Photo Tips

Recipe for Magic With Fast Toddler Photos!

Me Ra Koh

Here comes Part 2 to Recipe for the Family Photo With Toddlers, with a recipe for fast toddler photos!

After you capture the family photos, what is next when working with Toddlers?  Well, give them a little playing room, and they may give you some great, unexpected ideas!   This little guy wanted to crawl around in the leaves and pretend like he was a doggy!  So stinking cute!  This simple moment led to something much bigger.

Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, has a recipe for taking those fast toddler photos!

When working with a two year old, you can do one of two things.  Try to distract him from playing doggy, or go with the flow and see what magic may unfold.

When I least expected it, magic totally unfolded!  His mama picked him up and brushed off his clothes–and that’s when it struck me!  As I watched the two of them I thought ‘these are the kinds of photos I love from when I was a kid–that simple moment that shows how little I was, the funny things I did, and the glow of my mom’s love for me.’  I had to capture this!  So I asked mom to brush him off some more (and more and more).  If I don’t have cameras rolling on set and a live feed of every image I’m capturing for an audience to see on national television…I’m all about re-do’s!  Amen sister! 🙂

Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, has a recipe for taking those fast toddler photos!

I asked mom to turn a little more towards me and be sure to smile.  I didn’t need to see her whole face, but instead, I wanted to capture her beautiful profile with her hair back lit by the sun.

My camera was set to Continuous Shooting mode.  This allows you to take several photos at a time by holding down your shutter release button (the button you push down when you take a photo :)).  This camera setting is PIVOTAL to capturing these types of fast toddler photos!  The actions and expressions of a toddler are SUPER FAST.  If I wasn’t in Continuous Shooting mode, I may have missed the moments.  In fact, you can watch this quick video clip of me taking these photos to see how fast it all went down!  I’m not a video editor by any means, but I think you’ll find it helpful to see the simplicity in how I set this up and how fast it happened.

Within seconds we went from being a little doggy to joking with daddy (who is standing behind me).  If one of the parents are out of the frame, I like to have them stand behind me and a bit off to the side.  I encourage them to talk, joke, be goofy, even sing to their little one.  It’s amazing what expressions will appear when dad starts to get silly behind the photographer!

Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, has a recipe for taking those fast toddler photos!

This one is my absolute FAVORITE!  Look at that SWEETNESS!

Me Ra Koh, The Photo Mom, has a recipe for taking those fast toddler photos!

As we all know, photographing toddlers can be a HANDFUL!  They are constantly on the go needing to be distracted (without them knowing you are distracting them).  I find myself needing to create space within the shoot where I can watch them play, see what they are into, and within a matter of minutes they will almost always show me.   “Doggy!  Ruff-Ruff!” said this little guy.  Crawling in the leaves and playing doggy is something this toddler loves right now.  There isn’t anything sweeter to capture in that moment.

When I’m shooting fast toddler photos, I can’t help but think to myself  ‘When this little guy is a grown man, what photo–what moment–what expression–will his mama, auntie, or grandma want to put on their fridge?  When he comes home from college, what photo will make him smile, even blush?  What photo will make his girlfriend fall even more in love with him?  🙂  What expression will not only remind his loved ones of how sweet he was but the young age he was–his innocence–the simple joy he brought to everyone around him (and continues to bring).  These are the moments we are searching for when we hold our cameras.  Simple, true stories.  The kind that will bring us inner joy whenever we recall them.

CAMERA SETTINGS When Shooting Fast Toddler Photos


Look for open shade if the sun is bright.  Mama’s hair is back lit because I was shooting my DSLR in Manual mode (see below for those details).  But if you are using a Point-and-Shoot, you may have a tougher time getting this look.  My best advice is to still capture the expressions and moments, but shoot it in open shade where there are no shadows from the sun or unwanted eye squinting.  If you like the buttery, blurred backgrounds like the photos in this blog post, set your shooting mode to P for Portrait or A for Aperture-Priority.  These two modes will automatically give you a lower f-stop which creates the buttery, blurred background.

Your DSLR:

Go to Manual mode to have more control of your lighting and hair back lit from the sunlight.   Try my DSLR settings below;

ISO 200 I keep it as low as possible for the best color results.

Aperture was f/2.8. I’m using a low f-stop because I love the buttery, blurred background.  If you know you love buttery, blurred backgrounds but need help understanding them, check out our Beyond the Green Box DVD!

Shutter Speed was 1/400th of a second or some camera just say 400.  I metered on the little one’s face and then adjusted my Shutter Speed so the meter’s marker was between 0 and positive 1.  If this doesn’t make any sense, I’ve got another route!  If your weather looks similar to what my weather was start with my DSLR settings.  Then look at your photo.  Is the photo bright enough?  If no, slow down your shutter speed so more light can come in.  For example, try going from 1/400 to 1/250.  If your photo is too dark, roll your shutter speed dial in the opposite direction.

Remember to breathe, give yourself freedom to experiment and have fun.  No critics allowed!  Tell that critic voice to keep it zipped so you can play.

As always, feel free to post your fast toddler photos on my Facebook page!  Your voice is one of the things I treasure most about this community!




  1. MelissaD says:

    I love that you can post a photo-recipe and I know exactly what you’re talking about! 🙂 I’ve only left manual mode once since Workshop Weekend and my pictures look SO much better! I’ve got a new lens (50 mm f/1.8) on its way. Merry Christmas to me, thanks to you Me Ra!

