Zen and the Art of Shooting a Toddler

I am a super lucky Chocha (Aunt in Ukrainian) because I have the cutest subject available to me whenever I want, but I’m not actually responsible for him 24/7. Best of both worlds! Simon is pushing 2 and is smart, funny and just a real joy to be around. And he gives the best hugs!

Simon at the fence

The sun was behind this fence, but it was reflecting beautifully off of a nearby building. Thankfully he thought it was fun to run to the fence, lean for a second and run back to us!

Last weekend I had the pleasure of a park outing with Simon & his Mama (my lil sis) where we changed his outfit about four times but otherwise just let him be a toddler. The only prop we used other than Hemingway, who is never too far away (lucky monkey!), was a bottle of purple bubbles.

Yaaaayyy!!!

His mama is holding his monkey above his head. Fun, until it isn’t anymore. Get your shots while you can!

Pre-photoshoot I read a bunch of articles about shooting toddlers looking for advice and inspiration. Other than the bubble idea (which worked a bit differently with Simon), the main concept I picked up was something I think I already do. Just let them be themselves, and be ready to shoot at all times. Anyone who has spent any time with a toddler knows that you can’t make them do exactly what you want. Make sure they feel safe and comfortable, then it is your job to get in there and capture the moments when they happen.

Simon blowing bubbles

Alternately blowing and tasting bubbles. More entertaining for him than chasing them, so that’s what we went with.

The bubble idea is a pretty stock one, but Simon is more interested in exploring how they are made (and how they taste) than in chasing them around and squealing in delight. He was actually more entertained by his own game of throwing his monkey on the ground periodically as if Hemingway had just jumped out of his arms! The important lesson here is to just go with it. If he’s fascinated by the bubble wand and how to make them, then just hand it over and wipe the purple bubble goo off his face as required. Withholding the bubble wand would have resulted in a cranky kid, potentially ending our shoot right there. Instead I got some great shots of him being his naturally inquisitive self.

Hey! I dropped my monkey! Hahahaha!

Hey! I dropped my monkey! Hahahaha!

My quick tips on Shooting a Toddler: 

  1. Go with the flow that the toddler provides and don’t bother to try to fight it. Use what they give you – there is a lot there if you are ready for it. Always be ready!
  2. Make sure they feel safe and comfy.
  3. Be prepared to change course constantly, lie in the dirt and run around a bit (a lot).
  4. Props are good but don’t expect them to work for long. Get your shots fast.
  5. Outfit changes are fun if (and only if) the toddler thinks so too.
  6. Bubbles. They do work. Just be prepared to have them work in a different way than you originally planned.
  7. Final thought – I love shooting with my old-school manual lenses, but I can definitely see the value of auto-focus for shooting a toddler.

Simon blowing a bubble

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Childless, Not Childfree – Happy Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day draws to a close, I’m still trying to come to terms with the day.  You see, I’m not a mom.  It’s partly by choice, partly by circumstance, and being over 40 it can be a very strange place to be.

I’ve had plenty of reminders of my status over the last few years.  My housemate had her little guy (whom I love dearly), I watched my sister bring my nephew into the world, and countless friends and acquaintances have added (or are adding) children to their families.

My own mom had me at the young age of 24.

mom day 2

I think she mostly had me because that’s what was expected at that time.  Not that she didn’t love me, but I think she might have made different choices if she thought she could.  The thing is, even now the expectations are still there.  Living in a big city, the timeline is a bit more flexible, but it’s still a bit odd to be a childless woman of a certain age.  I’m frequently told that I “still have time”.

I’ve always said that children weren’t a priority, but that I reserved the right to change my mind.  Indeed there have been a few times in my life, usually in a relationship that looked like it was headed for the long term, where I felt like it was the right path.  Sitting here now, I’m not upset that I didn’t go down it.

Having watched the mayhem that is mothering a small child, it’s not something that I would want to enter into alone.  I see it as another stage of a good solid loving relationship.  I’ve never wanted to be a mother just to be a mother, and I still feel that way.

Being so close to my sister and watching her bring my nephew into the world after fighting fiercely for him through years of fertility treatments has been both one of the most joyous experiences, and one of the more painful ones.  You know how you feel when your ex-boyfriend gets married?  You don’t want him, but it kind of feels crappy that he’s so happy and you’re not.  That’s pretty much what it’s like watching your baby sister become a mom.  Except that the joy part is so much bigger than I ever imagined it would be.

Simon & Chocha

I have been so full of love the last four months since Simon arrived that at times I literally thought I would burst.  Love for Simon and love for my sister as I watch her morph from my lil sis into an amazing mother.

There was a line in a song on the tv show Smash last night – “A writer hopes to leave behind, a work no one forgets; And when he writes, “the end”, to find he has the right regrets.”  I think that’s where I am right now.  I know that I’ve just never been in the right place to become a mom, and that to have taken that path would have been wrong for me. For me it feels like the ‘right regret’.  Now I get to be a part of my nephew’s life in a way that my aunts and uncles never were.  And I don’t have to pay for his diapers or his education!

So as the sun sets on another Mother’s Day, I say thank you to the mothers in my life.  Thank you for helping make me the woman I am.  Thank you raising the next generation.  Thank you for not making me feel less of a woman because I have chosen to be childless.  And thank you for allowing me to be a part of your children’s lives because I never said I wanted to be childfree.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Simon & Chocha 2