Capturing Busy Little Ones: Forget the Perfect Pose and Get Photos You Truly Love

Capturing Busy Little Ones: Forget the Perfect Pose and Get Photos You Truly Love



If you have ever tried to get a three year old to sit still for longer than a nanosecond you know what a challenge it can be to get that “perfect” photo. Well, I’m going to be real here, who wants that perfect photo anyway? Okay, I know you may, but maybe I can convince you to let that go. My favorite photos are always the true ones; the ones that make you smile when you look at them, or maybe even cry a tear or two. Sure, it’s nice to get that beautiful portrait, but which photo is going to help you truly remember the fiery three year old who gave you model-in-the-making poses one minute, and wiped her muddy hands on her white shirt the next?

The first thing you have to do, if you want this experience to be fun for both you and the little one, is to let go of expectations. If you have a certain Pinterest pose in mind, and are determined not to be happy until you’ve forced your little tot into it, you’re both going to be miserable. Sure, use those ideas as a starting point, but then go with what is happening in the moment. You’ll be surprised where your wee subject might take you, and you might like the results much better than what you had in mind in the first place.


Make sure your cute little one knows that you are on the same team. Most kids have no problem being obstinate, just for fun. If she senses that you really want something from her, she may quickly decide that she wants the exact opposite. I try to take the child by the hand often, even if it’s the first time we’ve met (they usually love this) and let them feel that they are part of where we are going, and what we are doing. If she decides that she wants to put on the pretty dress shoes next, then that’s what we capture next.


Bring something for her to do. I prefer not to use props generally, but a few well-chosen, meaningful props can work wonders. This keeps her attention, plus you have the added benefit of capturing those hobbies that she is into at the moment. Let her share her passion with you. Instead of trying to pose her just so, and telling her how to hold the fishing pole, and where to look – ask her to show you “how she fishes with daddy”. Let her be the expert, and you just have your camera ready. Favorite dress-up clothes can bring out the model in lots of kids. Chairs or boxes to climb on, sit on, stand on, and peek through, can be great fun.


Try not to give too much direction or commands. Kids start to tune you out pretty quickly if all they hear are orders barked at them: “Sit here, look there, smile, smile, smile!!!”. When I can tell that my little subject is about done, I’ll just let her totally do her thing, and have my camera ready for when the moment is right. If she wants to take her shoes off and splash in the water, throwing rocks, I see a perfect opportunity to capture her in her element. This is where you might get the most genuine joy shining through.


When your mini-model is done – you are done. Quit before the meltdown, before she decides that this is the worst form of torture an adult ever created. If you didn’t get everything you hoped to get, don’t sweat it. Sometimes when I look through the photos later, I find gems that I didn’t even remember capturing. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many great images you were able to get, even with truly “busy” little tots. You’re not going to get much worth keeping if you try to force more photos. When little ones are done, they are DONE. Try to keep your photo sessions short, even if you have an agreeable little model. I usually spend less than half an hour shooting if they are under five years old.


So, next time you are lucky enough to have an adorable, energetic, little one in front of your camera, remember to relax, breathe, and have some fun. You’ll find that those real photos will be your favorites in the end, and you won’t even miss that perfectly posed portrait with every hair in place.


For more tips on photographing kids check out these:

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Melinda Smith was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

  • MathildaSFreeman

    Sure, it’s nice to get that beautiful portrait, but which photo is going to help you truly remember the fiery three year old who gave you model-in-the-making poses one minute, and wiped her muddy hands on her white shirt the next?

  • JvW

    MathildaSFreeman has spammed at least 35 sites with this URL. My guess is spam bot. Click at your own risk.

  • JvW

    The pictures prove you’re right, Melinda, some treasures.

  • Thank you for your kind words, JvW.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    Excellent Photos!!!!

  • Thank you!

  • Marjorie

    I would love to see someone write a similar piece for teenagers. So many of the tutorials feature adorable little ones. I have three teens who are much less accomodating! I have to catch them before the see me, and they are in constant motion. I try to keep the shutter speed high, but it is a challenge. I have to take many, many pictures to get a few good ones and be willing to crop heavily. Frustrating.

  • I’ve blacklisted that user and deleted all comments, thanks.

  • Marjorie, I’d love to write a similar article for teenagers. Great idea!

  • yogesh

    Very nice, more technical details would have been perfect….

  • Thank you for your input! I will keep that in mind in the future.

  • NJC

    Loved the article, very good tips. I have an active group of grand babies that already cringe when I pull out the camera. One of the best things I’ve learned works well with my 4 year old GD is to ask her where she wants to pose. The last visit she told me I could take five pictures but had so much fun picking where to pose it ended up lasting for 20 plus posed shots and numerous candid shots. Now the younger brothers is a whole different story. LOL

  • Great strategy, NJC! Good luck with those younger brothers. 😉

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    Too much over exposure. The pictures would have looked much better if they had been photoshopped properly. I am reproducing photo no. 6 after correction.

