, I had the bride and groom kiss in the background and let him run. The kid had the biggest grin on his face.
If she wants to pick flowers, photograph her picking flowers. If he wants to spin in circles, let him spin in circles — and photograph the laugh when he falls down.
Following their lead is often particularly important at the beginning of the session if the child is energetic. Once she lets out a bit of energy, she may be more apt to slow down for more stationary photos.
2. Let Them Run
Is it easier to take portraits of someone sitting still? Of course, it is. But will a child who just wants to run be smiling when forced to sit still? Of course not.
Treat an active toddler portrait session like taking sports photos. Use a fast shutter speed, burst mode, and continuous autofocus. Often, it’s helpful to give them a starting point and ending point, if they are old enough to understand the concept. This way the running happens in the most picturesque spot.
With siblings, designate a finish line and ask them to race. They’ll be smiling, you’ll get photos, and they’ll burn energy, all at the same time.
3. Let Them Dance
Another trick for getting great shots of active kids that’s a bit less trying on the camera’s autofocus is to encourage dancing. For example, ask a little girl eager to show off her dress to spin in circles. Or ask a little boy to wiggle or show off his own unique dance moves.
Dancing can be less taxing on the camera’s autofocus than running. You’ll still need continuous autofocus, a fast shutter speed, and burst mode. But they will stay in a smaller area compared to running towards the camera.
If you are working with toddlers too young to understand instructions, try dancing yourself. See if they will copy you.
4. Explore Nature
How often do toddlers and kids get to play in a field of wildflowers? Chances are, the location for the photos is already going to grab their attention.
Take photos of toddlers and kids sniffing flowers, wandering along a path, playing with a stick, or throwing leaves in the air.
Look for things in the environment that are fun to play with, but still look great in photos. For example, at a recent wedding, I had a one-year-old flower girl that wasn’t interested in taking pictures. But she was fascinated by an apple tree outside.
The result was some adorable photos of her picking apples.
5. Use Props That Restrict Movement
Large baskets and buckets, for example, can work well with toddlers, as well as chairs, rocking horses, sledges and more. If you give a toddler a fun place to sit, they are much more apt to stay still enough for photos.
These props can often be easily worked into a theme. For example, using a wash bucket with bubbles for a bath time photo is a popular setup.
Whenever you are using props, just be sure those items are safe. Be wary of tall buckets and baskets that can tip, for example, and avoid that cute flea market find with peeling paint. You don’t know if that paint has toxins like lead inside.
6. Photograph Them With a Favorite Toy
Getting toddlers to hold (somewhat) still is only half the battle. Most won’t want to look at the camera either. One trick to get toddlers and young kids to look at you is to enlist the help of a favorite toy.
Have a stuffed animal “help” you take their picture. Holding a toy that makes noise near the camera lens also works well for toddlers and older babies.
Don’t just tease them by wiggling a toy in front of them that they can’t play with. Hand over the toy and take a photo of them playing with the toy too.
If it’s a favorite toy or stuffed animal from home, the parents will likely appreciate that photo with a favorite plaything. They can look back at it when the child has grown out of the toy that used to accompany him everywhere.
7. Enlist the Help of a Smile-Maker
During photo sessions with toddlers or young kids, I will often sit the toddler down, then ask mom or dad to stand directly behind me and do something silly. They can dance, sing, or anything that their child, in particular, finds funny.
This often results in some of the best smiles. Toddlers won’t stay there for very long. A few seconds of them smiling at mom or dad behind me is all it takes to grab a great photo with a more traditional pose of them looking at the camera.
If you are photographing your own child, ask for help from someone that your child likes to spend time with. One of my favourite images of my son at age two is of him with the biggest grin. His grandma was making silly noises and faces just beside me.
8. Use Bubbles or Balloons
I’ve yet to meet a toddler that doesn’t love bubbles and balloons. You should always ask the parents, just in case. Bubbles will usually get a big smile, even when used near the camera and not in the actual photo. But, bubbles can also be cute when included in the photo. You can even have the child be the one actually blowing those bubbles.
