I mentioned in one of my previous posts that as i was approaching the end of the year I felt that it would be good to reflect on some of my professional work with portraiture. Took a bit of a break from that over the holiday period but now i am going to continue it a little bit. 🙂
One of the most frequent things i get asked is how do you get toddlers to stay still? Those children that are aged say between 18 months – 3 years old. Mums and Dads will always come to me and say ‘i just cannot get them to stay still for a decent picture’ and yes those blurry action shots are fun for depicting the energy of your child but what about getting a good clear shot of their faces that is in focus!!
Well i thought i would share some of my methods for getting that age group to stay still and some of my favourite little toddlers that i have met this year.
Okay so first up you have to accept that generally saying ‘just sit still a minute’ isnt going to work. That age group cannot follow instruction really. I have had a few that have and i have been totally blown away. But in general a child who is less than 2 cannot follow a direction. All their goal in life is to get going. They have usually been sat on their backside for a good number of months watching life happen and now they have found a way to interact with the world, and fast, they have NO intention whatsoever of being made to sit still.
and yes…you might say ‘oh but i love those natural shots of them playing etc etc’ = well yes they are great but if you have another sibling or anyone else you would like to be in focus in the shot..then a fast moving kid is going to make that pretty hard. Yes i know those shots are lovely but generally (and im only speaking from experience) people want the family portrait to put on the wall and not the one with little johnny tearing off into the bushes while mum and dad look on. generally. 😉
So when i get an enquiry and it has the word ‘2 year old’ somewhere in it. These are some of the things that i will try…
- Older siblings – they are awesome and all little toddlers love to copy big bro or sis. If you have a school age child then you have an ally. School age children are used to following directions from people they don’t really know that well…(ie a teacher) and so when you ask them to sit down for you they will probably do it. They can be used to tempt a toddler into a shot and also as an anchor. Get the toddler sat on the older siblings lap and hold on to that toddler! Or get the toddler to lie on the back of the older sibling. There are loads of ways you can get them interacting together to make a great portrait. Here little boy didn’t want to stay still so we got very patient big sister to lay on the floor and told him to jump on her back!! If i was being really picky i dont like that her hair is covering one of her eyes but its a very cute natural expression.
- Give them something to sit on – toddlers love chairs, they have spent a long time trying to get on chairs and so when they are old enough and able enough to get on one. They love to. Pop one where you want to take a shot and wait, your toddler will come and sit on it. You can suggest it as well. I have a range of things to sit on, ranging from a chair to a fire engine truck. It keeps them still and in one place for a moment and you can get your shot. Or put them in something, i use a little red trolley radio flyer that the sit in which is usually pretty successful. the little girl in the middle would not sit down at ALL. so we improvised and got some cute shots of her actually standing on the stool. One of the great family shots from this shoot she is standing on a chair, i just got mum and dad in around her and then zoomed in for a portrait shot so you couldnt see the chair. 🙂
- Lens buddies – these are cool little things that you can put on your lens to make it look more like an animal. Now, i am a big advocate but they don’t work for long. Toddlers aren’t silly and once they realize that Tommy the turtle really doesn’t burp when they look at him or whatever it looses all its appeal.
- Try to avoid too much stuff on the floor for them to play with. This is something we all do. Put something they want in the middle of the floor and they go and get it and sit down to play. Yes? well..yes and then unless they lift it to show you they are going to be looking at thing on the floor and you will generally be looking at the top of their head. Perfect example of this here, this little boy loved my toy camera but he either was looking through it which whilst cute blocked his face or he sat down and looked at the floor to fiddle with it. Mum was in the process of asking him to give it to me when he looked straight at me..probably thinking you are NEVER getting this thing off me lady! 😉
- Get mum and dad involved. Or get involved yourself and set on a timer. Btw all kids think the running to the shot from the camera is hilarious! But seriously the parents are such great tools. Either from the point of view of sitting and holding or tickling or singing to the kids…or standing behind you at your height and getting the kids to laugh. This lovely family were just doing the swinging through the arms thing with their toddler which he was loving hence the smile and so i just captured him before he went up and over. The second shot was a family lifestyle session at home with new baby and whilst mum and dad are not in focus in the shot, the toddler looking straight at me is being watched by all the others in the shot and it brings a real symmetry to the image. Also they were in between ‘all the monkeys jumping on the bed!!”
