Top tips for toddler portraits
The reason I have decided to focus on tips for photographing toddlers is because 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 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 and healthy development in their attachment which means for a while they can be suspicious of strangers and reluctant to be physically separated from their parents.
I’m a trained children’s nurse and a mum of two so I’ve spent a lot of time with kids. This experience means that I have got quite good at working out what is going on in their little heads. You quickly learn to predict and divert melt downs, use the art of distraction and find new and silly ways of making the most unwilling of children laugh. But you don't need to be a parent or have years of experience to learn this. Here are my top tips for photographing toddlers.
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 have a toddler it gives me the opportunity to manager their expectations. A lot of parents worry that their child won’t behave during a session. They also (understandably) want to know that if that happens, they will still receive 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 which means that I aim to capture people in a natural and authentic way. So, all their child needs to be on the day is themselves.
There are a few things that you can ask parents to do to get their toddler ready for the session. For instance it’s best to prepare the toddler for the session by telling them that a friend is coming to take some photos of the family. It is always better not to surprise them. I also like to remind them that the session will go a lot smoother if it happens when the child is well rested. 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 subject 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 window I’ll ask them if they can help me look for aeroplanes. 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 dads 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 someones house the first thing I do once I’ve said hi to the parents is to get down on the toddlers 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 a fuss of the older child.
Little people start to loose 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 looses 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 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.
Finally, don't reject pictures just because the child isn’t smiling. Some of the most beautiful images I’ve taken of children have been when they are showing their true emotions.