Toddlers are endless bundles of energy. This makes toddler photography about as easy as photographing the Looney Toon’s Tasmanian Devil! Taking photos of moving objects is always tough to tackle. But add a dash of unpredictability, mood swings, and a bit of oh-so-sweet defiance, and the task may seem impossible.
Toddler years are one of the toughest subjects to photograph. But pint-sized toddlers have some adorable antics that parents want to remember. With a few toddler photography tips and a lot of patience, you can capture great photos of the toddler years.
12 Tips for Creating Beautiful Toddler Photography
Capture precious moments of your little one’s early years with these 12 expert toddler photography tips.
1. Be Prepared
Getting a great photograph of a toddler starts with the prep work. If you are photographing a client and not your own child, this starts with getting to know the subject.
Ask what time of day the toddler is usually happiest. Ask their parents what the toddler likes and dislikes. And prepare to bring a few fun props to pull out if needed, like toy cars, puppets, or a stuffed toy.
Choose a location that allows room for the toddler to explore. You may want to take pictures on a playground. But you may want to avoid spots where the toddler can see playground equipment because it will distract them.
If you’re photographing your own children, then you start with an advantage. Consider everything that makes your toddler laugh, and remember those as you plan for the photos.
2. Schedule to Avoid a Tired, Hungry Toddler
Everyone tends to get cranky when they are tired and hungry. And all emotions feel much bigger when you are a small person. So, avoid taking photos when the toddler is due for a nap or too close to bedtime for a smoother photo session.
If the toddler is always cranky in the evening, schedule the photos for the morning. Golden hour may offer great light, but great smiles are more important.
Along the same lines, make sure the toddler isn’t hungry. Schedule after meals. Or have the parent bring a snack that’s not messy! And if the toddler starts to get cranky, take a snack break.
3. Keep Your Options Open
Avoid going into any photo shoot with a toddler with an exact picture in your mind. While it’s great to have a plan ahead of time, photographers must be flexible and patient when working with toddlers.
If your plan isn’t working, adapt the shot to what the toddler wants to do. So go into the session with a few ideas, but be willing to stray from those original concepts.
4. Choose a Cloud Day or Shady Location
A golden hour photo shoot can often interfere with bedtime, and you wind up with a grumpy child. So working in the shade or taking portraits outdoors on a cloudy day will help you follow the child’s antics.
This way, you won’t have to worry if changing positions creates bad lighting. Shady or cloudy conditions are also easier for beginners or parents to work in.
5. Set Up By a Window Indoors for Natural Light
Outdoor portraits aren’t always an option, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use natural light. Set up by a large window indoors to allow for the most light.
Position the toddler so their side or face is facing the window. If you photograph the child lying down, avoid having the window light at their feet.
You may need to turn the shutter speed down to 1/100 s with the window light. But make sure to use burst mode to take several shots. And check for any blur on your camera’s LCD screen.
6. Follow the Toddler’s Lead
Some of the best toddler photos I’ve taken have come from simply letting the toddler do what they want to do. If a toddler wants to run around, asking the child to sit won’t create those big grins.
Turn on your camera’s burst mode. Turn the shutter speed even higher. And make sure the camera is in continuous autofocus. Then photograph the toddler running toward you.
Take what the toddler wants to do and brainstorm ways to make whatever they’re doing more photogenic. For example, you can move the toddler to a better location.
Or use their preferences to inspire another idea. For example, a running toddler may just want to move. So you can ask them if they want to jump instead.
7. Shoot From a Toddler-Friendly Height
Toddlers see the world differently with their small stature. So photographing them at their eye level helps capture a bit of how they see the world.
Instead of photographing the toddler standing, kneel or sit so you are level with their eyes. This creates a more intimate portrait and leads to less distortion.
But this isn’t a hard and fast rule to follow 100% of the time. Shooting all your photos from the same perspective will make everything look the same.
