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Top Tips for Toddler Portraits

Updated: Nov 16, 2022

Several years ago I decided to turn my love for documenting my own family life into my dream job. I’m mostly self-taught and truly believe that with passion and practice digital photography really can be for everyone! I learned through a lot of trial and error and absolutely love sharing my shortcuts with other photographers. As a mum and a trained children’s nurse, I have years of experience working with kids which is why my sessions are always family-led and fun. I use available light and engaging prompts to achieve natural, relaxed images which capture genuine connection. Below I've shared some of my most tried and tested tricks for getting beautiful natural portraits of toddlers!

The reason I have decided to focus on tips for photographing toddlers is that, unlike other age groups, these guys are notoriously tricky to pose. These pint-sized people are often a challenge to photograph for several reasons. Firstly it’s a time in their development when they are discovering that they are separate entities from their parents and that they have a will of their own. It is also around this time that many children go through a normal development in their attachment which means they can sometimes be suspicious of strangers and reluctant to be separated from their parents.


I think it’s a really good idea to talk to clients before any photography session. Introducing yourself, explaining what will happen on the day, and finding out about the family pre-shoot can make all the difference. If I know that the family I am going to photograph has a toddler it gives me the opportunity to manage their expectations. A lot of parents worry that their child won’t behave a certain way during a session. They also (understandably) want to know that if that happens, they will still get what they have paid for - beautiful photos of their child! I don't have expectations of how children should behave. I don't do backdrops and cheesy grins. I do lifestyle photography which means that I aim to capture people in a natural and authentic way. However, there are a few things that you can ask parents to do to get their toddlers ready for the session. For instance, it’s best that they prepare the toddler for the session by telling them that a friend is coming to take some photos of the family. I also like to remind them that the session will go a lot smoother if their child is well-rested and fed! Check they aren’t booking you for a time when the child is usually napping!

Setting up shots

In my experience, it is unrealistic to ask a two-year-old to stand still precisely where the good light is and then ask them to strike a pose. It isn’t going to happen.

Instead, you have to work around them and set up a situation for the photo to happen in. Work out your shot first. I do this by finding an area of the house with great light. Then I work out where ideally I want the child to be. Next, I give the child a reason to come into the frame. For example, if I’ve found a beautiful setting near a window in the front room, I will ask the parents to put some toys there then I’ll ask the child to come and show me how to play with them. If I want to get them next to the window I’ll ask them if they can help me look for airplanes. Or I’ll ask them to show me how high they can jump on their bed. You get the idea!

If they won’t stay in one place for long or if they are feeling a bit shy and won’t leave mum or dad's side, get the parents to hold them. Sitting on shoulders, being thrown in the air, sitting on a lap reading a book, etc can allow you to get close-ups of the child and wider shots of both child and parents.

Keeping them interested…

When I arrive at someone's house the first thing I do once I’ve said hi to the parents is to get down on the toddler's level and introduce myself. I like to show them the camera and sometimes I’ll even make out that I need their help taking some photos of their family. If there is a new baby I make sure that I make more of a fuss of the older child.

Little people start to lose interest quite quickly. Experience has taught me that it is wise to get all the family shots first before older children get bored and babies get grizzly. Sometimes when a toddler loses interest I tell them they can go and play because I’m going to get photos of mum and dad. Usually, when I do this they get FOMO and want to get involved again!

If they are getting a bit tired and grumpy give them a break! Suggest that dad gives them a snack while you focus on mum and baby shots. Or if there isn’t a baby - get some candid snack time photos.

Prompts for emotive pictures...

Once the child has warmed up to you, you want to keep them engaged. Rather than asking them to smile or say cheese, I give children a series of prompts that I know will help encourage natural smiles and connection with family members. For example;

  • Ask the child to look into your lens to see if they can see their own reflection.

  • Ask them to whisper a secret to their sibling or mum and dad.

  • Ask a parent to tickle them!

  • Ask them to check to see if Dad has shaved.

  • Ask them if mum's hair smells like strawberries

  • Ask them to check to see if either mum or dad have bogies!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog! Please get in touch if you want to know more about family photography or about any of the other photography services I offer including:

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