Photographing Tots and Toddlers

Photographing Tots and Toddlers


20091120-DSC_4372They say never work with animals or children but who can resist those cherub like faces? Here are a handful of hopefully helpful pointers that one can try when it comes to framing tots and toddlers:

  1. Most children will have the patience of a fly so start by netting the ‘safe shots’ first, such as a few well composed, nicely lit portraits with a 50mm prime, before diving into the most adventurous ideas. Suggestions for such could be to: opt for some tight crops of the tot’s face, vary depth of field to avoid distraction, or get creative with shutter speed to some exciting ‘movement’ effects. When their attention levels start to dissipate, try following them around. Not only do you get a glimpse into their world but this can make for some beautifully natural shots. When kids are happy playing on their own opt for a zoom such as an 18 – 200mm to cater for up close and at a distance shots.
  2. When kids are cute it can effortless to forget technique and become shutter happy; click, click and click some more – before you know it you’ve expired a 4GB memory cards and have a heap of blandly identical images. Limiting yourself to 20-40 shots forces you to focus on strengthening your composition, as it helps you to decide what it is important and challenges you to be more creative.
  3. A towering adult is obviously a daunting prospect for a tot and the bird’s eye view perspective is only going to yield so much value. A better idea is to drop down to their level is ideal and emphasis the smallness of their stature, reinforce the connotation of innocence and if you catch them looking up you’ll be amazed at how big their eyes can appear, subtly increasing the ‘aw’ factor.
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  5. Some kids just don’t want to sit for photos. Give them a prop, toy or a task to focus their attention and you’ll be amazed by the results. There are lots of things you can try; baking cakes, gardening, building sandcastles, following a treasure trail – anything to get them to relax and this is where an on-hand parent can be of great use; helping the child to relax and bring them out of their shell. If they still don’t want to play ball catching infants at their most naughty, angry, sulky or upset can still make for powerful portraits. Be aware that cheesy grins may cause the eyes to crinkle and the impact may be lost, so catching a shot whilst the child is off guard but in good spirits is a solid antidote for this.
  6. As with any portrait consider your scene. Be sure the light falls evenly and flatteringly, backdrops featuring bright colours and interesting textures add interest and declutter your scene of distracting items. On a really bright day it can be hard to get even light, so place your subject in a shaded area such as a doorway, porch, entrance to a tent, or even under a garden table. Take an exposure reading from their face and the result will be a portrait with flattering light without the need for flash or reflectors. Alternatively if there is no shade, try taking a shot of the child walking away with the light behind you – often these shots can reveal more about their personality than the front.
  7. The beach is a wonderful location for photographing children at play. Their actions are natural and the backdrop provides a sense of place whatever the weather. Avoid shadows and squinting in super sunny conditions by bringing along a parasol or improvise with a beach towel, shooting them under the shaded area.
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  9. The clothes the child wears will have an effect on their mood and ultimately – your shots. Everyday casuals are ideal for relaxed natural shots, whereas formal wear can go either way; exude maturity or sulk because they dislike stuffy dresses and suits. Costumes are perfect for bringing out the imagination gene in your models, resulting in energetic and tangibly fun frames.
  10. Black and white images can do wonders for pictures of newborns, whereas tot shots are often better left in vivacious colour. However if you are keen to emote a calmer, softer connotation open up Photoshop travel into the Adjustments menu and either reduce saturation, hit desaturate or travel into Gradient Map and select the B&W option. Employing a high-key effect in Photoshop can also add an angelic feel to portraits of your little cherubs. Take a beautifully lit image and open it in Photoshop. Head for Adjustments and select Curves. Gently lift the line twice near the bottom and once near the top to generate a shallow ‘S’ shape. This will alter the contrast and brighten hues, but do this process in small increments as too much and you’ll lose details.
  11. Creating a shallow depth of field is wonderful for focusing attention on the child sitter. If you’re uncomfortable with using manual, flick your shooter into Aperture Priority and opt for a lovely wide aperture such as f4 or f5.6. Focus on your subject and incorporate the backdrop into the frame – use something interesting or colourful here. Alternately throw the child out of focus by aiming at an object in their hands instead.
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  13. Get creative with shutter speed! Chuck a pair of wellies on the pint size model and have them jump around in puddles. You could freeze water splashes and stop the action using a shutter speed of 1/250 or above or blur the child mid air with a slow shutter of around 1/60 (but you may need to ramp up the ISO in low light). Alternatively mix the two effects with a rear curtain sync to make the most of a long exposure whilst firing a flash – the result is a frozen subject with the motion trailing behind.
  14. Newborns grow rapidly and their features can alter as a result. Photograph at regular intervals to chart this change. Whilst they are very young you’ll find it is easy to capture stills whilst they are asleep. For the best results position the baby in a well lit room or near a large window diffused with a thin white sheet. Cropping in close for segmented body shots of newborns is quite clichéd but the results can be breathtaking: toes, feet, hands, legs, face, etc. Why not use these as a series or pick the best three to form a triptych?
  15.  Shooting children in groups multiplies the stress levels but increases the opportunities to be experimental. Ask them to interact by holding hands, rubbing noses, playing a game s, running towards the camera, jumping off a bench – anything that unleashes their personality! The encyclopaedia of expressions and characteristics that will no doubt explode out of the frame will definitely be worth the hassle. Expose for the faces and lock focus on to one of the cheeky grins for sharpness.

