Tips for working with children under 5 years of age.

Photographing children, especially those under 5 can seem like it would be really hard to get their attention enough to actually take a photo. I’ve been there for sure, a little cute two year old running in the complete opposite direction of my camera!

I hope these tips can help you out so that you can make the most of a session with those little kids that have lots of spunk and personality but don’t necessarily care about your camera, ha!

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1. Talk to the parents before the session

Next week, I’m going to dive into pre-consultations and why it’s important to educate your clients, but in the meantime, just know that it’s super important to talk to your clients about EXPECTATIONS.

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When you photograph children under 5, you really can’t expect them to pose, sit/stand, and be in one place for a long time. It’s really important that you talk with the parents and lay out the expectations.

For starters, children don’t usually last more than 45 minutes, and that’s saying a lot. Expect them to be behaved at least 30 solid minutes if you wish to have posed and perfect photos, less if they aren’t in the mood.

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However, giving your clients this expectation and explaining to them that if they allow you to play, explore, and be the kid’s best friend during the session, they may get more time and many, many, more photos.

Letting parents know that perhaps their child might not be up for photos is okay! This takes away any stress that the parents might have going in an letting them know that you’ve got lots of experience with children and if need be, you can always reschedule.

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Reassure your clients about your experience and let them walk away from the meeting / pre-consultation prepared and feeling excited for the session.

Tell them to bring snacks, drinks, and extra clothing so that in case the children get a little hungry or fussy, or dirty, they are well prepared. Bringing along toys are also helpful especially if the child is attached to toys, like my son doesn’t go anywhere with out a toy and so I’d probably have to bring along a bulldozer or dump truck along to the shoot.

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It’s better than having a meltdown before the shoot. Plus, it would most definitely capture who he is at 3 years old and I wouldn’t mind having photos of it!

2. Get on their level

It’s generally a good idea, and what I like to do before I take any photos, is to get down on their level and introduce myself. Ask them what their name is and just keep it light. If they don’t answer it’s okay. I’ll compliment them on something their wearing or a toy they’re holding.

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Usually they’re pretty shy at first. But bringing yourself to their level makes it more trusting for them to later play and tell you about their dog Georgie.

Getting on their level might also mean running around, playing tag, and asking them if daddy likes stinky farts. Anything to get a smile out of them, usually the 3-5 year olds will have a good laugh at the last one.

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For babies or children around 2 years old, making loud noises, singing their favorite songs, or placing them somewhere they can play with legos, building blocks or other toys can really help them to focus on something and maybe they’ll turn in your direction at E-I-E-I-O if you sing it loud enough, ha!

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I once had a kid who just really didn’t to pose, he was about 3.5 years old. He didn’t want anything to do with me or the camera. So I started asking the parents for favorite songs, favorite shows, until we landed on Dora the Explorer. He was a huge fan and at the time I actually had a hair cut short like her and well, I kinda look like her too. So we started play the “Dora game” and explored and I made silly comments, obviously got everything wrong about the show, and he laughed at me and we got some cute shots.

That’s the Dora toddler. Look at that smile! I’m sure he’s laughing at me but I don’t mind at all!

That’s the Dora toddler. Look at that smile! I’m sure he’s laughing at me but I don’t mind at all!

Sometimes, it takes a little more effort but find something, get on their level, and make it work.

3. Take breaks between posing and non-posing

Nothing can set off a toddler faster than being bored and being told what to do. Taking breaks between poses can really help a kid relax and have a lot more fun than being told what to do.

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When you feel like you’ve gained enough trust between you and the child(ren) ask them to pose alongside mommy and / or daddy. Posing mom and dad first can help the kids just fit into the photo pose rather than having them pose first.

Sometimes, giving them the choice of where they want to stand or sit can help you pose around them. This also helps them to feel like they’re a part of the show and usually if they’re more willing to pose on the left, let them!

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Other times, I ask if they want to pose with daddy or mommy and that can help them find the perfect place where they want. Having them make that decision can make posing happen faster.

Break up the session with walking shots, playful shots, maybe some exploring shots and maybe sun silly face shots. The children don’t often know that these photos are capturing once-in-a-lifetime moments, but what they will remember is how much fun they had. And that is what is more important than anything else.

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Get the parents to play along and tickle, throw the kids in the air, or simply do some huggy shots. Anything that makes the session feel less posed and more relaxed is a definite win in the kids’ eyes.

4. Don’t force it

This is a HUGE one for parents, and should be discussed when you meet with them before the session. DO NOT FORCE IT. A toddler who doesn’t want to sit on the right side of mommy, if forced, could have a meltdown or run away or cry and then shut down for the rest of shoot.

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Instead, have them choose where they want to sit. Sometimes the older kids get tired and don’t want to smile, don’t force it. Make some funny noises or play with a toy or have mommy and daddy help, but don’t force them to smile.

If the kid is not about the session at all don’t force them to do it. Have a shoot with the parents and sometimes, the kids feel left out and so they later want to join in.

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Find a way to get them to WANT to be a part of the session. But if you force it, you’re not going to have a good time at all. Especially if the parents are doing the forcing.

5. Reschedule it

If you can, and it’s most definitely an okay option, reschedule it! I once had a two year old who as she showed up to the session cried the whole time in a fit because she simply didn’t want to be there. We tried and it just got worse, so we rescheduled it for the next day at an earlier time.

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And you know what? It was 100x better! By the end of the session the little babe was picking out where she wanted to pose, even got to do a couple of clothing changes, and she was all smiles and giggles. Even shared her water with me.

Rescheduling can help reset everyone, parents included, and you might even get better photos than what you thought! I

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Some parents feel like they can’t reschedule or feel like they have to get it done then and there, but if you can, offer the idea of rescheduling and do it. Reassure them that it’ll be better for everyone and it’s not a problem at all! Of course, it all depends on your business model and what you have going on, but if you can, do the family a favor and just reschedule it!

6. Last but not least, schedule the session at a good time for the child

We may want to have those beautiful sunset photos with that gorgeous golden light, but let me tell you, a two year old who is supposed to be napping or already down for night night is not gonna care about golden light.

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A child who is supposed to be eating her dinner isn’t gonna care. A kid who is used to having his quiet time isn’t going to care. Work around the best schedule for the child.

I repeat: WORK AROUND THE CHILD’S SCHEDULE AND ROUTINE.

It’ll make life for everyone so, so, so much better. For example, one family opted to have a session at 9am because that’s when her kids were the most energized and awake. Another family was able to do right before dinner because that’s when the baby was the best.

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Making sure the children are at their best time is best for everyone. It’s the best way to avoid meltdowns due to hunger, sleepiness, or changes in routines.


There you have it! I hope these tips help you get a little more confident in photographing children under 5. And don’t forget to shoot in burst mode because these little ones are fast! Got any tips you want to share? Click on the comment box and leave a comment, we all could use tips from each other!

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