Tips For Photographing Toddlers

After 9 years of photographing thousands of toddlers in a studio environment here in Cumbria I’ve gathered together some of my top tips for managing toddlers in a photoshoot.

Full disclosure, I LOVE toddlers. No really, I do. I love their little mannerisms and personalities as they try to negotiate their world. My own children are older now and meeting little toddlers to photograph would transport me right back to the hazy, exhausting days of being at a toddler’s every whim!

That is not to say I have not gone home for a lie down in a dark room after spending a day working with them. So if you’re just starting out or nervous about a shoot and struggling for ideas how to manage the little blighters here are a few things I’ve learnt over the years that may (or may not) help! It’s not an exact science let me tell you.

Timing

Timing is absolutely key! Too many times parents would turn up to a shoot with their toddler just before nap time, or when they’ve been to the park with their friends and ran around like a headless chicken for 30 mins and now they are feeling a bit ‘tired and grumpy’ or ‘hangry”.

It’s probably not going to work. Whether you are arranging a shoot or just photographing a friend’s kid, talk to the parent about timing. Believe me, they know when their toddler is likely to be at their little best self in any day but they often don’t think of it in terms of a photoshoot. Educate them about this and work with them to fit in what might be the best time of day to work with them.

Hangry

Speaking of hangry toddlers, from experience food should be an absolute NO NO. And this is another thing that parents can need advised about. They might think that getting a little ‘organic vegetable crisp’ snack out will pacify their toddler but it rarely does. You end up with the little one chewing, dribbling down their clothes, food around their mouth and guess what? One wasn’t enough, they want another and another and it’s all they can think about! Avoid avoid avoid!

Work Fast

Toddlers have a really short attention span. Like, really short. Often the first 5-10 mins of a shoot will be the best chance of getting good shots. They haven’t got bored of you quite yet, they haven’t decided whether they like you or not and your funny jokes and faces haven’t annoyed them yet. But the time will come my friend when they do and it might be sooner that you think or hoped so work FAST at the start and get those shots in.

Don’t think you have any control

Don’t go into this thinking you have the control. The parents are usually not in control so what makes you think you’re going to be 🙂 ?

Toddlers Rule! They say where they are going to sit, when they are going to sit, and indeed whether they will sit or not. Try and make them and you might end up with tears and tantrums. Just go with the flow. Let them do their own thing in their own good time and you might have some success. That is not to say you can’t guide them to areas or suggest things but leave it there and don’t try to force anything.

Props and Toys

Wow this is a tricky one and if I’m honest there is no definitive answer. Personally I saved them for desperation times as too may times the toddler would just focus on the toy or prop and getting them to look up was really difficult. Sure you can get some lovely natural shots of them playing with their favourite toy but there’s only so many of those that you want. You’re probably going to want some eye contact and toys could make that tricky.

On the flip side, their toys can make them happy and feel more comforted in a new environment. I’d say go with your gut. If you’re not getting anywhere then toys might be the answer.

Get Down

This might seem obvious but get down to their level. Lie on the floor, play with them, show them a trick, make a funny face or noise to get them laughing. Sing a song they like, get them to sing it with you while shooting away, they can get so carried away with all the fun they forget you are taking their photo and the best bit will be all the natural smiles and facial expressions they make.

And Finally…

Know when to give up

Honestly, it’s most likely not you, it’s them. If it’s not working it’s unlikely to work at that time. Don’t be afraid to call it a day and try another time. I have done this many times. You get to a point where you can see that nothing is working and you’re not getting any shots you are happy with. The little one is upset, or tired or shy or grumpy or all of those at once…yes it happens. It just isn’t going to work today so call time and reschedule for everyone’s sake!

While writing this blog I thought of so many other things to say so if you found this useful look out for Part 2.  And remember, there are no rules for this, trial and error are your friend here. What works for some toddlers  others will absolutely HATE so be prepared to be flexible, patient and make mistakes. Good luck!

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