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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer magazine, and is now a freelance journalist and photographer who has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Recent author and tutor too.

Some Older Comments

  • Ana March 30, 2013 04:21 am

    Love getting new tips! These little people can be a challenge for sure :) I usually trap them and bribe sometimes (I know, I know, not the best technique but it helps a lot!) Here is what I got

    [eimg url='' title='baltimore-child-photographer-1-of-1.jpg']

  • Lyla December 17, 2012 08:44 am

    Great tips. I love the puddle idea. My daughter will definitely not tire of jumping around and splashing everyone...

  • Gbenga Loveeyes Images February 17, 2010 09:06 pm

    Another nice tip from dps. The school with a difference .

  • vikram sahu February 9, 2010 05:13 am

    To a newcomer like me, these tips are invalueble. Following then makes the whole thing so easy. Thanks a ton. It's really amazing. In 4 days I have gathered so much information, bought my 1st DSLR Nicon D3000 & am inspised to capture & present creation in my own unique way. Wish me luck all you people

  • Madison Eads February 8, 2010 02:09 am

    These are very usefull tips. My best friends have babies and children and I am loving shooting them. Its so rewarding when you get that priceless grin or expression. Especially when you see the shots you have done replace the displayed studio shots in their home. It takes a few blurred shots to get that good photograph but its worth it.

  • Paul Manoian February 7, 2010 12:01 pm

    Great tips! I love working with children for portrait sessions, but some ages are definitely easier than others. My best advice is to let kids be kids and don't put the emphasis on trying to get a "traditional pose".

    This is one of my favorites ...
    [eimg url='' title='child-photographer-sprinkler.jpg']

  • Prabhu February 7, 2010 01:21 am

    [eimg link='' title='While there's life, there's hope.' url=''][eimg link='' title='My Son Adi' url='']

  • Pavan Addanki February 6, 2010 03:39 pm

    Photographing Tiny tots and toddlers can be a very stressful venture, but in the end when you get the perfect frame and expression which you will savour for life, you'll know that all the effort has been worth it.

  • Prabhu February 6, 2010 12:11 pm

    I enjoy taking pics of my son, although it’s a tough and challenging. If will fire a dozen, at least one or two will be good. I have added few here.

  • Lola February 6, 2010 09:38 am

    Thank you for the tips Natalie! Here are some more great tips I compiled about child photography:

    I hope the will useful for many starter photographers out there.

  • Robert Green Photography February 6, 2010 05:24 am

    Some great tips there, especially the one about bagging the safe shots first. It is all too easy to go for the creative adventurous shots straight away and come away with nothing.

