Preparing Toddlers for a Photography Session
I photograph babies and toddlers frequently. Sometimes on their own or with their family and sometimes as the proud big sibling of a newborn. I’ve noticed some commonalities between the ones who do very well and thought it might be nice to share with you what I’ve learned about preparing toddlers for a photography session.
Tips for Preparing Toddlers for a Photography Session
- Schedule the session for their best hours. Pick the time when they’re naturally happiest. Photographers love to schedule during the hour before sunset because of beautiful lighting, but if your baby is grumpy at bedtime rather than just silly/giddy schedule for an alternate time.
- Tell your photographer about your child in your pre-session phone consult. Share what makes them happy and sad. Tell about their favorite toys. Tell about their favorite TV or book characters. What are their favorite songs or games? The more your photographer knows about your child, the easier it will be fore them to connect with your child. I’m personally a fan of my toddlers showing up with their favorite toys, lovies, or even rain boots on. I sometimes run to the library to check out their favorite book to read to them before pulling out the camera.
- Talk to your child frequently about the upcoming photography session Tell them your photographers name. If you’re having an outdoor session, tell them about how you’ll play and tickle. If you’re having a studio session talk to them about how the lights flash and make noises. Even one year olds understand a significant amount of what you’re saying. Two year olds will be much more comfortable with the photographer and the session with this type of verbal processing. Three and four year olds will likely walk right into the session and start asking the photographer questions based these talks and your pretend play.
- Use your imaginations to play photographer Dress them up in their photo clothes and use your camera. Have them follow your instructions. “Climb up on this.” “Stand on one foot.” “Put your hands on your cheeks.” Practice getting them to smile with jokes or stories and refrain from teaching them to “Say cheese!” Show them the pictures and then allow them to play photographer with a pretend or child safe camera.If you’re doing a newborn session with a young toddler (under 3), practice having your toddler lay on her back with a baby doll swaddled over their arm. Once baby is born, let them hold baby on your bed in this same way.
With a child older than 3, have them sit criss-cross applesauce (Indian style for us old schoolers) or with legs extended, lay the swaddled baby on heir laps, and have them support the baby’s back. Always stay close to your newborn when practicing these scenarios.
- Talk about behavior expectations. Children don’t know what is expected of them unless you tell them. Tell them they’ll need to follow directions and not throw fits. Be silly and show them what throwing a fit looks like. Reiterate these expectations while driving to your session.
- Consider positive reinforcement. A matchbox car or a tube of Chapstick should easily do the trick for a younger child. Chocolate chips or a special treat after the session are also good motivators for older children.
- Bring food. There is nothing worse that a cranky hungry toddler. Enough said. Try to stay away from food that will leave marks or crumbs on your child. Cheese, cheerios, grapes, or raisins are all great choices.
- Once you arrive at your session, introduce the photographer by name and make them feel like the session is all about them. “Child, this is Melissa. She is so excited to take pictures of you just like we’ve been practicing. She’s going to be so excited to see how fantastic you are behind the camera!” Your excitement should be contagious.
- When the photographer is shooting, let him/her get your child’s attention and direct them. The only exception to this should be if the photographer asks for your help or if there is a discipline issue you need to correct.
- Know when to say that’s enough. The average baby/toddler attention span is 10-20 minutes. A great photographer will have any more formal posing done in that time or be wise about interspersing tons of play between specific instructions. When you bring an older child(ren) to a newborn session, have dad or grandma take the bigger siblings to a park or home after the family portraiture.
I hope these tips help to create a great child photography session for you.