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If you've photographed babies and toddlers before, you know it's not easy. It requires skill, but, more importantly, it requires patience. Lots and lots of patience.
I enjoy photographing toddlers because it is such a challenge. You never know what you are going to get. I typically go into my sessions with a game plan; however, toddlers typically have plans of their own. Toddlers are energetic, wild, spirited, and so expressive. It is a great age to capture if you know the right tricks to do so.
Get to know them. Before you even pick up your camera, get to know the child. Find out what their likes and dislikes are, and do your best to relate to them. If you have young kids of your own, this should be easy. Talk about their favorite TV shows, books, songs, super heroes, or princesses. Get down on their level and relate to them. Hold their hand as you are walking. Show them that you are there to be their friend, not just take their pictures.
Know your settings before you begin. Once you have gotten to know the child, make sure your cameras settings are correct before you take your first image. Sometimes those first images will be the best you get the entire session, so be prepared. Know your camera inside and out so you can deal with all sorts of lighting conditions. Toddlers don't stay in one place for very long, and it's important to know how to work with all different types of light. And always shoot with a high enough shutter speed (I like to stay above 1/200) to freeze the motion of a fast moving child.
Let them be in charge. Toddlers like to be in control, so let them! (Or at least let them think they are in charge!) Let them pick where they want to take pictures or what kind of pose they want to do. Once they have their turn, you get a turn to tell them what to do.
Make it a game. Depending on the age of the child, pick a game that is fun for them. Peek-a-Boo, Simon Says, or Red Light Green Light are all games that can be used to get the child to do what you need them to do while having a good time.
Be sneaky! If you aren't getting the shots you need, walk away and let the parents have a moment with their child. Some of the best shots of toddlers are the candid moments.
Take frequent breaks. Young children have a very short attention span, and expecting a toddler to want to take pictures for an hour or two is unrealistic. Give them frequent breaks. Let them run around and do their own thing. Be sure when you are scheduling your session you allow for these breaks in your timeline.
Eliminate distractions. Babies and toddlers are easily distracted so if you are trying to take portraits of a young child, don't schedule a session at or near a playground. Don't give a child a toy that will take their attention off the task at hand. Once a child sees something they want (especially if they can’t have it), you will lose their attention and will have a tough time getting it back.
Contain them. For super wiggly babies, try putting them in a place where they can't get away for a moment. Whether it’s in some sort of prop or up high on Dad's shoulders, this will give you a second to grab their full attention.
Get on their level. To see what a toddler is seeing, you really have to get down low. Sit or even lay down with them for a bit to really capture their perspective.
Have fun! If you want to photograph kids having fun, then you need to actually be having fun. Kids can read people very well. If you are stressed they will be stressed, so bring out your inner kid and just be silly. They will have a great time and so will you!
Article and photos: Drew Bitte