  • newcasper February 6, 2010 01:30 am

    10 - Get creative with shutter speed! Chuck a pair of wellies on the pint size model and have them jump around in puddles. You could freeze water splashes and stop the action using a shutter speed of 1/250 or above or blur the child mid air with a slow shutter of around 1/60 (but you may need to ramp up the ISO in low light). Alternatively mix the two effects with a rear curtain sync to make the most of a long exposure whilst firing a flash – the result is a frozen subject with the motion trailing behind.

    sorry I could not understand the meaning of
    "mix the two effects with a rear curtain sync"

  • Debbie L February 6, 2010 01:18 am

    The information provided here is priceless. Thanks for always publishing usable content. I love, love, love this blog.

  • Robert Cassaro February 5, 2010 11:47 pm

    The only thing I have slight disagreement with is tip #2 trying to limit yourself to 20-40 shots is too limiting at times. Sometimes it takes me following my son around and firing off a hundred or so shots to get some really good ones since he is a toddler and very unpredictable; this makes it difficult to always consider composition. I say fire off as many (it is digital after all) shots as you want, vary your focal lengths and delete the ones that didn't work out.

  • hfng February 5, 2010 11:29 pm

    @Titan: I sedate the entire family mwahaha.

  • hspopoy February 5, 2010 12:57 pm

    [eimg link='' title='Zaza Cute' url='']

  • hspopoy February 5, 2010 12:56 pm

    Got myself a 3-year old son and a 2-year old daughter. I love 'em!!!
    [eimg link='' title='Gypsy Zaza' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Air Mac!' url='']
    [eimg link='' title='Zaza Cute' url='']

  • Dezzy February 5, 2010 06:12 am

    I love this website because it help me in photography THX...

  • sweetpeatoad February 5, 2010 04:38 am

    Thank you for the tips. I have a toddler and a seven month old. The older one will only pose if I promise M&M's after few shots. After a session, she's bouncing off the wall :(

    Thank you again.

  • Sarah Green February 5, 2010 04:27 am

    I love photographing children when they almost forget I'm there, being imaginative and young they always seem to find the most creative portirate locations all by themselves. I like to sugest a walk with the parents while letting the child or children play a little ahead. I bring a 70-200 telephoto and its never long before the subject has gotten him or herself into some sort of adventure! Take a look at a few shots I gathered using this technique at - you can find them under portfolio-personal.

  • madison February 5, 2010 04:01 am

    [eimg link='' title='naveah' url='']

    took me for ever to get this amazing pic. but i took alot of advice and thanks for the tips!

  • madison February 5, 2010 03:58 am

    thanks for the tip. this pic i followed her around on her birthday to get this pic i got on her level and every thing and it worked out greeat
    [eimg link='' title='naveah' url='']

  • Bull Rhino February 5, 2010 03:53 am

    Many years ago I photographed lots of children in a studio setting and learned some of these ideas, but now I face retirement soon and am very anxious to get great shots of my own grandchildren in the natural environment. Recent attempts have been less than what I had hoped for. Your hints and tips here are an excellent reminder and add some new ideas that I am anxious to try out.

    Thanks for the great tips.

    Scott at World’s Best Photography Blog

  • Annie February 5, 2010 03:26 am

    I shoot everything -- businesses, events, couples, dogs, and families -- and I will say that my favorite subjects to photograph are children! With that said, I think that children (young ones, like toddlers to age 5) are the most difficult to photograph because they don't care if one area has better light or is "prettier" than another area. To get natural-looking expressions, I play with them. I am running around, climbing on things, playing hide and seek with them!

    Unlike what Natalie mentioned, I never take an exposure reading bec most kids are pretty active and you usually can't anticipate what they'll do or where they'll be after you take the reading. (This is different if you work with an assistant.)

    Also, I shoot a lot! This is especially true with active children or when there are multiple kids. Many times, if you wait for the right moment, you can miss it! I shot newborn twins recently and though they didn't move around very much, I shot a lot and caught them smiling at the same time! This is hard to do as some of you know because newborns don't smile socially yet. The simultaneous smile lasted probably one second, so if I had waited for it, I wouldn't have caught it. I still think about composition, perspective and lighting, etc., otherwise it is just a "photograph", not "art". But with kids, I don't want to miss that one second that they make a certain expression or do something silly or sweet.

