Taking photos of little ones is a challenge to say the least. There can be tears, meltdowns, and frowny-faced photos if you don’t do it the right way. Luckily, I have some tips that will help you out if you’re shooting your holiday cards in the coming week, or just need tips for everyday snaps.
I also asked Julia Dags, toddler photographer extraordinaire, to weigh in with her tips. She’s been shooting holiday cards, blogger campaigns with kids, and family photos for a long time and always manages to get a great shot, even with the crankiest of kids. We each shared our top three tips for how to get your toddler to take great photos.
Before I get into our tips, I want to note that the most important thing here is to change your expectations. Don’t expect a perfectly staged photo with a little angel. It might happen but that’s not usually realistic. Let yourself be open to more natural, organic shots.
Toddler photo tips from a mom:
1. Let your toddler be in his/her element. Staged family photos are great and we do them once or twice a year, but if you can let your kiddo run around and be happy, you’ll get a much more natural smile. For example, see above. When Julia and I were taking photos for a campaign, Amalia said she wanted to jump around in her crib. It wasn’t the background we wanted but she was so happy and the photos really capture her essence. I think of myself looking back on photos of her as a 2-year old in 20 years and I know that these will make me remember exactly how she was. I love that.
2. Give your toddler a choice. Don’t let your toddler choose everything but offer them a choice in what they’ll wear (e.g do you want to wear this dress or this dress?) so that they feel like they have some control of the situation. Little do they know you chose each dress out already so you win either way… Or if you’re in your home, offer them a choice of where to sit or how to pose. If you tell them exactly what to do, I can guarantee you’ll get the opposite 90% of the time. For a recent campaign, we were shooting a photo at our kitchen counter. Amalia insisted on wearing her sunglasses. Instead of fighting it, I let her wear them and I think the photo came out even better because of it! (pic below)
3. Bribe your toddler. Yep, I said it. If you need a very posed photo and especially if there is more than one kid involved, offer them one chocolate chip to get seated and promise them one more chocolate chip if they smile. I realize this is terrible parenting but sometimes you just need to get that holiday card photo on lock. That’s how we got this shot, for example. Here’s another example:
Over the summer, Dags came up to a family trip in Rhode Island to take some shots for us. We all wanted a picture of Amalia with my two half-brothers but the two little kids were just not feeling it. We tried to get them to sit on this ledge for 5 minutes but they would cry and run away. So we finally gave them each a popsicle and got this cute shot that might not be of them all smiling, but it’s framed in our houses all the same!
Toddler photos tips from a photographer:
1. Let them win. I’m not a parent, and have never had official parenting advice… but coming from an early 20-year-old, let them win. Let them crawl, walk, or run to a different room if they don’t want to sit still on the couch. Let them be playful. They’ll be happiest if you let them lead the way and run the show. An example is this photo of Amalia where she insisted on running to her room and cuddling with a blanket on a chair. And it’s so cute!
2. Let them be messy. Let them run through the puddles in the rain. Let them take out every toy they have in their toy bins. They’ll share their brightest smiles when they’re happy doing what they love to do most. Play with them. Engage with them.
3. Give them the giggles. Throw them up in the air, spin them around in a circle, play ring around the rosie with them and fall on the ground. Don’t be scared to hop in the photo with them if they’re smiling ear to ear. You’re their parent! You need to be in photos with them! Snugs, kisses, hugs, tickles, goofy faces. Exhibit A below:
Two other things that I’ve seen Dags do that work really well are 1. Show the kids pictures of themselves on the camera to show them what they look like. That usually gets them to do something silly or smile a little bigger 2. When Amalia used to get nervous, she would let her press the button to “take a picture” and it warmed her right up to the camera.
If you have any other tips, please send them our way!