Let's face it, photographing kids can be hard, but toddlers are a whole different challenge. As a photographer, you would think that I had all the sauce for getting kids to do what I need them to, but the truth of the matter is that I don't photograph kids or small children outside of their families AND as an influencer and blogger, I have to create content so often with my children, that I even have to get crafty about how I am going to get my kids to "do the right things" in photos. The typical challenges one would face don't go away JUST because I am a photographer. In fact, I would be willing to argue that its much more difficult because my expectations are so unreasonably high LOL. The bottom line: on a photoshoot, toddlers are in charge so you have to learn how to get your power back and this is something I am weekly faced with as I attempt to take pictures/ create content as a blogger/ influencer.
Wisdom, our 8-year old, was our only experience with consistently photographing kids and she was easy as pie. She stood where you told her to, she responded to our coaxing and on cue would predictably do what we expected as we moved her through poses for pictures. Courage, our 1-year old, a COMPLETELY different story. We have NO idea what to expect from her session to session and we can only hope and pray that she will show up, commit, do the right thing and as we are becoming more wise in our parenting, we are realizing what a unicorn sweet Wisdom was because toddlers.... well, toddlers do what they want. They march to the beat of their own drum. Their attention spans are short. They are moody, won't stay still or smile on command but they make the cutest accessories and when you hit with them, you HIT big.
So, I took some time to think of some different things we do to get pictures of Courage that work for campaigns, blog posts, announcements and wanted to share those tips and tricks with you in hopes that they might be useful to you to not only get better pictures of your little one, but pictures that you LOVE and cherish.
11 TIPS & TRICKS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING TODDLERS
1. PICK AN IDEAL TIME OF DAY FOR SHOOTING/ how many times have you gone out to shoot only for your babe to throw the biggest tantrum, be so hungry, fussy and frustrated or straight up fall asleep on car ride to the shoot? Oh, just me? I have had this happen FAR more often then I like to admit, so I have started paying attention to her flow through the day and when she is the happiest and has the MOST energy and started planning my sessions around that. It has changed over time and I try to also make note of and keep up with those changes.
For Courage, at 18-months, her strongest time of day for optimum happiness is 10a - 2p, which isn't always most convenient for me, but if I want to have a good photo shoot that involves her, I am finding that I have to be ready to go right after breakfast if I expect her best self to come forward. Pay attention to the times of the day when your toddler is most pleasant and start creating content during those times.
2. HAVE A TANGIBLE INCENTIVE OR TREAT/ the photo shoots were next level when I had tangible treats to bribe her with. Small Reese's Pieces bites, a Skittle or M&M or two or a fruit snack. Every time she does what she is supposed to do, she is rewarded with a small treat that goes directly into her mouth and isn't put in her hands (stains, yikes). I don't always start with the treats, but you better believe I have them on deck as backup and if we have a really amazing session, my kids are always awarded with some fun big experience like pool time, tv time or a yummy ice cream cone.
Note: We treat our children as employees and they are paid to participate in these shoots with me. Every month they receive a wage that goes into their IRA as payment for their time. It is important to me that they understand that these are gigs and opportunities for the to work and earn, the same way it is for me, and I honor their time by paying a wage, because that is what I would want them to expect from anyone.
3. DON'T RUSH & RUN THEM/ WEAR THEM OUT/ take your time. Spend the first part of the shoot letting them explore the location, so that you can wane their curiosity about being somewhere new. Let them, run, jump, explore and scream and when you see them start to hit a wall, grab them to start photos. Allow enough time for this to happen and to play out the way it needs to. This means, don't go out expecting magic to happen in 15 minutes at a shoot and allow time for things to unravel and develop with your little one.
4. LET THEM BE WILD/ let them be who they are, with their wild, sassy personality. Don't work to get them to act or behave in a way that is outside of their character. If they are shy and reserved, let them be that. If they are rambunctious and full of energy, let the camera tell that story. Let their personality shine through.
5. ANTICIPATE OR MAKE THE MOMENT/ think about leading actions. These are different things you can say or do to anticipate a reaction or to create a moment to bring the emotion forward you want to see expressed. I now that if i tickle Courage, she is going to open-mouth laugh and scream. She is going to squirm and fall into me with the biggest laughs. I know that if I chase her, she is going to run off laughing and screaming joyfully. What can you do to get your toddler to react with the emotion that you are after? Tickle them, chase them, hug them, ask them questions, grab their hand and go for a walk or lift them high into the air. Just a few ideas to get you going, but start thinking of ways to initiate cause and effect out on location on shoot days and watch them play right into your hand.
6. RELEASE THE HOPE FOR A SMILE OR LURE THEM INTO ONE/ every mom wants the picture with the smile, but as I am discovering my children and getting to know them better, all of their other little faces being me joy too. I have released myself from the pressure and expectation of getting them to look at the camera and smile, but feel joy, if it is a picture where they are fully being themselves and consider it a win if we both look good. Life isn't picture perfect, so why should we expect our images to be. I LOVE that you can see her personality shine through and that isn't hidden behind a smiley face. Don't get me wrong, when she smiles it's like the sun coming out, but I don't need that to feel like I have a "good" picture.
7. HAVE A PLAYLIST OF THEIR FAVE SONGS/ watch your kid when theme songs, the radio or any music comes on that brings a reaction. Shazam that song and create a playlist that you can easily go to to pull out at photo sessions for instant dances, laughter and joy. Sweet Courage loves "Savage" (hello Covid 19 & Tik Tok), and any song from Yo-Gabba Gabba or and Akili and Me's soundtrack.
8. HIGH SHUTTER SPEED IS A MUST/ Shoot with OR have your photographer shoot with a high shutter speed to minimize blur and to freeze the motion of our busy little bee. This will ensure that there is little camera shake, out of focus pictures and that you can capture your babe in all of their essence.
9. LEAN INTO THEIR ACTIONS & MOVE AROUND WITH THEM/ Lean into your child's actions. Snuggle, hug them. If they are running around, chase them. If they are feeling shy and want to hold your hand, guide them to on a little walk. Whatever they are doing, find an action you can LEAN into to match them and make a picture perfect moment - this allows them to guide the shoot and for you to be flexible. If they are on the found playing, squat and join them and see what they are exploring - it keeps the story fresh, flexible and fun.
10. GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO HOLD OR LOOK AT/ have a fun on brand toy or prop that matches your theme or image and let them hold it. A teddy, a fun toy or even (if allowed) the product you are trying to photograph. Give them the opportunity to interact with, explore and play with something at the shoot that distracts them from the fact that they are taking pictures OR give them a focus point, whether its their favorite show playing on a iPhone next to the camera, another family member making goofy faces behind the photographer or you mimicking what you hope they will do. These are thing we do EVERY session and we have incredible results almost every time. A few examples below:
11. BE PATIENT & TAKE MORE PICTURES / and finally, be patient. Getting toddlers to do anything we want them to do takes time. Whether it is eating on their own, potty training, going down for a nap OR taking pictures. You have to allow time for those things to happen. It takes 100 pictures to get 3-5 that we like and are usable and a ton of patience. So make sure you have adequate time and just keep clicking.
Eventually, you'll get the magical shot.
I hope you find these tips useful and are able to put them into play the next time you're on location with your little one. Which tip surprised you? Which one were you already doing? What are some things you do to get the most out of your little one's during photo shoots? Drop them below in the comments and don't forget to subscribe so you don't miss another post from me!
With strength, courage and wisdom,