Photographing toddlers is no walk in the park. It can certainly be a challenge, but it doesn’t have to be!Wow your clients and have an amazing session, including getting their toddler to give you real, genuine smiles by following these seven tips.
Ask parents for information about their toddler(s) in the days leading up to your session. Learn their names, ages, things they enjoy, and if they have any sensory issues or special needs. Also advise the parents to have toddlers and young children avoid screen time in the hours leading up to, and throughout, the photo session. No TV, no tablets, no phones, etc.
When you meet for the first time, bring your eyes down on their level, look them in the eyes, and introduce yourself. Ask or talk about the things they enjoy…characters, games, activities, etc.
Get the Important Shots First
Begin your session with the toddlers. They won’t be interested for long, so get all of the important family and sibling photos done first, then the young ones can be done and you can finish up with parent photos.
Show Toddlers the Pictures
Let them see the back of your camera! I use a Canon R6 with a touch screen, so the little ones really love that I let them swipe the screen to see the photos I’ve already taken.
Get Them to Smile
- Use their favorite toy to give them kisses. Hold the toy in your left hand, camera in your right hand ready to snap a photo, then bring the toy up to the child’s cheek or mouth and say, “I’m gonna give you a kiss!” This works really well for babies as little as six months old up to two years old.
- Stick out your tongue and make fart sounds with your mouth, then say, “Oops! Excuse me!” If you really want to play around, you can also say, “Ooooo that was a stinky one!” That makes the parents laugh, too!
- Wiggle your index finger up and down and say, “I’m gonna get your belly!” Then tickle them a little bit. Be aware that some kids are sensitive to touch so this may not be appropriate for all kids.
- For most kids, playing the “Don’t Smile” game works wonders! Say, “The only rule is that you’re not allowed to smile. Don’t do it, okay?” Keeping playing around and the kids will likely smile or laugh. “Hey! I said don’t smile!” The giggles will be infectious! Some kids are very literal and if you tell them not to smile, they won’t. So always check with the parents before trying this one.
Encourage with Snacks
Kids are food motivated. Bribery works every time. Having small, non-chocolate treats handy is my go-to trick when toddlers don’t want to listen. My favorite snack to use during family sessions is Annie’s Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks. I don’t suggest starting your session with bribery. Only use this trick if the toddler is having a rough time and you still haven’t gotten the photos from your shot list.
Be Patient and Understanding
Understand that some kids just won’t smile. They may not be feeling 100% themselves, are tired, overwhelmed, hungry, etc. Toddlers are little people, with big emotions, and few words. Let them snuggle Mom or Dad if they want to. Let them get down and run around if they want to. I always let the toddlers take the lead during a portrait session. It’s also important to help the parents set realistic expectations prior to their session. I send a long prep guide to my clients the week of each session and I recommend you do the same.
I truly hope these tips for photographing toddlers are helpful! Nothing makes me happier than when my clients truly enjoy their portrait sessions and praise their toddlers for a job well done. You can do this!