    Every photographer has his/her own shooting style. I think you should shoot in the style that feels right to you. Whether that is shooting freely, like I do, or analyzing a shot before shooting.

    Also, your artistic style determines how you should shoot. My style is editorial, so calculating each shot and waiting for it wouldn't work.

    You can check out my blog for some recent work: Select "lifestyle" under category to see families and children shoots.

    Happy shooting!


  • Jodi Baglien Sparkes February 5, 2010 03:20 am

    I found a trick for some great faces when shooting my 3 year old niece a few years ago. If you ask a young child to count or say their alphabet you get some great facial expressions. Interesting/difficult questions work too.

  • Tittan February 5, 2010 03:10 am

    hfng, I guess that works only if the parents agree? ;)

    Working with children is so much fun. You never know what they're up to, what face they'll pull, or what way they'll look. Or what way they'll be. One boy I have photographed a lot (my godson) suddenly went upside down, and stayed there for almost five minutes while pulling faces. Hilarious!

  • pat February 5, 2010 02:58 am

    i have been getting these tips now for a few months. I am just trying to built up a little knowledge right now. i eventually want to get a camera and would love to become a part time photographer then who knows a big name for myself. Anyway i was wondering, with all these tips, aside from printing them all out or taking notes, is there a publication of some sorts with all these tips. Or even a recommendation on a book that you think is extremely helpful.

    thank you! pat

  • Stephen S February 5, 2010 02:55 am

    Another thing to watch out for with kids is to make sure their face is clean before starting. I've found that most kids almost always have some crusty residue around their mouth area :-)

  • hfng February 5, 2010 02:42 am

    Working with kids is tough. I always bring along tranquilizer darts to sedate them before a shoot.

  • Jason Collin Photography February 5, 2010 02:26 am

    Set your camera to the fastest frame rate it can shoot at and never take your eye of the tot if you want to insure you do not miss that moment that makes every go, "oooh Timmy" or, "ooooh Jenny!" And keep the peaking at the back LCD screen to a minimum, otherwise shots get missed that way too. Just check to make sure your focus and exposure are on occasionally. There will be plenty of time to admire your handiwork afterward. It would be great to have an assistant holding a strobe across the room for you too!

  • David Ford February 5, 2010 01:47 am

    Much of my time is spent shooting my daughter. I spend a lot of time at her level, and really enjoy experimenting with different ways of capturing her. She's also become much more co-operative as she's got older (almost 3 now) and will happily sit for a short time and smile for the camera.

    Many of my shots of her can be found here:

    Here's one of my faves:

    [eimg link='' title='Lily in the Play house' url='']

  • MeiTeng February 5, 2010 12:38 am

    Although it has been said never work with children, I'll say..go ahead and shoot children. I enjoy photographing children and seeing the myriad of expressions. Rewarding experience! :)

  • Aristarkhos February 5, 2010 12:21 am

    Thanks for the tips. Unfortunately, I do not have a camera that gives me 18 – 200mm playing room. :) Beyond my budget, so i make do with a prosumer Nikon P5100. After a lot of experimenting, I have hit upon a few workarounds.
    The best time to capture my son at his best, are in the afternoon, in the balcony. I have natural light, so i can play around with the shutter speed and not worry about him bouncing off the walls. I have got most of my natural shots there.

    If it is indoor, later in the day, i have to switch to flash mode and risk it. But this does not always work for close up shots because it kills the picture. If I do disable the flash, I have to keep following him and hope to get at least one capture which can make it to my online album. (Same goes for pets) :)

    I agree with dropping down to their height. Not only does a child stop looking up at you all the time, it also helps getting a much better leveled capture of him/her. They definitely make for a better portrait.

    Also, for those who do not own a DSLR, i would advise them to choose a prosumer camera that has a great focus response, unlike the Nikon P5100, which is a tad slow in focusing. The Sony cams, I have noticed are really quick on this front. This also tends to be factor while trying to get 'that' particular shot in time.