Do you struggle with photographing wiggling toddlers? Don’t beat yourself up over it, because it’s normal. However, I’ve learned several tips to still create memorable portraits of active children.
These images are from a portrait session with my nephew, who is a typical toddler. He’d rather run all over than stand still for a pose. When he does look at the camera, it’s only to turn away right as I take the picture.
As a photographer, I could cross my fingers and hope something turns out, but that is too risky. Instead, I’ve developed three strategies to control portrait success with this busy age group:
1. Control what they wear
2. Control the background
3. Don’t control them
Before this portrait session, discuss outfits with mom and dad. Ask them what the child will wear. If it’s a family session, discuss how they will coordinate their outfits. When the outfits are well planned and coordinate with the background, then the portrait is half-way complete.
For example, in this session with my nephew, I knew we would be shooting at an urban location with brick and ironwork backgrounds. Beforehand, I suggested a theme of red and black to my sister. Their outfits were well coordinated and tied the image together.
A wide, clean background, with minimal distractions, is ideal for portraiture. It could be a local park, flower garden, beach - anywhere that you can focus on the child without worrying about a trashcan or parked car behind them.
Back to the example of my nephew, I chose a group of brick buildings to use as a clean background in an urban setting. I also planned the session during a slower time of day, when it wouldn’t be as crowded. The slower time of day let me focus on my nephew, instead of worrying about passing strangers stepping into the frame.
And my last tip – take as many pictures as you can to get what you need. Toddlers move a lot and they move fast. I’ve done a few photo-shoots where I thought they were too fast and that I had nothing, only to find that I’d captured a mischievous glint before the child ran off, or a shy smile before it disappeared. This age is so precious with many fun expressions. Let them be themselves and those precious moments will shine. Maybe that includes letting the child walk away, playing with the rocks, or playing with daddy.
In the end, all three steps work together. However, the key is to let them be themselves. By controlling their environment (and not the child), when they do give a sparkling grin or dimple up, you will be ready.