photographing toddlers: getting them to sit still & look at you


Toddlers are notoriously hard to get good pictures of. Nothing delights them more than running away when you want them to sit still and they have an amazing ability to look everywhere BUT the camera when they know you’re trying to catch their eye. I’ve already shared on toddler photo tips post – how to get a great smile from your toddler – that will help you replace cheesy grins with genuine smiles. Today’s tips focus on how to get that wiggly toddler to stay still long enough for a few photos, and how to convince her to look at you when she’s trying her best not to.

Great tips on getting toddlers to stay still and look at the camera for a picture - I'm going to try #3!

I recently took some photos of my little girl, including the two above, and I got 28 photos of my her studiously NOT LOOKING at me. Luckily, I finally got ONE gorgeous shot after using a few tricks. Here are my top five tips for photographing toddlers:

1. Give them somewhere to sit This is especially important for younger toddlers, who have learned to walk recently enough that they do it every waking minute. It’s really hard to chase down an 18 month old and convince him to look in your general direction and get photos that are in focus. It’s much simpler if you provide somewhere for the child to sit – a stool, rocking horse, stump, bench, chair, etc. Have your camera out and ready before you sit the toddler down because he may only stay there a moment or two – but even a few moments of stillness is better than running around like a crazy person snapping photos while calling to the kid to please just stop and look! (not that I’ve ever done that…)

In the photos above I convinced a reluctant toddler to sit on a rocking horse. Wooden items like rocking horses, stools or benches make great seating options for photo shoots because their neutral color means they won’t be distracting in the final photo – but if you really don’t like how the “prop” looks in the photo you can usually crop it right out.

2. Give them something to hold or something small to eat Again, this is more helpful for the younger set. You might have your daughter trapped on a stool that she can’t get down from, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to look at you or smile at you. Be prepared with a small toy (hotwheels usually work well) or a small tidy treat (Smarties are my favorite at photo shoots). Hand the toy or treat to the toddler and give her a few minutes to look at and play with it (or taste it). Then just wait, camera at the ready, until she looks up at you to share her delight – then capture the expression.

3. Give them something to look at Toddlers seem to know you want them to look at you, but do everything in their power to avoid making actual eye contact. Wheedling, threatening, and bribing occasionally work, but giving them something interesting to look at works better. Did you know that if you file down the feet of a Pez dispenser just a bit it fits into the external flash attachment of your dSLR? No kidding. It’s fantastic. Pick a princess Pez or a Lightning McQueen Pez and stick him on top of your camera, then show your child that the Pez gives out candy for kids who look at him. (This works so well I wrote a whole post on exactly how to do it – check it out here!)

Or, grab a bunny ear headband from the dollar store at Easter (or a Shamrock one at St Patty’s, etc) and pop it on your head when the child’s not looking. Then keep asking them what’s on your head and how it got there. They’ll stare right at you, and probably laugh. I’ve even tied bells to my wrist and jingled them up by my camera to get a little one to look.

Also – move around a bit while you talk to the child – stand up, sit down, lean to the left or right. Your motion will naturally draw her eyes toward you, and you’ll be able to get photos from a variety of angles.

4. Let them see themselves inside the camera Getting pictures taken is just a chore to a little kid who’d rather be running around and playing. So snap a few whether she’s cooperative or not, then show them to her on the back of your camera. Tell her you got her inside the camera, and she’ll immediately be more interested in the camera and more likely to look at it when you start shooting again.

5. Ask them to play copycat This works better for older toddlers (2&3 yr olds) who will be able to understand what you’re asking. Sit or lie down and strike a simple pose, then ask the toddler if he can do the same thing. Try a few funny poses first to get him involved and tell him what a great copycat he is when he copies your pose. Them move on to other poses and ask him if he can be a copycat and then freeze in that position while you take his picture. As long as you keep telling him what a great job he’s doing, he’ll likely continue to copy you for at least a couple of poses.

Hopefully these tips make things a little easier next time you want a great photo of your toddler – just remember it’s worth it to take a couple hundred so-so photos as long as you get one great one.

