4 Tips When Photographing Toddlers

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Chris & Mary’s Session in West Lafayette

I had so much fun photographing Chris, Mary, and their little guy this past weekend. I met Mary many years ago when she was a personal trainer for our business. After working on other endeavors for a while, she came back – this time as a small business owner herself, running a Pilates studio out of a space in our facility. It’s been so fun over the last few years watching Mary build Performance Pilates and be a mom to this beautiful boy.

On Sunday evening, she and Chris met me at a local nature area. It was a great fall day, and I had several locations in mind. Having several spots in a small area worked because we could keep the little guy interested and moving! We did several shots standing, and when the seated poses weren’t working, we opted for a snack break. Don’t goldfish seem to fix almost anything? After a few crackers, water, and applesauce, we brought out pumpkins and let him explore the nearby prairie grasses. The seated poses started working. 

We moved from standing, walking, sitting, and traversing to other areas throughout the session, and the more we kept him busy and distracted, the better the shots. I wanted to share four ideas that rang true for me, things I’ve learned as a mom of five and as a photographer:  

 

Embrace imperfection.

Textbook poses, correctly placed hands, and everyone’s eyes facing the same way don’t always work, but that’s the beauty of it. Capturing people in real moments in real time is a way to remember who they were in that moment. Life isn’t perfect. Sometimes we have to stop for applesauce and sometimes it’s dripping down our chin – and that’s what makes little cheeks and mouths beautiful. 

 

Be flexible.

Of course, I had the session planned out on paper, but that only works as a guideline. When the baby didn’t want to sit down, we continued to stand and try different poses. When he was hot, we took off shoes (oh, those little toes!). When he was hungry, it was time for a snack. Flexibility is key – allow rest and be ready to snap images quickly once energy levels are up again. 

 

Watch for magic.

Even when a session is moving quickly, it’s important to be flexible but also to watch for little moments of magic. In between a cry or a fussy face, there might be a little smile when reaching for mom or dad. When they are moving from mom to dad, there might be a sweet head tucked under dad’s chin. On Sunday when we pulled out a stuff dog, Chris and Mary’s little guy lit up with wonder, and thankfully I was waiting to click away. Watch for times where parents are comforting a worn-out child, singing their favorite theme song (in this case Indiana Jones!), or dancing to their favorite toy. These little moments of tenderness depict a family’s personality and connection. 

 

Be open to how it feels.

No matter what I have written down for the session plan, no matter how many poses I plan, the most important thing is capturing how the family feels about each other. I don’t want the shoot to just be technical; I want to convey emotion. I want connection. With Chris and Mary it was obvious how much they adore their son, and it oozed from the screen. That for me is the most important thing of all.  

The next day after I sent Mary their gallery, she texted, “I love these pictures! I’ve always wanted dreamy fall family pictures . . . you nailed it!”  Awww! Those are really kind words, but I don’t know how I could have gone wrong with this beautiful trio – and that SWEET baby face!

Jen Ritchie

I'm a nature photographer who loves capturing beautiful landscapes and wildlife from our yearly trips out West and parks here closer to home.

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