Having the toddler sit and look up at the camera brightens their eyes. This is because their face is turned more toward the light. Photographing them from your eye level will also make them look smaller and add variety to the photo shoot.
8. Use a Fast Shutter Speed
Toddler photography has more in common with sports photography than portrait photography. Most toddlers are on the go all the time. So be sure to use a fast shutter speed!
Use a shutter speed of at least 1/250 s if possible. Even when the toddler stays seated, they might quickly turn or move their hands.
A wide aperture can help you reach those quick shutter speeds in limited lighting. It can also blur the background for a more traditional portrait look. Continuous autofocus mode and burst mode are also musts for photographing toddlers.
9. Enlist Help to Get the Best Smiles
If you are photographing your own children, your face will be tucked behind a camera. And that is not the best spot to be in to elicit a smile. So enlist the help of someone the toddler enjoys being around.
Have this person do goofy things behind or right next to the camera. You’ll both get smiles and up the odds that the toddler will actually be looking at the camera for a few shots.
When photographing a client, I often ask a parent to stand by me and talk, sing, or do goofy things to get those smiles. With my own kids, I often get the best smiles when asking Grandma to come and help.
10. Keep the Session Moving
Toddlers have short attention spans and are often pretty short on patience. So keep the photo session flowing. Move quickly to the next pose or the next idea.
Avoid taking too many photos in one spot. You won’t have the time to try other ideas before the toddler’s patience for photos disappears.
11. Use Active “Poses”
“Posing toddlers” is a sport of misnomer. You can’t ask a toddler to hold their hands in a position. But you can create some scenarios that tend to lead to good poses.
We generated a list of different posing ideas for kids who don’t like sitting still. Use ideas like these to keep the toddler happy and get great shots.
Toddlers may not quite understand what you ask of them, even with more fun poses. So don’t be afraid to show them what you want them to do yourself.
12. Work With Fun Props
Props can be a big help when working with toddlers. For instance, a noise-maker by the camera can get them to look toward the camera. Favorite toys sometimes help during photo sessions too.
Bubbles are great and tend to photograph well, along with props like balloons (just be sure the toddler can’t bite the balloon!). Giving the toddler a prop to hold can also help keep their hands still.
Props can also help keep active toddlers still. Of course, A toddler sitting in a bucket or basket isn’t running everywhere. Just ensure the prop is safe and the toddler won’t be injured trying to get out.
Toddler Photography FAQs
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions we get about toddler photography.
How Do You Photograph Toddlers Indoors?
Indoors, capturing a sharp photo of a child always moving is tough. If possible, move the toddler towards a large window for better light. If not, use a high ISO setting and a wide aperture (low f-stop number).
Try one of the ideas above that keeps the youngster (relatively) still. Enlist help (tip 9) or use props (tip 12).
How Do You Photograph a One-Year-Old?
It’s best to work with the one-year-old’s antics, not against them. Be patient and use sports photography settings, not portrait ones. Remember that you may not get traditional poses of toddlers looking at the camera. But you’ll get authentic smiles!
One is a difficult age to photograph. But our toddler photography tips above work for one-year-olds, too, as well as babies that are already mobile.
How Do I Get My Toddler to Cooperate?
Bribery. Just kidding! The best way to get toddlers to cooperate with picture-taking is to work with their antics. Forcing a toddler that wants to run to sit still won’t result in smiles.
If you are getting photos done by a professional child photographer, choose someone used to working with toddlers. Again, bringing snacks or a favorite toy along can help.
Make sure to avoid scheduling photos right at nap time or bedtime. Use your knowledge of what your child likes and dislikes to help make the photos go as smoothly as possible.
Conclusion: Toddler Photography
Even with all the best toddler photography tips, every photo session requires patience and flexibility. Toddlers may not be easy to work with, but that mischief also helps create fun, unexpected photos. You can capture great photos of even the most active toddlers with enough patience and tricks!