***Need tips for photographing older children/teens? For posing ideas for girls click here. For boys, click here.

Linking to some of these parties:

Monday: Skip to My Lou | Brassy Apple | Craft-o-Maniac

Tuesday: Tip Junkie | Sugar Bee Crafts | Not JUST a Housewife | Homework Today’s Assignment: Be Inspired | Shwin and Shwin |Today’s Creative Blog | Naptime Creations | Chef in Training | The Winthrop Chronicles | Lil Luna

Wednesday: Handy Man, Crafty Woman | Southern Lovely | Sew Much Ado | SNAP | Someday Crafts | The NY Melrose Family | Printabelle | Simply Kierste | Lil Luna

Thursday: Somewhat Simple | House of Hepworths | Momnivore’s Dilemma | The Shabby Creek Cottage | Yesterday on Tuesday |The 36th Avenue

Friday: Chic on a Shoestring Decorating | The Shabby Nest | Stuff and Nonsense | It’s a Hodgepodge Life | At The Picket Fence | 504 Main | Whipperberry

Weekend: Tatertots and Jello | Little Inspiration


  1. 1

    Shirley says

    These are such good suggestions! I have a hard time with both of my boys so I have some new tricks to use! Thanks Autumn!

  2. 2

    Caprice says

    Who is that adorable boy in the first pictures? In the blue shirt. That kid is gorgeous! Very good tips. Although the pez dispenser tip reminds me a bit of “While you were Sleeping” when the grandma has the birdie attached to her camera. 🙂

  3. 4

    domestic bliss squared says

    Great post! I love this info, as two of my regular models are my four and one year old kids! Thank you.

  4. 8

    a mother says

    When my son was a toddler I told him: “look, mommy has green hair (three eyes, two noses,…) ” and when he was looking at me – first disbelievingly and then laughing – I quickly pressed the button. Worked all the time…

  5. 9

    Lisa at Mabey She Made It says

    These are great! And smarties? Love it. I’m off to look at your tips for getting them to give a genuine smile–my youngest is in the grimmace stage and all her “smiles” are painfully funny so getting a natural one of her is difficult.

  6. 10


    These are fabulous! I’ve learned a few of these the hard way (trial and error) with my little guy, but I’ll definitely be adding these to my arsenal of tricks. I really like the ideas of copycat and having them sit on something.

    Another thing I’ve tried that’s kind of like the bunny ears is to suddenly crow like a rooster. It usually only works once per photo shoot, so you have to be ready, but you’re almost guaranteed to get the child to look right at you! 🙂

  7. 12


    These are fantastic! I’ve really struggled with getting good images of little ones and they are so busy and uncooperative. I love your suggestions and am going to try some of them out today with a 2-year-old at her shoot!

  8. 14

    Mike says

    These are good tips. I find it better to let kids be themselves and walk around. Maybe blow some bubbles, or something. You can always call to them if you want them to look directly into the camera. I’ve been shooting kids for over 10 years, and get much better results when I don’t make them sit still.

  9. 17

    Diane says

    For the first year of my son’s life we had pictures done every month. I would stand behind the photographer and do peek a boo. Got his attention and also made him smile. Now as photographer they probably couldn’t do that.

    • 18

      autumn says

      It is nice to have someone help get the toddler’s attention when you’re taking photos! If you are helping, just make sure you get as close to the camera as possible so that when the child looks at you he’s also looking at the camera. Thanks!

  10. 20


    I love your idea for sticking a Pez dispenser on a camera to try and get your kids to look at it. Whenever I try to get my son to sit for a picture, either he is moving around or I happen to miss the perfect moment to take the shot. I don’t have any good school pictures of him to give out to family members! In this situation, I think it would be helpful to take him to a professional for a good portrait.


  1. […] Tip #2 – Remember it’s worth the work. When I was getting paid to take pictures, I would spend the time and effort it took to get good photos, no matter what. That meant I would demonstrate how I wanted the kids to sit instead of just telling them what to do, I’d sing crazy songs and make animal noises to get them to smile, I’d try different poses and angles, and above all, I’d try to make it fun for the child, because that’s the key to great photos. It can be frustrating when your child refuses to look at you for shot after shot, but if you want a good picture of a 4-year-old, you have to be prepared to keep trying different things to get their attention (find tips on getting youngsters to look at the camera here). […]

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