Just Sit Still!

Today, I’m going to deal with something that most of us deal with. I say “most” because if you don’t photograph kiddos, then this may not apply to you.

This difficulty in photography can be summed up in one word:

TODDLERS.

Did you just shudder? I actually had to stop and take a deep breath before typing it. But why is it that some photographers — particularly newer ones — struggle and stress over photographing these tiny humans? Here are some of my reasons:

  1. They’re Emotional. Look at things from their perspective: this world is HUGE! Why does it have to be so big? And what’s even worse, toddlers are so SMALL! And to add to their troubles, everything is so NEW. I’m not saying that these aspects of the world around us are to blame for all of their little explosions of emotion, but knowing them beforehand can help us to have empathy toward these little subjects of ours.
  2. They Just Can’t. Have you every tried to tell a toddler to sit with their legs crossed, their head turned to the left with their chin slightly toward the horizon line, only to have them get up immediately and start chasing that cat that keeps coming around during your shoot? Here’s some relief for you: that’s SUPPOSED to happen. Some toddlers can sit well, but many, MANY, many can’t do it. And that’s ok. It’s ok, because they’re normal and you can chill out a bit. And it also helps us with our creativity…

With brings me to the HOW-TO of this post!

  1. Just Let Them Be, with Limits. That toddler is most likely going to get bored with that pose pretty quick. So you need to have all your settings on point so that you can get their giggle, release that shutter, and move on after three or four shots. Then, follow them for a little bit (unless, of course, they’re heading toward danger. PLEASE stop them!). What are they interested in? What’s captured their attention? The image that I’ve featured in this post was one of those shots where I had to be patient. I posed him next to a fence, and don’t get me wrong: those fence shots were cute. But then, he became mesmerized by these dandelions! And he DESTROYED THEM! And it was ADORABLE! If I had not have had my camera settings ready and my eyes up, I would have missed it. So follow their interests. Watch their eyes dart around and become interested in what has captured their interest.
  2. Be Patient. Your best shots will most likely come when you don’t expect them. Pose them, but don’t be a slave to that pose. If they aren’t going to sit, then let them stand a bit. Just make sure you don’t take a ton of shots of their backside. Get to where their eyes are. This will require some hustle and sweat on your part, but it’ll be totally worth it!
  3. Shoot with a Telephoto Lens. This is simply my opinion, but when I have a good distance between my subject, myself, and the background, the images are a THOUSAND times more lovely. When I photograph toddlers, I put them roughly where I want them — which is usually a field of grass or flowers, if I’m being honest — and then back off and photograph them with my Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. This separation allows them to be more natural, in my opinion. Big smiles aren’t always what we want. Let them be a little, with limits (remember: DO NOT ALLOW DANGEROUS SITUATIONS!). Those sweet moments happen better that way.
  4. Your Settings Should Be Ready Beforehand. I can’t emphasize this enough, no matter what type of photography you do. If you’re sitting there fiddling with your settings in the middle of the shoot, your clients will eventually get annoyed. You need to have those settings ready to go before you start to shoot! And make sure to do plenty of variety in each location. When you move into a new lighting situation, you’ll need to adjust your white balance, shutter speed, etc., accordingly. In a future post, I’ll explain how I meter on my camera before I even take a single shot. But if you’d like to know before I get that one published, send me a message or comment! I’ll be glad to divest some wisdom! 🙂

Please be patient with these sweet little ones. Clients who see how you care for their children will be all the more impressed with you and super thankful. Think about what those parents went through to get that toddler up from bed, fed, dressed, entertained, and then transported to that location for their portrait shoot. Have a large dose of empathy, and above all:

BE A SERVANT.

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