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Tips for sessions with 1-2 yr old child

Danielle B , Oct 22, 2010; 02:05 p.m.

Somebody please tell me what the secret is to getting kids between 1 & 2 yrs old to cooperate? All I do is chase them around after about 10 minutes. I do on-site photography, do not have a studio. Never use locations that have a lot of people, traffic, or noisy distractions. Seems like no matter where I go, I can never get these kids to be interested in anything I say or do. Parents help some, but sometimes they can add to the frustration level when they start getting irritated that their kid won't sit still or just STOP for a second. I've only been doing this for a year, so I would really appreciate some family photographers out there that might have some advice for me. Thank you so much!


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Brian S. , Oct 22, 2010; 02:50 p.m.

I hate to break the news to you but the only "secret" might be waiting for them to grow up. And that might not even work.

I have no tricks to offer other than the ones you already seem to know. Parents are a mixed blessing - sometimes they help, other times they get in the way. Catching the kids in between sleepy, hungry, grumpy, and (insert any other childish emotion here) helps... but scheduling that is impossible. For me, having plenty of time available has helped, as has having some "cool toys" to get them in the mood. Good luck!

Tim Ludwig , Oct 22, 2010; 08:36 p.m.


I remember Leon Kennemer relating some child portrait experiences while teaching outdoor light control at a seminar many years ago.

My favorite was one about a three or four year old little girl and her mom and grandma, all of whom were out of control. Grandma was being grouchy with everyone, mom was deferring to her and not taking control or her child who was doing whatever she damn well pleased and not paying any attention to the photographer. This all took place out in a southern forest (I think Leon was from Georgia) in the heat of a scorching summer.
Eventually, Leon sent the mom to his car that was parked half a mile or so away from the site to retrieve some non existent equipment. Then he sent Grandma to get cold Dr. Peppers for everyone. Of course, the closest store was only a few blocks, but he sent her to one about five miles down the road in the oposite direction.

Finally her took the shoes and socks off of the kid and plopped her down under a sweet gum tree....after building a circle of spiked sweet gum balls all around the site.

He said that the kid knew that she had been had and started grinning and laughing about it and they got along perfectly for the next ten minutes while getting some fabulous portraits.

Some times, you just have to be inventive with the kid and treat the adults with creative discipline. I always talk with the parent(s) ahead of the shoot and emphasize that they must not talk to the child or draw their attention, AND that if I need their help it will be have them step behind the camera or where ever I want the kid to look, and just talk to them from that vantage point. I also tell them that they must not put stress on the child, but rather to tease them or make faces to them so the kid has a positive and fun experience.

I've only had the order two parents out of the camera room in several thousand sessions. Most of them love being part of the process, they just need to have guidance on how to do it in a positive direction.

Mukul Dube , Oct 22, 2010; 08:54 p.m.

I try to have an adult -- either a parent disciplined on the lines that Tim Ludwig describes or else someone I take along -- to draw the child's attention, give it toys, move it physically if needed.... I also have a fair repertoire of animal and bird noises. Except outdoors, available light work is difficult with small children; though I have sometimes had success by making them deal with physical objects and so keep still for a second or two.

Eric Merrill , Oct 23, 2010; 08:51 a.m.


You could always practice on training cats, first. Then, small children will be a lot easier.

You said you have their attention for 10 minutes. That's fantastic! You *are* succeeding. Small children don't have an attention span beyond that.

Why should the child stop? Especially at two years old. There was a study a few years back where the researchers wanted to see how much energy an adult would expend if an adult were as active as a toddler. An olympic athlete volunteered, and they hooked all sorts of wireless monitoring devices to him. The goal was for the adult to mimic every single action for 8 hours. The athlete stopped, totally exhausted, after just two hours of following the toddler around.

I don't go into the woods looking for wildlife and expect animals to change their innate behaviors so I can get a better shot. Nor do I expect small children to change their innate behavior. When it comes to creating great photos of children, I believe in mobility. I put myself in position to capture the moments in great light as they happen. Children are not completely unpredictable.

If you're wanting to take traditional studio shots of a small child, count on 2-3 minutes. Beyond that, every minute is a gift to you.


Paul K , Oct 23, 2010; 03:24 p.m.

I agree with Eric that when shooting pictures of little children one should not try to get the child in the position you want to shoot them in, but be flexible and go with the flow.

Sure, you should make the preparations to steer the child to where you hope you might end in, but that is ino way a guarantee that it will actually happen. So flexibilty/mobilty is indeed required, fast working pace and reaction on changing and new situations which might pop up.

And yes, parents can be a pain, but goes even with bigger children, when the parent is at the same time you are trying to get the picture is busy giving directions for the chld they want them to pose in.


Danielle B , Oct 24, 2010; 04:16 p.m.

Thanks for the responses! Definitely makes me feel better and accept that I can't be in control ALL the time haha :)

Bob Irvine , Oct 25, 2010; 11:04 p.m.

I think the secret is not to try to get them to cooperate! Kids that young have an innate ability with matching desire to test and push limits at every opportunity. I will spend an hour just sitting or laying on the floor playing with toys along with the camera until the child becomes bored; usually (about 10-15 minutes.)
About this time, they will (if you are lucky) slow down a little and become absorbed with either themselves (excellent) or a toy or something (good.) I just start to then start clicking off shots in the most unobtrusive way that I can. If this requires me to stay sitting or lying on the floor then that is what I do.
I will not do a "forced pose" of a toddler at any time, for the same reason I wouldn't try to swim the length of Lake Erie... I can't be done!
Good Luck


Dave Redmann , Oct 26, 2010; 02:11 p.m.

Wow, nobody has said what I (as a parent and amateur photographer) see as number one: start a little while after the kid gets up from a nap. If they've had some sleep and a drink, that's usually the best time.

Also, you don't get kids that young to cooperate. You engage them, or get somebody right next to you to engage them. Just went through this exercise on Sunday. My youngest, who is now three, picks up on everything, does everything, and will engage in a deep conversation. But you cannot make him pose. Just. Won't. Work. So I sit him down on a stool, more or less as I want, try to engage him, and shoot when the expression and pose appeal. I'll go a few minutes, get as many shots as I can, and take a break. Repeat. The 'keeper' rate is fairly low, but I get some shots I like.

James at two years old

Melissa Fogg , Oct 26, 2010; 09:33 p.m.

You've gotten a lot of good advice. I have not been doing this that long myself, so here is my very humble advice. I read in a book that portrait photography rules just don't apply to children. And I really think that it is a great piece of advice. I know that I got into photography because I absolutely love it-- but trying to control or direct children in shoots is very frustrating and not fun! I found that I've gotten way better shots and enjoyed myself much more when I try to make it fun or make it a game in some way. Getting them interested really takes, I think getting on their level-- I once did a shoot with 3 and 7 year old boys and i got on their good side by talking to them about how awesome Mario for wii is haha. But I think building a relationship and getting the kids to feel comfortable with you or intrigued with you will definitely help. Try to become their friend first, photographer second. That's what kind of works for me-- hope that helped :)

Fun at The Beach

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