    I support SOAR!
    Melissa from San Antonio

  2. Dawn Beirnes says:

    because of your reviews of the Sony, I’m seriously considering getting the Sony A55. This will give me an awesome camera, and backup, and one for my hubs to shoot with (he will use my Canon 40D). Just wanted to get your thoughts on this purchase! Reading the specs on the Sony, I was almost, Kind of drooling!

  3. jeramy says:

    what a cutie!

  4. Billie says:

    What tips do you have when you are the mama and the photographer? I have a two year old little girl and she is so quick and hard for me to photograph.

    I love these photo recipe posts. These are some of my favs. I hope you continue to do them more and more.

    I support SOAR!

  5. MeRa,
    That was a beautiful post. Yes, the mom and little guy are absolutely captured perfectly and your tips were terrific. But, what I think I liked most were your thoughts of how the little boy, turned grown man, will feel about being photographed with his loving mama. And, then the part where his girlfriend falls more in love with him sent me over the moon. I simmer in your story telling. You are a dear, sweet soul. I just know you from your words and I love you like a wise friend. Take good care of yourself and family. Merry Christmas to your household.

  6. Oh, heck. I posted my comment then began to the other comments up from mine. I forgot to say I support SOAR! I reeeeeally, really do. I support SOAR! That’s the truth y’all.

  7. Abbey says:

    I love your photo-recipies. I just bought myself the best birthday present, a Sony a33 camera. Over Thanksgiving I left it on auto and took great pictures. I’m trying to move that dial to AorM but it’s hard. I have your DVD outside the green box…still confussed how to adjust eveything to my camera. I’m thinking of taking a private lesson on my camera, any thoughts on that? Wish you were on the east coast..
    I know small steps
    thanks for getting me excited about photography again

  8. Me Ra says:

    Yeah! So glad you are all liking this Photo-Recipe! Billie, you are drooling for a REASON! The Sony A55 is the official SOAR! Scholarship camera for 2011, and it is AMAZING! That’s the camera that I’m always shooting with for the Nate Berkus Show…10 freaking frames per second, shutterless technology and HD video. Yes, drooling is what I did when I first got my hands on it!

    Be back after homeschool is finished to answer more of your questions! Keep em coming!


  9. Dawn Cox says:

    I love your photo recipes! Thank You! They are so helpful as I am trying to grow my photography skills! You have a wonderful way with words! God bless you and your family this holiday season!

    Dawn Cox, Illinois

  10. Tracey Eller says:

    Beautiful photos Me Ra! I am always in awe of those who can capture a moving target!
    I have a 2 year old in my life and he moves so fast I can hardly focus on him.
    Thanks for the tips… I’ll keep on shooting!

    I Support Soar!

  11. Karen Diffley says:

    Thanks for the great tips. I love that you share your great techniques with all of us aspiring Moms!!

    I support SOAR!!

  12. Robin says:

    Love your work! I also love how you are willing to share with us. One quick question, besides being in continuous modes, are manually focusing?
    I support SOAR!

  13. Ramona says:

    Fantastic photos. Love them and thank you very much for the video, is great to hear some tips and tricks 😉

  14. Rhonda says:

    I LOVE this!!!
    And I support Soar!!!

  15. Me Ra says:

    Back! 🙂

    Billie, when my kids were toddlers I used to have a special box of toys that only came out at certain times. I’d set the box right next to the sliding glass doors, where my best light was, and shoot away. Got some great facial expressions from this, and I’d zoom in tight to frame out everything but them.

    Robin, I’m in auto focus. The technology is so fast and good these days, that I’m in auto focus 98% of the time, unless I’m switching out for an artistic shot that I’m wanting to capture.

    Thanks for all the continued SOAR! Support and kind words. Means so much!


  16. Miranda G says:

    Love when you share camera setting and tips! Thank you so much!


  17. beautiful photos! the lighting is just breathtaking and i love the interaction between the boy and his mom! thanks so much for sharing!

    p.s. I SUPPORT SOAR =)

  18. Jen says:

    Wondering what exactly you mean by open shade? It appears that she is in the sun completely and he is making shade on her. How do you keep the shadows off of her in this situation and not too much sun flare in background?

  19. Cyndi says:

    Me Ra, when you state “the meters marker” do you mean the ‘exposure meter’ in the viewfinder (the one that you can adjust using the exposure compensation marker)?
    Also, I’d love to know what kind of post processing you did and usually do on these types of portraits. Do you ONLY use lightroom?
    Thank you so much, you dont know how much help you are with these recipes and blogs!!

  20. Idie says:

    First of all, I SUPPORT SOAR! Someone is going to have an amazing year next year!
    I love the photo recipes…especially the ones that hit closest to home for me. Tips on capturing toddlers is #1! Thanks for the great advice, as always.

  21. Ronnie Ritchey says:

    Can’t get enough of your photo recipes and wonderful photos. They really are a great help. And the descriptive words you use makes it alot easier for me to apply in my own photo taking. Thanks for all your help. Your blog inspires me.
    Trying to figure out what camera lens or even maybe a new camera to buy so that I can get those buttery blurred backgrounds that can make a picture so magical. I have a Nikon D40 and really like it, but find it difficult to get those blurry shots with the 2 lenses I have (55-200mm/4-5.6f, and 18-55mm/3.5-5.6f).

  22. Ronnie Ritchey says:

    I support SOAR too. What a great opportunity!!

  23. thanks for all your tips and the beautiful compositions!! your work is really inspiring.

  24. rebecca burton says:

    ….then adjusted my Shutter Speed so the meter’s marker was between 0 and positive 1.
    This is the first time manual mode ‘clicked’ for me, I now understand what the markers are trying to tell me, so just grabbed my camera and broke through the ceiling… awesome!