Balloons are similar. They usually elicit great smiles but look good in photos and are affordable.
Balloons, however, should only be used with children old enough to understand that they shouldn’t put them in their mouth. Biting a balloon can create a choking hazard with the popped pieces.
9. Try Food-Based Props
Some toddlers only sit down to eat and nap. Take advantage of the first and create a photo shoot using food as a prop. A big, bright lollipop, for example, works great. Use seasonal foods like apples in the fall or a big old slice of watermelon in the summer.
Incorporate other props that tie in with the food item for a cute shot. This also works great with cake smash sessions for birthdays. Just be sure the food is age-appropriate for the child and that the child doesn’t have any allergies by okaying it with the parents first.
10. Use Playful Props
Give a toddler something to explore with their hands, and they may be less likely to explore with their feet. That’s why photo sessions that use props for the child to hold tend to work so well. With something to hold, toddlers may stay still just long enough to grab some great photo poses.
These props can be pretty much anything that’s safe to hand over to a toddler. Look for inspiration in what the child likes or the season. Pinterest is also a great place to go for ideas for kid-friendly props.
11. Play a Game
Something as simple as a game of peek-a-boo can create the best smiles. Peek-a-boo can be played anywhere, with no supplies, and tends to get a smile out of some toddlers.
Peek-a-boo isn’t the only game that’s good for some photo-worthy smiles, however. Try playing Simon Says to get kids into a pose without them realizing that you’re actually making them sit down for photos. Or, tell them to play a game where they copy you, then freeze as long as they can, like freeze tag.
These types of games are simple and silly. And they can help get great shots of kids and toddlers that are hard to pose.
12. Tell Them Not to Smile
Toddlers are at that age where they are learning to extend their own free will. But, even for older kids, sometimes, asking them not to smile actually gets a much better smile than tossing out an old “say cheese.”
Tell him that you want him to try really hard not to smile. Or with siblings, have them have a contest to see who can not smile the longest.
For some reason, many kids can’t do it. They end up in fits of laughter, which is perfect for the photo.
13. Create Interaction With Siblings
The more kids you add to a photo, the harder it is to get great smiles out of everyone in the image — unless of course, you use that to your advantage.
Siblings tend to have a knack for getting each other to smile. (Of course, some siblings have the opposite effect on each other, so keep that in mind too.)
With two or more children, you can get great poses and smiles. Have them play a game together, race each other, dance with each other — and many more possibilities.
Some older children tend to do well when they are tasked with the responsibility of getting their younger sibling to smile.
Common Toddler Photography Questions
How do you photograph toddlers indoors?
Indoors, capturing a sharp photograph of a child that’s always moving is even tougher. If possible, move the toddler towards a large window for better light.
How do you photograph a one-year-old?
One is a tough age to photograph — but the same toddler photography tips above work for one-year-olds too, as well as babies that are already mobile.
Work with the one-year-old’s antics, not against them. Be patient, and use the camera settings that you’d use to photograph sports, not a portrait. Keep in mind that you may not get traditional poses looking at the camera. But a real smile trumps traditional any day.
How do I get my toddler to cooperate for pictures?
Bribery. Just kidding. The best way to get a toddler to cooperate for pictures is to work with them and not against them. Forcing a toddler who wants to run to sit still won’t result in smiles.
If you are getting photos done by a professional, choose a photographer accustomed to working with toddlers. Bringing snacks that aren’t messy and a favourite toy along can help. So can making sure to avoid scheduling photos right at nap time or bedtime.
Use your knowledge of what your child likes and dislikes and when he or she is happiest to help make the photos go as smoothly as possible.
Patience and speed may seem like opposites, but both are needed for great kid and toddler photographs. Patience, because you may need to try different tricks to get a smile. And speed, because sometimes that smile happens in a split second and then it’s gone.
Mix both with some of the kids and toddler ‘posing’ tips above, and you’ll capture genuine smiles of childhood, even from creatures that hate to sit still.