  • That’s what is so great about photography…we all have different ideas about what is proper and correct, which makes all of our art just a little bit different and unique. 🙂

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    I have kept the corrected photograph after adjusting the levels. All the best.

  • Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Rustom – personally I do not find her original over exposed. There is plenty of detail i the girls face and white shirt. On my calibrated monitor this image above you’ve done looks way too dark and contrasty. It’s also about mood too – the original is light and airy and fun like the image. Perhaps you might need to get your monitor calibrated as all the images in this article look just fine to me.

    On a side note it is generally not a good practice to download, and alter another photographer’s work – professional or not – without express permission to do so.

    Opinions are personal as she’s mentioned but taking someone’s work and altering it is really not ethically or legally a good idea.

  • This is the screen shot of the histogram of Melinda’s original image as she sent it to me for the article. There are NO highlights clipped! Meaning there is detail everywhere in this image.

  • screen shot

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    ?I think you should buy some good monitor like Viewsonic or Dell.
    I think you are still on the old TFT monitors instead of the LCD or LED monitors that we use.
    We, in India and Asia, are much much more advanced in computers than your country.?

  • Rustom, my monitor is a brand new, 2014, 27″ LCD iMac monitor. It is designed for crystal clear and accurate viewing of photos. I believe the histogram Darlene posted can tell the story…it does not matter what type of monitor you view a histogram on; it will say the same thing. Also, the issue is, as Darlene stated, that it is not good practice to download, and alter another photographer’s work. I hope you can take this to heart, and instead of arguing about who has more advanced computers, do the morally right thing, and refrain from touching other people’s work.

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    Dear Darlene, Instead of such lengthy arguments, you should study the histogram of your photo No. PHOTO-6.JPG. All the best.

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    The problem with Americans and Canadians is that they think that beyond their continent, the world does not exist. When you teach, your knowledge should be thorough. When someone points out your mistakes, you should be grateful to them instead of just arguing meaninglessly.

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    Dear Melinda, If there had been a problem with my monitor, I could not have read the text. You should have realised that without studying the histogram I could not have adjusted the levels of the photograph No. Photo-6.jpg. Pls. don’t defend your colleague on a wrong point.

  • Rustom – I use a 27″ apply monitor, brand new. Thanks.

  • EXACTLY! We are both teachers Melinda and I – we are trying to teach you something and you are arguing, with facts.

  • This will be your last warning. If you continue with this type of harassing comments you will be blacklisted from commenting on this site. This is not helping anyone or benefiting anyone here.

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    Madam, you cannot change facts by blacklisting anyone. If you are wrong, you are wrong. Admit your mistakes and carry on. Please look at the tone of your language, compare that with mine and see who has been rude in the first place.

  • JvW

    Rustom, when you express an opinion, and with art that’s all it is, and someone else doesn’t agree, it doesn’t mean that anyone is wrong. All it means is that there is a difference of opinion, a difference in taste. Do not turn this into an intercontinental war, because that does make you wrong.
    In any case, I disagree with you, purely personal taste, on your adjustments, and I prefer, purely personal taste, the original.

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    Dear JvW,

    That’s exactly what you should accept. OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS ALSO. Instead of teaming up like cowards. Just because you write for a forum or an organisation, you do not become a God or a Goddess.

  • JvW

    Rustom,, did you read Melinda’s original response to your post? Quote: “That’s what is so great about photography…we all have different ideas about what is proper and correct, which makes all of our art just a little bit different and unique. :)”
    Accepting, respecting, a different opinion doesn’t mean you have to pander to another’s opinion ‘just because you write for a forum or an organisation’.
    Nobody is teaming up against you, Rustom; there are two opinions and yours is the minority, that’s all, we just disagree.
    Have a good day.

    To Ms. Hildebrandt: my apologies, I’m stopping now.

  • Rustom Adi Havewalla

    Dear JvW,
    That’s exactly what you have said.
    You said that my opinion is in the minority.
    Why is it that your opinions are in the majority?
    Because, you are all teaming up, grouping up, mobbing up.

    In the words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India for 18 years, “With my utmost love for democracy, I am not prepared to believe that the opinion expressed by the majority is always right.”


    And you call yourselves TEACHERS! SHAME ON YOU!


  • Respect includes not downloading and altering another photographer’s work.

    Just FYI for everyone else – I’m closing comments on this thread it’s gotten out of hand.

  • Thanks for your article Mrs. Melinda Smith 🙂

  • H Phillip Novotny

    Or just let them come see what you are doing. I was shooting the butterfly on the flowers when my granddaughter came over.

  • What a sweet photo! She’s beautiful. 🙂

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