Toddlers are energetic, sweet and funny. They are also incredibly difficult to photograph. Between their inability to sit still, the meltdowns and the ability to morph a smile into tears at the sight of a camera, you may even consider putting the camera away for awhile. Before you pack anything up, consider today's tips (and tricks) focused on capturing your toddler in their element.
#1. Keep Your Expectations Low
Unless you are the proud parent of a toddler who loves to sit and smile for you on demand, lower your expectations. Toddlers very rarely deliver "picture perfect" moments without the stars falling into alignment. Most toddlers are simply not happy having their picture taken when we do. That said, the beauty of digital photography is that you can easily and inexpensively shoot hundreds of frames in hopes that a few of your shots are good enough. If you're lucky, you may even capture a little piece of magic. Whatever you do, don’t try to make them do something they don’t want to. We promise that you'll regret it.
#2. Let Them Run
One of the best ways to capture a toddler in their element is to let them run and play. Ditch a staged session and go to the park instead. Bring your zoom lens. While your little one is playing, find a good spot to sit. Then wait for that perfect moment. After a while, your child will be too busy playing to avoid the camera and you can snap away. Another advantage to this approach is that your child will be tired from playing and will take a good nap.
#3. Set Up Activities
Find the best light in your home and plan activities in that space. For example, pull out the pots and pans and let your toddler create their own rock band. Open the windows to allow plenty of natural light. Photograph from various angles to tell the story of the experience together. Of course, activities don't have to be limited to home, but the idea is to create opportunities for your child to be seated. Other ideas include finger paint, dishwasher water tables, tea parties, puzzles, story time at the library and special meals. Be careful not to overuse your camera during the activity though. If your child senses your ulterior motives, they may work against you.
#4. Keep Capturing Milestones
Most of your child's major milestones will be captured during the first year, but don't forget the small ones. No, you won't be able to capture all the new words coming out of their mouth, but you can capture hand movements to their favorite songs (like "Simon Says" or "Itsy Bitsy Spider"), silly dance moves or the infamous "first flush."
Just because your "baby" is no longer a baby doesn't mean that you can't photograph all those precious little details. If you're comfortable with allowing your child to watch Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood or Sesame Street, or whatever else your child may be interested in, plop them down and take advantage of their zombie-like state. Photograph their lashes, their mouth, their toes, and everything else. These adorable little features won't last forever so be sure to capture them while they last.
#6. Use Props
Props are a great way to distract toddlers from running away (unless running is what you're going for). However, if you envision a photo of your toddler without anything in their hands or mouth, clear the room or don't bring it with you. Chances are that that isn't a realistic option, so be prepared. Before shooting (or having your child's photo taken), choose nice looking toys that you don't mind ending up in your photos such as teddy bears, dolls, nice cars or trucks, tea set, dress up stuff, etc. Another idea is bubbles. Just be sure to have someone blowing the bubbles (or a bubble machine) if you're the photographer.
#7. Then and Now
Remember how much fun it was to capture your baby's "first _____________?" Beyond the first year, it's easy to forget how exciting those moments were, but your favorite images from the first year can be a great source of inspiration. In fact, consider re-shooting your favorite photos. Think "Throw Back Thursday" or "What a difference a year makes." You'll be surprised at how much your little one has changed over time.
Any event, vacation or holiday with a toddler is a good time. During their first year of life, it was all about capturing your child's first experience. As a toddler, events become a little more interesting. In particular, hotels and airplane rides can make for some fun photos. However, even if you aren't traveling away from home, events can often be a time when toddlers are less concerned about a camera and more interested in investigating what's going on. Take advantage of their curiosity.
#9. Get in the Photo
As much fun as it is to take photos, it's equally important to be in the photos. If you have the patience for it, consider a self portrait with your toddler. Otherwise, plan a play date with a friend and ask her to take a photo of you with your child or children (of course, offer to return the favor). Or, teach your husband how to operate your camera if he doesn't know how to already. An easy way to get your shot is to ask the other person to stand in for you. Set up the shot (settings and general focus), then hand the camera over. There's a high probability that you'll be out of focus the first few times (unless your friend is a photographer), but keep with it!
#10. Tricks and Treats
- The "penny" trick. Place a penny or any other coin on the floor and ask your toddler to hide it with their feet. If that concept is too much for them, you can place a sticker or piece of masking tape on the floor and ask them to sit on it.
- You can also keep a toddler busy by putting a sticker or piece of tape on their finger. While they're busy trying to get the tape or sticker off of the, you can be photographing them. Just remember to work quickly.
- Noises! Toddlers are incredibly curious about noises so try keeping a squeaky toy, musical object or your phone loaded with music nearby. There's even a thing called a "DaisyGrip" that allows you to put one of these tools just above your camera lens by attaching to the hot shoe of your camera. Your toddler will look up and might even smile before getting up to check it out. Of course, don't forget the classic fart and animal noises.
- Timing. Plan any “photo shoots” during times where your toddler is more likely to be in a good mood, such as after eating or nap time. Any "staged" or sitting shots should be done at the very beginning while your toddler is still warming up.
- Treats. Being your photography subject is hard works. Treats (or bribes) can go a long way towards making the experience fun and worth doing again.
Don't be discouraged by your toddler's unwillingness to be photographed. Rather, enjoy their curiosity for the world by trying to see it through their eyes. Once you can appreciate that, you can photograph it. Have fun!