I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Liam for his 2 year photo session. It was a wildly successful session both because of his personality and because of a series of steps I have learned over the years of photographing children at this unique age.
Let’s face it. Two year olds are fiercely independent. They want to explore the world and on their terms. And, at times, nothing holds their attention for longer than about 2 seconds. It is a crazy time and I hear many parents comment about how difficult it is to get photos of their child at this age. Sounds like the perfect time to hire someone else to do it!
When I photograph children, and in particular, 2 year olds, I follow these steps:
1. Establish a strong bond with the parents. As soon as I meet a family coming in for a portrait session, I make sure to shake hands with and/or hug the child’s parents. I want the child to see that I am friends with their parents and that their parents trust me. I speak with the parents a bit and keep the conversation light and fun. My goal is to get the parents to laugh a bit too to help set the tone that we are about to have fun.
2. Start with getting the parents involved. I like to start with one or both parents being involved in the picture taking process. This again reinforces that everything is ok and it shows the child that even their mom and dad don’t mind having their picture taken.
3. Do something silly. I then begin to work on building a bond with the child. Doing something silly or traditionally non-adult like is a great way to start. Sometimes I will pretend to sneeze. And then sneeze again. And again. And again. And make silly faces and keep sneezing. This works almost 100% of the time. Children start laughing AND watching you a bit closely wanting you to do it again and again. This is the perfect opportunity to capture a few shots in between sneezes. This starts the process and builds toward gaining more and more time to actually take pictures.
4. Make yourself really small. You are probably asking yourself… Ummmm. What does that mean? It means getting down on the floor and making yourself as small as possible. Being that I am over 6 ft tall, I would imagine my height can be a bit intimidating to someone who is two. I typically lay down on the ground and pretend to take a nap, squirm around like a bug, or pretend to not be able to stand back up. This typically draws the two year old in closer either wanting to help or even mimic what you are doing. This makes for a great camera angle too!
5. Get into their world. Make note of what interests them. What do they seem to respond to the most? When photographing Liam, I wanted to show him a bunch of “secrets” that I knew. We were on Sauvie Island where there was a corn field. The corn stalks were about 3-4 times his height and I knew he would find that area different and fascinating. So I made a big deal about showing him a neat place that he probably had not seen before. Once there, I walked straight into the corn field and “hid” behind some of the corn stalks. He came right in to see what it was all about. We didn’t spend too much time there, keeping things brief and interesting, and then walked over to an apple orchard. There were a number of apples on the ground so I picked a handful up and began to juggle while singing circus music. Juggling really interests kids and typically gets them to pause for a bit to watch. Fist bumping, giving high-fives, jumping, and laughing are all great ways to draw focus and keep the portrait session fun.
6. Show them the back of the camera. Another great way to draw attention is to take a photo and immediately show the child the back of the camera. This method of capturing a little one’s attention works 95% of the time. Sometimes I even make a silly face, take my own picture, and then show the photo to the child. The immediacy of what digital photography affords is a blessing for 2 year old portrait sessions. I love getting children involved in the shoot in this way. I even ask them if they want to show the picture to their mom and dad – because you know they are going to love it! Their response reinforces that the photo session is fun and the affirmation is great for the child to hear.
As we wrapped up, I thanked Liam for the opportunity to capture his picture. He was excited to be done and expressed a lot of interest in driving the car to go home. Another perfect photo opportunity! We oped the front door of the car, he climbed in, and immediately began pretending to drive the car. I always extend the photo session just a bit beyond the time it feels like it is over. At this point in the session, the little one is typically a bit more relaxed and responsive to being photographed. Having an activity like this is a great way to draw attention away from the picture taking process. It also enables the photographer to dive a bit deeper into revealing the personality of the child. The moments are more genuine in that they are oftentimes less camera conscious.
Here are some of our favorites from Liam’s 2 year photo session: