Updated: Apr 3
With the Covid pandemic shutting down so many services, parents are finding it difficult to get the adorable baby and toddler photos they cherish. Luckily, although this type of photography is not as easy as picking up a camera, there are some steps you can take at home to be able to document these crucial stages in your child’s life. This article is designed to give you a few pointers and starter ideas for you to take some sweet photos of your toddler for looking on in years to come. Visit our other blog for top tips for photographing your baby.
For photos of older babies and toddlers one idea is to aim these around milestones. One option is to use milestone cards, like the type sold by Little Pickle Memories. They are great for casual photos for your social media, but you can also incorporate these into your photos to create a story or you can use these alongside other props. Once your baby can smile, hold their head up during tummy time, sit up, play with toys, stand, and so on, you have so many more options available.
Many blogs suggest a proper DSLR or Mirrorless camera system, but unless you particularly want the tools to shoot in RAW files and to be able edit on software appropriate to the files, such as Lightroom and Photoshop, or GIMP and Luminar, there isn’t necessarily a need for that. Most smart-phone cameras are up to the job nowadays, and provide photos of a high enough resolution for printing at a minimum of A4, if that is your wish. So, don’t fret if you don’t have an expensive camera; the main thing to know for shooting is how to achieve the look.
The first way is to shoot manually - you can ditch the basic camera setting and make use of the other capabilities the camera has. You will want to use a low ISO. The higher your ISO is the grainier your photos will appear, which is not what you want when printing photographs out later. If you want a nice blurry background for those dreamy bokeh (background blurred shapes) you will also want a wide aperture. Confusingly aperture settings appear backwards, so this means using the lowest numbered aperture you can manage. These two settings will affect your shutter speed. Most inexperienced photographers struggle to shoot lower than 1/60 - 1/80th of a second, I can go down to 1/40 or 1/30 these days depending on my camera grip, but even then, it doesn’t take much to wobble the camera and ruin your photo by blurring it, so I don’t often bother. It’s worth using a tripod or setting your camera/phone on a flat surface; you can buy a cheap tripod for your phone for between ten and twenty pounds on Amazon, or probably even less somewhere like eBay or Wish. Have your phone at the highest resolution it will allow, which will help when printing later. If you find all these numbers and figures confusing then don’t use manual; most cameras, or phone cameras, have a portrait option. You just need to find either the word portrait/aperture, or a small image of a lady with a hat on.
To make things a bit easier, you can purchase bluetooth wireless remote shutters that connect to your phone. This can help when taking photos as you just need to click a button to take the photo, reducing the chances of knocking your phone and your photos coming out blurry. A lot of phone holders come with these controllers included. This also helps if you need to hold something in place to get the right setup.
Timing it right
The ideal time to photograph your toddler is when they are the most content. You will want to make sure they are fed and rested; this could mean looking at their happiest times of day and how many different photos you want. There is often a very short window to take the photos, before they become cranky and overstimulated, so if you have more than a couple of photos planned it is probably worth doing it over a couple of sessions.
Keeping it all natural will bring their personalities out which will show in the photo, so try to avoid anything too staged. If you can get a big belly laugh out of them this makes for a gorgeous picture. Just keep that background plain to bring all the focus onto your small person. If you do want to go outside and practice that portrait mode, then lovely pictures to take are of them smelling flowers, sitting in a field of wildflowers - especially tall ones. You could also blow bubbles towards them from behind the camera, just take note of wind direction or you will get a face full of bubble mix. A nature walk is a brilliant way to pick up some great candid shots.
Plenty of snacks are useful for older children in case they get bored and cranky. As you won’t have access to a studio so keep your set up and props simple. A bedsheet makes an effective backdrop for example. Just iron the creases out first unless you know how to remove them in an editing app or on editing software later.
At all times, if you want the best shots you need to make sure the lighting is right. Have the light facing them. You want to make sure their face is well-lit and focus on their eyes for the best effect. You can use your auto focus to achieve this.
Don’t forget to try different angles. You can photograph from above, the side or, if they are on the floor, lie down and shoot from ground angles. Photography as a hobby and business means often lying in mud or similar to get my shots, because shooting on the level of the subject or even from below is so effective and looks so creative.
Staging Photography- Props
With props, sometimes simpler is better. You can’t recreate a studio such as a professional photographer would use, but there are some simple options you can use to still get effective and sweet shots of your little ones. Below is a list of the photos you could take, with remarkably simple/minimal props but adorable results.
