Photographing Toddlers

Toddlers are notorious for making mischief as they explore the wild world around them. Their curiosity and never-ending energy are both delightful and frustrating to anyone trying to photograph these fun childhood years. Only the rarest of two-year-olds will take direction from a photographer. So, without some practice photographing little ones, it’s likely that most of your pictures of the one to three set will feature nothing more than blurry streaks of spirited motion. Capture the essence of the toddler years with these tried and true tricks.

Put the camera away

When starting a photo shoot with a toddler, keeping your camera packed away for a few minutes helps with establishing rapport. Show him or her that you’re there to play and have fun. Wait until your subject is comfortable with you before snapping any pictures. Even if you’re already familiar with the toddler, this transition time will help them warm up to the idea of having pictures taken.

As the photo shoot goes on, many toddlers will get tired of being photographed. Keep taking breaks from the camera as needed to keep them happy and interested in interacting.

Catch them unaware

Photographing Toddlers

Light, God’s eldest daughter by Heather Katsoulis

Often, toddlers show little interest in a photographer’s agenda. While it’s important to get some shots with your subject looking toward the camera, documentary style images of children are just as priceless. Rather than trying to pose unwilling subjects, let them run and play, and get pictures when they’re not paying attention to the camera.

Ask them to show you something

Photographing Toddlers

Toddlers love to show off their silly antics by Nicoal Price

Most toddlers and preschoolers love to engage adults in their explorations. Ask them to show you what they have or how they did something. Open your aperture to create a shallow depth of field that will focus on tiny fingers and other details parents want to remember forever.

Turn it into a game

Photographing Toddlers

Peek-a-booo by Shardayyy

Incorporating games into the photo shoot makes it an enjoyable experience for everyone. Peek-a-boo is still a classic. Have toddlers look through playground equipment or around walls while you wait with your camera at the ready. Play chase and get photos of them running through a field. Bring a ball or sand toys and play a beach game. See who can make the silliest sounds. Figure out which types of games the toddler likes and have fun.

Make eye contact

Photographing Toddlers

Chatting with this two-year-old in the quiet moments after nap time resulted in a somber expression that highlighted his beautiful eyes by Nicoal Price

Focus on your subject’s eyes and then hold the camera still or use a tripod and move your eyes away from the camera. Ask them questions and keep talking to them until they look up. They’ll make eye contact and give you a human expression that isn’t usually offered when you have a lifeless camera in front of your face.

Give them something to hold

Photographing Toddlers

Mr Cool (Explored) by Beverley Goodwin. This toddler seems quite content about being photographed with his tasty treats.

Hand the toddler a parent-approved treat, sticker, piece of clear tape, pinecone, or art supply and see what they do. Photographing young children when they’re busy focusing on an activity with their hands allows you a bit of down time. Take advantage of these still moments to take portraits.

If photographing at snack time, opt for less messy foods, or take pictures before any evidence of the snack appears on the toddler’s face.

Get some help

Photographing Toddlers

This seemingly posed shot was actually just a well-planned second of inactivity in which another adult drew this darling’s attention toward a window behind the camera by Nicoal Price

To get great catchlights in a toddler’s eyes and a genuine smile, choose your light source, and wait for your little subject to move into the best light with the help of another adult or an older child–siblings are usually experts at getting their brothers and sisters to crack genuine smiles. Be ready with a fast shutter speed, as your young subject’s attention may be fleeting.

Using these tips for photographing toddlers will result in joyful images that paint a picture of the busy, fascinating years in a child’s early life. Even when that lively toddler photo shoot leaves you feeling exhausted.

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Profile photo of Nicoal Price About Nicoal Price

​Nicoal is a New England photographer with a penchant for learning. Her work ranges from nature-inspired portraiture to outdoor product photography. Visit for more info.

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