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.

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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

Are you creative?

Whether you believe it or not, we are all creative!  Everyone starts at the beginning, with little skill, and maybe not much more than a vague desire to make some stuff.  Whatever your ‘thing’ is, just do it. Even if you think you fail miserably, you’re a step ahead of where you were before you tried.

For my birthday, I finally got a lovely new camera that is beginning to let me create what I see in my mind’s eye.  I’ve had a bit of access to cameras the last couple of years, but other than my sister’s (which had too many buttons and was too heavy to carry everywhere!) none of them have given me the freedom to create.  I was longing for the days of my lovely Olympus film SLR! 

I often get stuck partway with steep learning curves, but I’m tackling this one one step at a time, rather than all at once.  Instead of seeking perfection, I’m just looking to have some fun!  As long as I keep learning new things, I don’t mind some flops.  I look forward to looking back at these photos and seeing how far I’ve come!

My first night with the new camera I happened to be an awesome rock n’ roll show with a great bunch of bands and got a few lucky shots (considering I was still learning where the ‘ON’ button was located!)

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The only way to really learn is to do, so I’ve tried to keep the camera close at hand with the battery charged and memory card inserted!  As a result I captured some fun shots of a friend’s little guy:

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Yesterday I took myself on an Artists’ Date!  It is one of my favourite (long-ignored!) tools for creative growth from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.  The premise is that once a week you schedule an activity for yourself and you keep the date!  It actually should be less about creating art, than about refilling the well and hopefully inspiring you to create more.  I decided to go on a 12km photography walk through urban trails.  I’d been feeling a bit overwhelmed by how much there is to learn, so I focussed on 2 things – depth of field & macros.  Here are a few of my favourite shots:

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