There will come a time when you're squealing little nugget of a baby will grow in to a rambunctious miniature kiddo. When this happens to your family, you may understandably choose to hang up your camera, vowing to come back to it in a couple of years once the toddler can stay in one single place for more than one single second. No one would blame you for skipping kid photos during these rough and tumble years. But fear not - there are ways to tame these tiny beasts and capture their portraits without the tell-tale-toddler-signs of blurred faces or hands or legs or bodies or teddy bears or heads or...well, you get the idea. Keep these few simple tricks in mind the next time you want to brave the camera with the kids.
1 - Go Outside!
Shooting a toddler moving at full throttle will require a lot of light as your goal is to use the fastest shutter speed that your situation will allow. (explore the relationship between shutter speed and light here!) And even if you are using a smartphone or a similar camera with auto-features, moving to a well-lit area will allow that camera to shoot at a faster shutter speed which will cut down on the motion blur of your speeding child.
If you can't get outside, try to get the kid in front of a window or even directly under or beside a lamp. Experiment with the various light sources in your home - there is most certainly a spot in your house that has enough light for toddler portraits. But seriously, you're probably all going a little stir-crazy in that house, so just go ahead and do this outside if you can!
2 - Bribe Them!
Okay, most people will probably land in two different camps on this one. Either this is an incredibly obvious solution to you OR you can't believe that I would bring up the b-word around your Sweet Little Precious. Either response is completely valid and I promise that the art of bribing a child is a subtle one and falls on a wide enough spectrum so everyone can feel ethically safe and sound.
On one end of the spectrum is chocolate. Or gummies. Or cookies. Or ice cream. Or straight scoops of un-cut, pure-white sugar. Can I admit something you guys?? As a photographer, I absolutely love this solution! I know...I'm not supposed to love it. I'm supposed to scoff at it and talk about baby carrots or celery sticks or bran-somethings. But many parents I've met keep this stuff to a minimum most of the time anyway, so if you break out the special treats for photos you're nearly guaranteed to capture some really sweet moments of excitement! PLUS, it fuels them for a very active few minutes and then the sugar crash can actually be useful if they spend it in the arms of someone who cares about them.
On the other end of the spectrum is bribery using fun experiences instead of treats. I often let kids look at the photos I've just taken on the camera's screen if they agree to sit for 3 seconds and give me a nice smile. Yes, that's technically screen time (which is just as bad as chocolate, right?), but it usually gets them to chill for a second so you can snap a nice picture.
3 - Talk To Them Like Adults!
These little guys generally want to be your buddy, especially if you have a cool piece of tech in your hands that they might get to play with! Let them in on what you're trying to do and see if they want to lend a hand by helping their other family members get in to the right position. You can't do a lot of reasoning with toddlers, but you can make them feel like they are a part of the process. And be sure to respect their wishes if you can. Sometimes kiddos just need a break from the camera for a few minutes.
4 - Wear Them Down!
If the scenario is novel enough for the kiddo, you might get a few good photos right off the bat. l After that you'll find yourself in a period of (hopefully slightly controlled) chaos where the toddler is running around, not wanting anything to do with the boring ol' camera. Stick with it though. That kid will wear themselves out and if you are patient enough you will be rewarded with a brief window just before meltdown o'clock when you can capture some very sweet moments with these sleepy little monsters. You have to be on them though, since the window is a short one. When you see the signs of them either beginning to slow down or turn in to a pumpkin, give the adult in charge a heads up that they might want to prepare for some cozy lap photos. Steer the calming chaos toward a bench or tree stump or dry spot of grass where they can curl up against a shoulder for a few shots.
5 - Take A Lot Of Photos!
I've done it...you've done it: stood there with finger on the trigger just waiting for the exact right moment when the little bugger looks up from her boogers to give you a perfect smile. It's a painful few minutes, right? And it rarely yields a good photo. One thing that I've realized since becoming a parent myself is that the best photos of toddlers (or any kids really) are the ones that capture their experience. You already have plenty of photos documenting what your kid looks like at this age - try focusing on what your kid is actually doing instead. These beach shots are a great example of this - it's more about exploring a fantastic and dramatic landscape and hunting for beach treasures than getting that just-right smile. Years from now these photos are going to transport me back to that beach when my kid was just two years old and I can't wait to relive it.