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A majority of the portraits I capture involve young children, who always present their own unique challenge. Because simply getting the little ones to the studio can be difficult in itself for Mom or Dad, it’s to your benefit to go out of your way to make the session a positive and entertaining experience.
To help me pave the way, keeping a stash of these toys and props and using some of these tactics can really make a difference in your next baby or toddler session.
Finding some pom poms, like the ones that cheerleaders use, are attractive to babies and toddlers because of the swishing sound they make and the shine they give off, which helps capture their attention for long periods of time. I usually shake one close to the baby, then slowly move back to keep the baby’s full attention.
Even though it may be difficult for most of us to sound silly, being a baby photographer often requires making a few cooing noises. Mothers are great at these noises, so if you need any ideas, don’t be afraid to ask your client to jump in. Each parent seems to have her own special noises that her baby responds to. Though it sounds silly, you can ask a parent to speak to their child and then mimic those sounds.
Faking a sneeze and following it up with a soft “bless you” will elicit delightful smiles. As the child gets older, you can also tickle Mom and instruct her to fake sneeze.
One of my favorite techniques is to break out the feather tickler and play what we call the “roar game.” My assistant will first tell a child that she is coming to get them. I will then tell the child to roar and scare my assistant away. As she approaches with the tickler, the kid roars, sending my assistant back to the camera acting frightened. This game is hilarious and works every time!
I recommend keeping a variety of music on hand to soothe crying children, excite toddlers, or even help preteens smile. Keep soft lullabies playing in the background when working with infants. This creates a soft barrier that allows me to move things or change backgrounds without startling the child.
Small rattles and bells are another great attention grabber. Using these items along with a soft voice will bring the baby’s eyes directly to the source of the voice.
There are many common baby phrases, and some of my favorites include, “How big is (child’s name)? So big!” “Peek-a-boo!” and “Hands up!” You can also ask the parents if they have a favorite song or phrase they sing when feeding or changing the baby.
Animal or counting games are a great way to get the excitement going. Asking a child what a particular animal says can get them smiling instantly. Furthermore, if you repeat that sound back to them incorrectly, they will really crack up.
You can also play a number guessing game, whispering to Mom to join in. If I hold up two fingers, she will guess that there are four. We then tease Mom when the child gets it right.
As a last resort, bubbles have saved me many times. Because they are messy, I try to avoid using them—but when you have an upset child, nothing provides a quicker change of attitude. I am not sure where the magic comes from, but when I open the jar, smiles appear most of the time. (Never store bubbles in your camera bag, though. That’s one lesson I had to learn the hard way.)