- Food photos are ridiculously cute. You can do the classic cake smash idea; sit them on your sheet, or at a table with the sheet hanging up behind, to form a nice background. Add cake and let them go to town.
- On the same subject of food photography, if they are capable of finger food, then sitting them on the floor with some cheerios or similar, for them to play with and eat, is extremely sweet. I have one of my daughter, in a tutu and fairly wings and eating fruit loops, blown up and framed on my hallway wall.
- Which brings me on nicely to my next subject. Dressing up. Those pictures of your little fairy, nurse, superhero, fireperson etc. are all adorable.
- If you have somebody else who can take the photographs, then you can lie them on the floor, while you lie with your feet facing in the opposite direction, so your heads are snuggling, while your photographer stands on a chair and photographs you from above. If you have a partner, then have them lying in the same direction as you but on the other side of your child’s head. They could also take one of you kissing your little one’s cheek side on, while they look at the camera. If you have a partner, they can kiss the other cheek at the same time. Or with an older child, whisper something funny in their ear to make them giggle.
- Playtime photos. Have them playing peekaboo, or with those blocks you have saved from their new-born shoot, or try sand and water in a sandpit tub, or with a sand and water table. Your bedsheet will be particularly useful here, to catch all the mess for when it comes to tidying up.
- You could capture them from behind looking in a mirror, so you catch their reflection in the photo – particularly if they have just discovered mirrors and find their reflection a novelty.
- If you want to be in the photo, you can sit with them between your legs or on your legs and just have some snuggly shots. Snuggle into their neck and just relax together, this is a good one to get at the end of a shoot when they need the downtime. Or put your arms around them and use your hands to form a heart shape over their chest. Tickle time also makes for a very touching shot.
If you take the photos on your phone you can find apps that will replace the background, and slot in another for you. I either use apps that do it all for you, like Kroma (remember to use download and not save if you want to keep the quality sharp) or have been known to ‘cut’ the image out from its background in mobile photoshop, and then use photo-blending apps. My dog recently joined the Avengers in New York City when I was practicing, as I tend to use my family when I am learning new techniques or keeping in practice with existing work, that I can then use for my portfolio. It’s worth doing it a few times to get it sharp. It is also worth using a stylus for the best blending. But even if you don’t want to mess around with apps, just having the children out and about somewhere where the background isn’t cluttered and using your portrait option, or manual shooting with a wide aperture (small number), is effective and I often use outside backgrounds for my own shoots.
You can document all those lovely photos using the Baby's First Year Milestone Card packs and store these photos in a keepsake journal using the baby-to-five book, or childhood journal, available from Little Pickle Memories. Most of all, don’t hold back because you aren’t a ‘photographer’. Even if you aren’t doing these posed type shots just take photos every-day, or as often as you can. Suddenly you will blink and have a teenager who needs reminding to wear deodorant and speaks mostly in grunts. And make sure you appear in the pictures often. It’s so easy to focus on just having pictures of them, but you need to be in there too because one day they will want them to look back at too and see you there. Happy snapping!
Also remember not to worry or get upset too much if these photos don't go to plan. Studio photos are lovely but you may end up barely registering them in the photo book of your life. My favourite photo of me with my kids was taken at Mother care. My favourite photos of my daughters are taken at the park, watching TV in a nappy and wellies, and my oldest running round my lounge with a Spongebob bin on her head. The photo I have taken that my mum has framed on her mantle is her oldest grandkids, sat under a table at a wedding and playing hide and seek from the grown ups. These are only ideas for a single photo session. If you take photos of even mundane moments you will probably end up cherishing these even more.
If you want to check out some of my blogs on the basics of photography, as well as other writing on the subjects of family and life, which you can subscribe to for regular updates, or if you want to see some of my photography, you can visit me at www.thebeaniebard.com, or use my social media on instagram or facebook
About the Author
Hi I'm Annalisa aka The Beanie Bard, I’m 36 and 61 months old (ahem). My main job is dragging up the two small humans I created and attempting to keep them, a large hairy man child, and some pets alive. So far I have a fairly high success rate but I wouldn’t advise asking me to water your plants. I used to be an A and E nurse but am now trying to make a living running my own writing and photography business. In the odd few seconds I get for spare time I am an author with one published children's book and more in the pipeline, I also enjoy photography, I perform spoken word poetry and am a massive geek.. You can find my first book 'The Sky Painter' on Amazon. It's a book that helps small people understand some big feelings and my future books will be very much based on helping the small humans tackle big concepts.