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How to take good photos of your toddler

Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick is a freelance writer and editor who contributes regularly to SheKnows, MintLife, AOL, iVillage and other sites. In her articles, Elizabeth covers a variety of subjects including relationships, pregnancy, paren...

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Unless you have a toddler who’s a divalicious model-in-training, you’re probably dealing with a camera-phobic, always-in-motion, strong personality. You can get frame-worthy, professional-looking shots with less frustration and more fun.
Toddler photo

Creativity is in order, as well as patience and the acceptance that you may have to take 50 shots to get one good one – but it’s just that one magic image that matters, right?

Toddlers are busy people with more important things to do than stop and pose for your camera. But it’s not impossible to get an amazing photo. Be appreciative of the stage these little ones are in and be inspired by it. “Two- and three-year-olds have the best natural energy and follow their own impulses,” says professional photographer Sarah Sloboda. Follow their lead, mellow out and get silly. “Your toddler feeds off your energy. If you act like it's all play, it will be,” she says.

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Some parents may think they don’t have the artistic eye to get a good shot of their toddler, but you don’t have to be a professional photographer to snap that magical photo. Just follow some simple dos and don’ts, and always remember that technology is on your side.

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What not to do when taking photos of your toddler

Child in a tree
Image credit: Jason G.

Don’t go to the playground: Moving swings, distracting jungle gyms — playgrounds make for complicated compositions. “Simple backgrounds are excellent for toddlers — then their rambunctious energy is the star of the photo, instead of a bold, red monkey bar,” says Sloboda. Aim for wide open fields or a deserted part of the beach.

Don’t be the adult: “Always get down to their level by sitting on the floor or grass,” says children’s photographer, Maureen Ford. “Playing with your child before you try to take a photo is a great way to change a ‘no’ attitude to one that yields genuine smiles and expressions.” Jump in the puddles, splash the paint — go ahead and get messy. It can also help to have an “assistant” along to engage your child while you snap away.

Don’t be a director: “Don't ask your toddler to smile, sing a song or look at the camera. Ask a question and they'll look right at you. Follow them around and document what they find interesting,” says Sloboda. Avoid trying to pose your kids too. "The more you try, the more they’ll resist and do exactly the opposite. Leading them works much better,” says photographer Deborah Israeli. Simply talking to your child, singing songs or asking questions about her favorite things will animate and delight her.

Don’t ignore the light: “Deciding how to use light is a huge part of what gives photos their vibe,” says Sloboda. “The angle of the light should be at your back, not the child's.” Natural light is your BFF, so head outdoors for a variety of stimulation and photo ops whatever the season. “If photographing in your home, try to use a big window for good light — west-facing window in the morning, east-facing window in the afternoon,” recommends Israeli.

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Must-dos when taking photos of your kids

Adorable toddler
Image credit: Tiffany Angeles

Do hold still: Your toddler’s in constant motion, so it’s your job to master the art of keeping the camera steady to avoid a blur. “I take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds while snapping several frames, bracing my elbows against my body,” says Sloboda. “This keeps my wrists loose to change angles quickly, without straining, stretching or creating camera-shake.”

Do stash the toys: A home with a toddler is a home with lots of stuff, but those beloved items can ruin a good photo. “Shoot with a clean background. Don’t have a mess of toys or clutter in the background,” says Tiffany Angeles, professional children’s photographer.

Do bend the rules: Never let your kids climb the furniture? Photo time may be just the occasion to let mischief reign. “Have them stand on something a little higher but safe — like the couch — or step into a basket or sit on a big ball,” says Ford. “This will hold them in place a little longer for you to grab your shots, as the child will be busy thinking about what he or she is doing.”

Do get silly: “Giving kids the ‘wrong answer’ is usually good for a laugh,” says Angeles. “’Does a duck say meow?’ or ‘Is my hair pink?’ Having a wand or long toy in one hand and bopping yourself on the head with a loud ‘ouch’ almost always gets a giggle. You can also play peek-a-boo and get great shots when they come around the corner.”

Do go for the action shot: Be ready to photograph your child quickly and continuously as they run toward you and away from you. “These action scenarios can yield great photos while showcasing what this stage of life is about — fast, fun energy!” says Ford.

Do use props:  “Props can help your child relax and keep him or her busy while you take photos. Hand over a favorite teddy bear or toy,” says Ford. “Simple, wooden toys make great photo props and toddlers will love playing with them, allowing you to capture some natural, enthusiastic images and create a controlled environment. A large, colorful candy lollipop makes for a great prop at the end of a session, when everyone is getting cranky,” says Israeli.

Do get stealthy: Israeli has two words for the parent of a really uncooperative toddler: Scotch tape. “Taking a piece of clear plastic tape and putting it on the palm of their hand will stop them in their tracks.” It’s not visible and you can snap your toddler in a moment of intense and sweet concentration.

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Technology is your photo friend

Toddler photo by Sarah Sloboda
Image credit: Sarah Sloboda

If your smartphone is attached to your hip just like your toddler, it’s time to make that machine really work for you.

Download all the free photo editing apps you can find — they’ll allow you to edit even a mediocre shot into a work of art, whether you want vintage, modern or otherwise. Photographers and parents alike recommend Pixlromatic, Pixlr Express, Pic Stitch, InstaCollage, PicsArt, and, of course, Instagram (though the other apps don’t require that you share your photos with all of cyberspace).

If you are considering becoming a serious mobile-photography parent, the Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone offers image stabilization, low light performance and the photo apps Fhotoroom and Apict.

Sloboda is a big fan of the iPhone, which is low-light friendly, has no delay, offers rapid-fire shooting abilities and accommodates accessories like the olloclip photo lens which attaches to your phone and lets you take fisheye, wide-angle and macro shots.

"Just remember," says Ford, “It's not about the perfect pose. It's about capturing the energy and personality of your little one at this moment in time."

Check out the video for more photography tips.

Top image credit: Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick

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