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Ashlee Neuman
Senior Editor

10 Pro Tips for How to Take Great Toddler Photos

Cute kids? Check. Cute photos? Not so easy. Professional photographers offer up their best advice on how to nail your toddler pics.

There’s something special about the toddler years. Your little one is walking and (maybe) talking and looking too cute for words—so it’s only natural that you’re eager to capture it all with some adorable toddler pics. Of course, that’s often easier said than done. But before you farm the job out to a professional, know that toddler photography is totally something you can master.

“As a mother of four children myself, I believe a parent can be the most effective storyteller and photographer of our children’s everyday life,” says Ginger Unzueta, a professional family photographer who was featured in the #Nikon100 rising star campaign. “As a parent you have the advantage of knowing your children in an intimate and beautiful way. You have the ability to create authentic images filled with true emotion and expression.”

While you may know your kids best, you may not know how to get the best photos of them. Which is why we tapped Unzueta and Nicole Houser, another rising photography star, to share their top tips for how to capture adorable toddler photos.

1. Go for Candids

As parents of toddlers know all too well, it’s next to impossible to get the kids to sit still. Skip the poses and canned smiles and opt for toddler pictures that are more in-the-moment snapshots. “Kids don’t want to be posed or told to do certain things, and I don’t want to capture them in that way either. I want to capture them as they are, doing what they love—and that tends to be playing outside or doing activities they enjoy, where I’m not asking them to smile or look at me,” says TK. “I find capturing them naturally in their environment produces raw images with real emotion.”

2. Engage Your Kids to Get Great Expressions

Candid toddler pics are super-cute, but you still want to capture those perfect, adorable grins. “Engaging your toddler is a great way to get authentic expressions,” Unzueta says. “Talk to them, ask them questions and watch their personalities shine through.”

3. Style Your Kids in Solids

If you know you want to take a bunch of photos of your toddler on a certain day, give some thought to your little one’s clothes. As Houser says, “Outfits are super-important for the overall aesthetics of an image!” Her advice is to stick with plain, solid colored clothing without writing or graphics. If you do pick something patterned, go for plaid or stripes, and keep it to a single article of clothing—so if your kiddo is in plaid shorts, pair it with a solid top. Bold or pastel colors work best, but stay away from neon colors. “They don’t photograph well and can cause unwanted color casts on your child’s skin,” Houser warns. Also consider where you’ll be taking the photos and what colors will pop against the background. If it’s a place with lots of greenery, for example, stay away from dressing your kid in lots of green.

4. Play Around with Your Focal Point

Even the perfect outfit or sweetest smile will have a time hard making up for a photo that’s over- or under-exposed. “Play around with where your focal point is to best expose your image,” Unzueta recommends. Your iPhone is programed to focus on the center of your composition, but if you want to change that, simply tap the screen where you want the focus to be (like on your kids’ faces) and your phone will adjust the exposure settings accordingly.

5. Use Light to Your Advantage

If you happen to be playing outside with your kids in the evening (or even the crack of dawn—yawn), go grab your camera and make use of that glorious natural light. “When shooting outdoors, I tend to shoot closer to the ‘Golden Hour,’ which is generally the hour leading up to sunset or the hour right after sunrise,” Houser says. “The light tends to be the most flattering the lower the sun is in the sky. You don’t get as many harsh shadows on your kids during that time, and you can capture that soft, glowing light that I love.”

6. Download a Photo Editing App

Let’s face it: When it comes to taking toddler pictures, we’re not all naturals. Luckily, there are loads of apps designed to help you take better photos or edit your images right from your phone. Houser recommends VSCO and Manual as two great apps that give you more control over your camera settings. For editing your toddler pics, she likes Snapseed.

7. Always Print Your Toddler Pics

As parents, we tend to take tons of photos of our kids—and then leave them to linger on our phones. Who has time to print them out? “In such a digital world we tend to forget this aspect of photography, but if you don’t print your images they can easily be lost or deleted forever!” Houser says. Thankfully, there are digital services out there to expedite the process without sacrificing quality, like Artifact Uprising, Mpix.com and Chatbooks, an app that lets you order albums using images from your Instagram or Facebook account. “I have my Instagram account connected directly to Chatbooks, so my images are automatically imported,” Unzueta says. “Once I hit a certain number of images, the company automatically sends us a new book. It’s so easy, and so fun to have these books to flip through.”

8. Buy an Entry-Level Camera

If you’re serious about upping your toddler photography game, splurge on an entry-level DSLR. “Look for one that can shoot in auto but also has manual settings for when you learn and get comfortable with shooting in manual,” Houser advises. She suggests the Nikon D3400, which takes high-quality images but is still very user-friendly.

9. Shoot in Manual Mode

If you have a DSLR, it’s time to wean yourself off auto and learn how to adjust the settings yourself. “To get the best photos from your camera, learn to shoot in manual mode. This will give you more control over your images so you can achieve the look you want,” Houser says. “That was a game-changer for me when I was just starting to take photos of my own kids.” If that seems like a daunting task, head to YouTube to find free tutorials, or sign up for a class, like Unzueta’s Expressions of Motherhood breakout session. And of course, practice, practice, practice.

10. Use a High Shutter Speed and Aperture

Perhaps the hardest part of taking toddler pictures is getting a shot that isn’t just all motion blur. “Toddlers move non-stop and sometimes it can be tricky to nail the focus,” Houser says. “I suggest always having a super-high shutter speed when photographing little kids. That’ll ensure that you get you a sharp, in-focus subject.” Since toddlers are always on the go, it’s also smart to use a higher aperture. “If your aperture is too wide, it’s easy for your subject to move out of the plane of focus, and that’s when you get soft or blurry images.”

Published July 2018

Plus, more from The Bump:

Toddler Sleep 101: Schedules, Problems and Solutions

How to Prep Your Toddler for Preschool

Tips for Navigating Disney World with a Toddler in Tow