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How to Plan and Pull-Off a Toddler Photo Session

Toddlers are filled with volatile emotions. They can be shy, moody, defiant, chaotic, unpredictable, and in need of bribes. So a toddler photo session can be a challenge.

But when you build a photo session just for toddlers, it’s far less challenging and lots of fun. It is also the perfect opportunity to get creative.

Here’s how to let your inner child create a toddler photo session that’s fun for you and toddlers.

Toddler-photo-session-Documentray toddler photo session

1. The big idea

The first step is to plan out the photo session. I think that a themed lifestyle or documentary session is perfect for toddlers.

The big question is, how do you come up with an idea or theme for the session?

Many photographers choose a theme themselves, such as princesses or pirates. The benefit of choosing your own theme is that you get to exercise your creative vision (designing the set, costumes, etc.) and let people choose to be part of it or not.

Of course, one downside is that it’s a cookie-cutter approach that gives every child similar portraits.

If you want to choose something unique to the child, keep in mind that every toddler has something they love to do. Go with that as the theme for the session.

If they love dinosaurs, then find a way to make dinosaurs part of the session. If they love to play with big-rigs and diggers, then make those part of the session. Whatever it is they love, try to make it larger than life for the session.

Toddler-photo-session-Toddler photos at football field

When I found out that this little guy loved watching football with his Mom and Dad, I knew we had to visit an actual football field for his photo session.

Start with a small everyday experience and take it to the next level (I’d love to hear some of your ideas in the comments).

2. The toddler photo session

When it comes to pulling off the session, start by being prepared. This seems obvious, but many photographers come unprepared, and it can ruin a session.

If you are prepared, then you won’t have to think about it during the shoot. The less you have on your mind, the more room you have to be creative.


Pack the right gear and check twice that you’ve got it all.

  • Spare camera
  • Charged batteries
  • Lights (if needed)
  • Props (provided by you or the family)
  • A checklist of other things you need

Part of being prepared is being familiar with your camera and knowing what settings to use. I keep things as simple as possible with aperture mode and exposure compensation. I only use manual mode when I need it.

Fire fighter thmemed toddler photo session.

Even though props for the session should be prepared in advance, you should still allow room for spontaneity. Dressing up as a firefighter was not part of the plan, but it was the best part of the session.


Generally, you’ll need to embrace chaos as part of the toddler photo session. Toddlers are emotionally volatile, and the session may take many twists and turns. This is one of the reasons that I love lifestyle sessions. It easily allows for pauses, breaks, and spontaneity.

Go with the flow and don’t try to force anything. If you design the session for the toddler, then it should be fun. They should be happy, and it should be the perfect environment for them. Even a studio can be fun.

Keep the parents informed, but don’t feel the need to explain things to the toddler. You don’t even need to tell the toddler it’s a photo session. If it’s a lifestyle or documentary session, just let them be themselves.

How to Plan and Pull-Off a Toddler Photo Session


Use many creative elements with your photography. Go for a variety of angles, close-ups, storytelling, wide angles, and beautiful light.

Football mascot photo session.

Part of your creativity is in choosing the environment and backgrounds for your session. I used a combination of background, composition, and moment for these two photos. The moment began with him confronting his opponent’s mascot and ended with him making a run for it.

Beware of yourself

You’ve got to be able to handle any problems that arise and still get great photos.

Before a toddler photo session, I do some reflection. What could go wrong with this session? Has anything gone wrong in the past? What is the worst that could go wrong? But most importantly, how will I respond? I make this decision in advance so that I don’t have to think in the moment. Do the thinking while things are calm, and you’ll make better decisions.

Consider answering these questions in advance:

  • What if the toddle is grumpy?
  • Suppose the parents are overbearing?
  • What if the kid throws mud at my camera or turns the firehose in my direction?
  • What if the toddler gets hurt?
session at beach.

As much as we all love nature, there are many harmful elements out there for toddlers. Keep parents close by and make sure they are comfortable with where their toddler is exploring.

3. The edit

When it comes to the edit, be ruthless in narrowing down your photos. Most photographers are happy if they keep 10% of their photos from a session. Some are satisfied with less. Don’t be afraid to cut, cut, cut!

Your final selection of photos should have lots of variety to it.

  • Close-ups
  • Full scene
  • Details

When it comes to touching up your photos, I recommend a simple edit with Lightroom or a similar program.

How do you know what to do with a photo? Keep these two principals in mind. When it comes to editing you’re either:

  1. Putting the finishing touches on your photo (crop, exposure adjustments, etc.)
  2. Or you’re trying to fix a photo that didn’t turn out
Toddler-photo-session-Before and after edit with Lightroom

The main things I did with this RAW photo is I cropped it and warmed it up with the temperature slider.

Generally, I would say if you need to do a heavy amount of fixing or editing of a photo, you should just leave it out of the final collection. If you constantly have to fix certain elements of your photos in editing, this is a good clue as to what you need to learn to improve your photography. Editing should be about finishing touches, with fixing as a last resort.

A perfect session for you and toddlers

Follow your nature as a creative person and the nature of the toddler you are photographing. Design everything for the toddler, and you’ll have an amazingly creative toddler photo session that will leave everyone wanting more.

Do you have any other tips for a successful toddler photo session? Share with us in the comments below!



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Mat Coker
Mat Coker

is a family photographer from Ontario, Canada. He teaches photography to parents and families, showing them how to document their life and adventures. You can get his free photography ebook, and learn more about taking creative photos.