- Reflectors. If you are using a camera you need to understand about these..i wrote a post here demonstrating it. Reflectors are great. They reflect the light but they are also really useful as space ships, flying carpets, tunnels…let their imagination tell you where they want to go and you will see that their face will light up. These kids were sitting ‘on’ the reflector that way it gives them a cool thing to play on and also bounces some light up into their faces! You can also use your person who is holding it. Get the kids to look at them and chat to them or get them to pull funny faces, chances are they will be someone they know. Looking away from the camera is okay!! Obviously i would have cropped this image to get rid of the actual reflector!
- If you have a couple of toddlers or twins..and can’t get them together..try for the same image of each of them and make a montage. Just because they aren’t physically standing together doesn’t mean you can’t make a great family shot. This dad was keen to get shots of him with his three toddlers, they weren’t keen on being in a shot all together so i shot the same image of them and put them together in a montage. Being on daddy’s shoulders is also a good way of keeping them still.
- Capture the mess as well. Life with toddlers is messy right? haphazard, up and down, smiles and tantrums. Capture it all. Dont wait for the perfect moment. This image is actually one of my favourite shots. This lovely family have a 3 year old and 2 year old twins and we were trying for a family shot and we thought we had the girls sorted with a toy that suited each of them as they were squabbling a lot. They sat down and almost immediately the other one wanted what the other one had…and in that moment the exasperated laugh and expression of the parents spoke volumes.
- Props – sometimes these work and sometimes they don’t. But if it works you will have the interest of your little person for a good while.
- Get above them and get them to look up. Makes those lovely baby eyes come out.
- Make noise, farting, sneezing, whistling. Anything that makes them look at you
- Bring a toy to life – this is one of my favourite things to do. Get them talking to the toy! Its endless the possiblities.
- Lastly and perhaps more importantly is give your camera a fighting chance. Aim for a lovely bright, overcast, time of the day and your camera will be able to work at a fast shutter and wide aperture and produce some lovely effects.
Golden rules of what NOT to do...
a) force them to be in a shot. it doesnt work and they just get upset
b) Get stressed with them. I am always telling parents to stay calm and let little chloe run off into a different room or down the park. Its fine. Let them be their own person. Toddlers will never perform if someone is saying ‘do what the photographer is telling you now!’ through gritted teeth and with all an army load of tension. They aren’t silly!
You will notice that i don’t mention bribes as in sweets, treats or things. Its a common thing you hear ‘just have this one picture and then we will give you sweets!’ Whilst this might get a kid to do what you say for one shot, when you then ask them to do something else they clock that they haven’t gone for lunch or been given a sweet and they think you are a liar….taking photographs of little kids is about building as much of a trust relationship as possible and if, in their eyes, you are just fibbing to them then they won’t trust you. However sometimes you have to resort to a little bribe and i often have those little fizzy sweets in my pocket. You can give them one of them, they know you are not a liar and it dissolves in their mouth fast without making a mess…one parent i had continued to give his toddler daughter wine gums!! It took ages to chew and the drool down her mouth!! You can see what i mean!!
My last thought would be have reasonably expectations…like i said, i have had a few very young toddlers who have done exactly as i have asked. It is, i think, one of the hardest ages to photograph because the window of when they are actually cool with being followed around by a smiling maniac with a big black box is very small.
It is good to be realistic. Aim for a good ‘happy’ time of day. Make sure they aren’t hungry, dirty, need a wee, need a change. give it a go..and don’t keep on and on if its isnt working…
If they are up for it…GREAT. If not, you will live to fight another day and go and have a cuddle on the sofa instead!