Oh, toddlers. They have earned a reputation of being one tough crowd to photograph. I get it, I really do… you NEVER know what you are going to get when you walk into a session with an 18 month - 2 year old (that could apply to everyday life with a toddler as well!). In all honesty, I find I hit my stride more easily with a fast moving toddler than the school age set… you know, the grimace-y fake smile age!… but I like to think that’s because I have quite a few tricks up my sleeves. If you have a toddler at home who you’re constantly trying to photograph but it feels a bit like herding cats, here are my top 4 tips.
no 1. / timing is everything
Toddlers are fickle little people, and your best chance of getting a good, cooperative mood is to catch them while they are fresh. For most, this means early in the morning or right after nap, and when their bellies are full. Sunset lighting is beautiful, but very few toddlers do well being photographed after dinner time. Timing is everything, but so is speed. Attention spans are tiny and constantly varying, so plan to work quickly.
no 2. / trap them
This tip is most important for fast moving toddlers who aren’t yet super verbal, and who tend to run wild when left to their own devices. A bench, a wagon, a tricycle, a retaining wall… any place where they have to maneuver down from will buy you some extra time. Of course, it goes without saying that any time you have a toddler off the ground, supervise carefully! I usually have one parent act as “baby catcher” standing right nearby for safety, and one parent behind me to grab their attention. Another great way to keep them in one spot is to have someone toss them up in the air, play airplane, or hang them upside down (again… safety first!). Chasing a speedy toddler can make for cute action shots, but it’s usually a difficult task.
no 3. / bribe them
I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be at a shoot and a parent will apologetically tell me that they bribed their kids to do a good job. My response is always BRIBE AWAY! The bigger, the better. Maybe you want to leave your “super bribes” for a professional photo session, but even for those every day shots, little bribes like candy (smarties and dum dums are great… just avoid chocolate or anything staining before pictures), snacks that you don’t normally give, bubbles, etc.
no 4. / pull out all of the silly stops
Most toddlers, with the exception being super shy little ones, thrive on silliness. This is especially true if you are their parent, because frankly, your novelty has worn off. In order to get and keep their attention, you’re going to have to really ham it up. Anytime you can round up another person (other parent, older sibling), etc. to stand directly behind you and make monster faces, play peekaboo, jump up and down or sneak in and tickle their bellies, you’re going to have a good chance of getting a great natural smile or laugh. Pretending to have a favorite stuffed animal take their photo or turning on their favorite song on your iPhone (just avoid the temptation to put on a video unless you are looking for blank, distracted stares) is also a frequent hit!