One of the most common questions I get as a family photographer is how to photograph a child that won’t sit still. I feel your pain mamas. And I’m in a unique position now to offer some advice. As a fellow mom to a can’t-sit-still-kid, I have a lot of pictures of the back of Olivia’s head. She’ll be 18 months old in a few short weeks and she’s a busy child. She loves to walk and explore. When we go to the park, she may sit in the swing or go down the slide, but those moments are short lived. She’d much rather wander off and do her own thing.
But, I still manage to capture her smile and personality in photos. So, my answer to how you photograph a child that won’t sit still is simple. You don’t. At least not in the way that you’re used to.
The best advice I can give you is to change your approach. Follow them instead of asking them to stand sit and smile at the camera. Eventually something magical will happen. You just have to have the patience to let it.
As they explore, be ready with your camera. Anticipate what they’ll do next.
For these pictures, we were playing in the backyard and I wanted to bring my camera out to take a few photos of Olivia’s cute ponytail. I knew that part would be easy (remember – I’m a pro at taking pictures of the back of her head!). I figured that anything else I was able to capture would be a bonus. She saw these little white flowers (weeds) in the grass and bent down to scoop one up. I knew what she was going to do next so I got my camera ready. Sure enough, she put the flower up to her nose and made the sweetest little face.
Introduce a prop
Sometimes a distraction from whatever activity they’re engaged in will give you enough time to snap a few pictures. Right after I took the photo above, I remembered that we had some sunflowers in the kitchen so I ran in and grabbed one. I didn’t make a big deal of it. I didn’t show her. I just stuck it in the grass and waited for her to see it. When she noticed it, she did exactly what I thought she was going to do. She put it up to her nose to smell. If she hadn’t, I would have asked her just to see if she was willing, but most of the time I try to let things happen organically. I ask once and then move on.
Put the camera down
This is so important if you want your kids to enjoy having their picture taken. That’s why I only ask once (maybe twice!) when I want Olivia to do something. If she’s not into it, I’m not going to force it for a photo. It can be disappointing when you have a vision in your head, but I’d much rather keep things light and playful than end up with her in tears and me upset about not getting the photo I wanted.
One other trick you can try, but only after you’ve exhausted all other efforts, is to play a game of back and forth. You take a picture, I take a picture. Include them in the picture taking process and they might hang around long anough to get a few good shots. This won’t work with Olivia right now because she’s too little to handle my big camera, but I would definitely try something similar with my smartphone. Show her how I’m taking a picture of something – a toy or a doll of hers – and then turn the camera toward her and see what she does. It might hold her interest, it might not, but remember not to force it.
Ok mamas, now tell me. Was any of this helpful? Do you have a busy toddler that won’t stop for a photo? Are there any tricks you use that I can add to this list? I’d love to hear from you! And if you’re interested, I’ve got a free guide to help you while you’re out on your next fall adventure.