This is the first article in a four part series on photographing children while traveling. Many of these tips are pretty applicable to every day child photography as well.
Part 2 – The Toddler (Coming Soon)
Part 3 – The Pre Schooler (Coming Soon)
Part 4 – The School Aged Child (Coming Soon)
There are few things in life as cute as a baby, except for maybe a puppy. Puppies are pretty darn cute. But after puppies, babies probably take second place. So great news! You’ve got something innately cute to take a picture of. However, there is some bad news. Babies aren’t exactly the best at listening to directions. Based on the age of your baby, all they are likely to do is sleep, sleep, and sleep some more. So how do you get a good picture of your baby having fun when all they are doing is sleeping?
How does everyone else seem to have a super happy baby on vacation and yours is just…well…sleeping. Well here are some quick tips to try and get that picture perfect shot. While you may get frustrated sometimes, just remember, it only takes a split second to get that perfect shot, so while things may be going poorly in your mind, a great picture could be in the making if you can just get your baby to cooperate for a fraction of a second.
Keep them comfortable
When I used to do studio photography, if I had a newborn shoot, I would always raise the temperature of the studio, so the baby wouldn’t freeze during their photoshoot. An uncomfortable baby is an unhappy baby. The same goes for pictures on vacation. It doesn’t matter that they have this really cute knit sweater with penguins on it if you have to take off the coat to see it and now they are freezing and fussy while you are trying to take pic. So make sure the outfit is appropriate to the weather. As a rule of thumb, dress them in the same type of clothes you are wearing.
Know their schedule
As with anything with an infant, you have to know their schedule. If you are trying to get them to smile and it’s the middle of their naptime, well, that’s gonna make things a little bit harder. Unfortunately, when you are traveling, you are often not in control of the schedule, and that schedule typically doesn’t have built in nap time. So if that’s the case….
Make them laugh
While this sounds like common sense, when I watch many people try and take pics of their infant, they are too often focused on getting them to look at the camera. This is secondary to getting a smile or laugh from your baby, as it’s better to have a baby that’s laughing or smiling and not looking at the camera than one that looks bored or sleepy.
If your baby is at the age that they are laughing, well, do whatever it takes to make them laugh. Even a baby who has just been woken up from a nap will typically laugh if you entertain them enough. Blow raspberries. Make a funny face. Throw them in the air (make sure to catch them). Hit yourself in the head. Make funny noises. Squeak like a squirrel. Do the chicken dance. Whatever it takes! We normally dipped our kids really fast while holding them right before we took a picture and we found that typically worked and coaxed a smile even at their fussiest.
Get their attention
Babies are incredibly distractible. They have the attention span of… well… a baby. Once you have them in a good mood and laughing, you have to get their attention, and then get them to look at the camera. I would always bring a stuffed animal, favorite toy, something brightly colored and put it right next to the lens to try and grab their attention. This part is just luck to some degree. Thankfully, taking pictures these days doesn’t cost any money, so you can just keep hitting the shutter button in hopes of getting one with your baby looking at the camera.
If your camera is on a tripod and you have no one to help get your baby’s attention, things just got significantly more difficult. In those situations, I would set up the tripod, use a countdown timer for the camera, and just took literally anything I could get my hands on, and threw it in the direction of the camera at the same time the shutter would release. I literally have thrown things from stuffed animals, tripod cases, rocks, bags, wads of papers, brochures, and other available items to try and get our baby to look at the camera.
Babies look to their parents for cues, as they have not yet learned how to react to their environment on their own yet. If you and your baby are shown a picture of a bunch of kittens, and you show fear in your face, your baby will believe that it should be scared as well. This is in spite of the fact that society has deemed kittens adorable and that the appropriate response should be one of adoration and fawning. So if you are trying to get a picture of your baby, and you are getting frustrated, your baby will often feed of your cues, and believe it should be frustrated or upset too.
For that reason, it is incredibly important to always be relaxed, no matter how frustrated you may be becoming, as your baby will feed off your energy and reactions. Sometimes it can be hard to be relaxed when you are in a crowded environment in a foreign country with people everywhere, but being calm is one of the most important things when it comes to getting that great shot. There is a reason professional photographers are always super high energy when they do child and baby portraits, and it’s not because they’ve had 10 cups of coffee that day (although they might have).
Let babies be babies
If your baby just isn’t doing what you were hoping, and you’re getting frustrated, it’s time for plan B. Plan B is to just watch your baby do whatever they want and start snapping away. This could be pictures of them looking at the landscape while you hold them. It could be them just crawling or sitting on the ground and you taking pics of them exploring. These pics are often times the best pictures, and truly convey that sense of wonder baby’s convey so well. For babies, everything is new, so thankfully you don’t have to wow them by being at the Eiffel Tower, you can literally be anywhere and they are just as curious.
Just remember, that even though the pictures may not be going as planned, some of the best pictures we have ever taken are the ones where there is just mad chaos.
While getting that “perfect” shot is important, often times the memories we’ve made trying to get “the shot” far surpass the actual photo itself. Follow along for the next article in this 4 part series, The Toddler.