We’ve all been there. Exhausted, frustrated, and ready to give up, while photographing a toddler not willing to cooperate. Photographing toddlers can definitely be a bit of a challenge.
That age… you know the age I’m talking about. Right when a child hits 18 months, they change. And they continue to be defiant until turning 3, or sometimes even 4. Ugh…
Being a parent to a toddler is challenging enough, let alone trying to photograph them. Most parents tend to shy away from photographing at this age, since they know that they will not be likely to cooperate.
I’m here to tell you that this is the best age to photograph them!
While it may be challenging, exhausting, and frustrating, it is so worth it. You can capture so much of the toddler’s personality during this age, since they are not holding back. They are free and you want them to feel that freedom during the session.
Going into one of these types of sessions, keep these tips in mind:
Keep expectations low.
I hate to say it, but you should not expect to get photos of your toddler sitting nicely and smiling at the camera. Go into it expecting to work hard to capture those moments and expect that you may get only 1 photo of the toddler smiling.
Also make sure that the parents understand that photographing toddlers can be tricky, especially parents of only children. You are going to get exactly what the toddler is going to give you.
If the toddler wants to hold onto his lovey for the first half of the session, let him. If she wants to sit on a different chair than you want her to, let her. If he wants to just run around, let him. Go into the session with an open mind and be ready to work with whatever they have for you. At this age, the more you try and force them to do something, the more they will resist. They are learning how to assert themselves and be more independent. Understand this about them, and you will get a happier toddler to photograph.
Show the back of the camera.
This trick usually works with the shy and reserved toddlers. It shows them there is no reason to be intimidated. All you are doing is taking photos of the toddler. Many times, a huge smile will flash across the face of the toddler when they see their photo, and they relax immediately.
Let the toddler run around.
And, you be ready with your camera when they are running around. These moments are some of the best times to capture smiles, as this is exactly what the toddler wants to be doing. Have them walk to a parent or give them chair or tree (if you are outdoors) to walk to. Giving them a target to walk/run to and from helps to keep them contained, while also giving them freedom to roam.
Keep the toddler happy.
If you have ever been around a toddler in meltdown mode, it is really difficult to snap them out of it. Once they decide they have had enough, they have had enough. Do whatever you can NOT to get to that point. Make sure you are in tune enough with your toddler to take a break when it is needed. Even if it is just sitting on their mom’s lap or having a snack, this little break lets the toddler know that you understand them and just want them to have a good time.
If the toddler is going to be happiest sitting with their mom and dad, holding a toy, or reading a book, let them. Do whatever you have to do to make it work and keep your toddler happy!
Give the toddler something to do.
Have toddlers dance, sing, twirl, make a silly face, etc. Keeping them busy, occupied, and distracted is one way to keep them happy, but to also help draw out their personalities for the photos. I’ve found that I’ve been able to capture some fantastic faces and expressions during this time.
At this age, you really underestimate what they are capable of and what they understand. Photographing toddlers during this stage can be made easier if you can utilize bribery. I always come prepared with Smarties and Dum Dums, because they are small and do the trick.
Smarties are really great. You can give them one, and tell them they can get more if they do what you are asking them to do. I would say this works probably 75% of the time, however you may get some very defiant toddlers who will not want to be told what to do. Just make sure you don’t give in to more treats, otherwise you will lose all leverage.
Think outside the box.
I think this photo was one of the parent’s favorite photos from their girl’s session. It was at the end, and the toddlers were spent. While climbing up the stairs, I captured this precious moment.
Think outside the box, and don’t let yourself get frustrated and overwhelmed if things aren’t going the way you wanted them to.
Be silly and have fun.
This is so important, especially since it can be hard to do while photographing toddlers. Sing a goofy song, make silly noises, or show them a silly face.
There have been numerous sessions of mine where I didn’t think the toddler had any fun or liked the woman with the big, black thing in front of her face. However, at the end of the session, I get a huge smile and a hug. That is when you know your job was successful. Those parents are going to be more apt to bring their child back to you for more sessions. The toddler will remember you the next session, and hopefully be more comfortable with you.
The goal is to give the toddlers freedom, while keeping some structure and boundaries. This will help you maintain control during the course of the session. Photographing toddlers can be a tricky and challenging job, but it can also yield some very rewarding results.
Like any session, some of these tips will work, and others won’t. It completely depends on the toddler, their mood, and their temperament. Use trial and error until you can get the results you are looking for: great photos and a happy toddler!