How to shoot food with a toddler? Am I kidding? or making up a post for the heck of it? Nope, No, Never! This is the toughest post I have had to write ever and trust me on this because I wrote a PhD thesis not so long ago, and I found it much easier. Frankly I thought the PhD was the toughest thing I had ever done. But then there came Sarah and I realised there were tougher things to deal with. I erased two drafts on this post because I thought they highlighted how difficult it was to deal with children and that was a turn off to read especially for prospective parents. Instead I am going to share my experience as a blogger who transitioned from a carefree single woman to a no-child parent and finally a mother. These phases in my life also impacted my photography skills, because I was learning the tricks of the trade in this transitioning period. My toddler meal series is a project undertaken by me in this phase and it has taught me a lot more about toddlers apart from their feeding habits and favourite recipes- http://ooonuready.com/category/365-days-toddler-meal-challenge/
So here’s my 2 cents or tips on how to shoot food with a toddler. Shooting food with toddlers is fun and I hope to amuse you with my experience. I know some of you might have a lot to share here, and some of you might be looking out for tips, even blaming your photography and styling post-motherhood. And all you aspiring moms (oh come on you can aspire why not?) this could be an interesting read you could related to years down the line. Before I begin let me tell you, I am not an expert on kids and I am learning every day but here’s what I know about kids-
“Kids are like jelly beans they come in all sizes, shapes, textures, colours and flavours. And how you deal with them therefore, varies from mother to mother. But irrespective of their differences, we mothers will unanimously admit, that there are those fleeting moments when we can’t handle them. And chances are that those moments are every waking moment of the day. So how does one carry on with daunting tasks like shooting food with kids”.
And so let’s start my tutorial on how to shoot food a toddler. I have 7 tips for now and I am sure you will have many more to share with me. So please don’t forget to share yours. Also I would like to remind you, my kid is a toddler and hence my tips are limited to this specific age group. I also understand kids above this age also interrupt shoots at times, but I think few of these tips can apply to them and then, you could always try explaining to them which is something you cannot with toddlers. Hence my representative sample :) is kids below 3 years.
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler- Tip 1: Sketch your plan
If you are an impulsive blogger like me, motherhood will definitely structure you. You don’t wake up with a bright idea and rush to shop for ingredients and then cook and shoot no-no! Chances are that you have realised the chaos that will creep in when you drag a kid along to shop, cook and shoot at odd hours, starving them and neglecting their nap time. If you are a toddler mom you need a plan more than any blogger out there. I have a sketchy monthly plan on what I would cook, not a perfect plan but a template to begin with. I might move the schedules around but every time I go for shopping I stock my supplies to avoid last minute hassles. Planning is much beyond this. It also means you need to be sure of your props, the time of your shoot, the time required to cook, edit images and write up your post even before the shoot every single time to economise on time and energy. I prefer early mornings because I know how long my daughter sleeps, and that my hubby can handle her if she wakes up and does not find me. Early mornings also gives me the extra edge by helping me to set my props as I bake and cook in my kitchen. I love the calmness and serenity early morning. A well planned shoot and wonderful food keeps me energized for the rest of my day. Early morning also has a big disadvantage. Kids are pretty groggy when they wake up and insist to be with their mothers at times. Avoid shoots at such junctures rather rushing through it or getting worked up. Sometimes you can distract your kid like you can see in the pic below. My daughter was fine when she got a mop and got busy pretending to work while I wrapped up my shoot.
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler- Tip 2: The kiddo’s Props
You need to let you kid warm up to you shooting with pics. In the past I used to hire a part time maid to take my daughter out or engage her while I worked but this just led to her watching a lot of TV or getting hooked onto cellphones. I think the first word my daughter picked up was ‘aagi’ which meant ‘hello’ in her lingo because that’s what her nanny did when she took her for walks. So I decided it was time to get her friendly with the camera and shoots. This is not easy, kids might start pulling your props, the tripod, interrupt you while shooting, ask you to carry them but trust me they settle down. I decided to give Sarah a kiddie camera bag. She soon started packing stuff watching me and started tugging them along when I took my bag. She would insist on using my charts, planks and fabrics to unpack her stuff, she would ask me to place few of her toys in the frame and that’s how I ended up shooting with a lot of her toys as props for my images. I also see that her toys are all stuffed in a cardboard box so that it is easy to move them around. I place this box near to where I shoot so that she can play and watch me shoot, it helps a lot. I have had some mishaps in this friendly venture. I have lost cardboard boxes and fabrics, stained by milk, juices and chocolate but I am happy to compromise certain stuff and include my toddler in my shoots.
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler-Tip 3: Use the Santa’s elf
Initiate your little one into your work, it might upset you initially that you are not able to follow your regimes especially if you work on product shoots and sponsored posts. But over the time I have realised it does not matter. Children are the speed breakers in your life. I used to be the angry momma who screamed ” What’s with you Sarah” but I have realised pausing for some time and saying ” Hi baby wannna help momma” makes your kid so happy. And happy kids seldom interfere with your work. I began explaining stuff to Sarah, I knew she was too young but I let her be my apprentice. I let her hold my lens cap. I don’t say no when she insists to carry a wooden plank, I let her hold props that are unbreakable and very soon she realised she has a role to play when I shoot. When I pause in the middle of the shoot she goes and tastes the food and smiles at me. We cook together, I talk to her random stuff and she looks into my eyes as if she gets it, I realise that’s part of her learning too.
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler- Tip 4: Prop play
I am sure most mothers do this while cooking. They give their kid some dough to play with some beans and veggies to you around. As a food blogger you have a lot more to offer from measuring spoons, jars, cake tins and spatulas to tiny jars, moulds and fabrics. Kids always feel privileged when they get to play with non-regular stuff. I got my girl a kitchen set hoping to excite her but she mixed them up with my vessels and loves playing with my frying pans and pressure cookers. Maybe we undermine them as kids and give them small versions of our stuff when all they need is normal stuff we use. Think of weird stuff that your kid would enjoy playing with. Like my kid loves stacking stuff and sorting stuff so if you give her assorted spoons, she loves segregating them and stacking cake tins one inside the other. She loves rearranging the kitchen cabinet and though she messes up and I don’t get my stuff when I need it, I have realised this activity keeps her occupied as I shoot pics. I have also started encouraging Sarah to count beads, coins and colour on scrap papers and fabrics and she sort of likes doing this watching me work. You need to keep them calm and comfortable for you to think straight and focus. Props help a lot in this. So yes bring them on the pans, pots, beads, fabrics. Share it with your little one and enjoy your photo shoot.
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler- Tip 5: Food Trail
My fussy kid loves to eat new stuff all the time but it is mostly a one time affair for her sadly. This is quite a big challenge for me but I manage to surprise her a lot. She also gets excited when she is served a plate full of assorted stuff. So one way I engage her when I shoot, is to give her a large plate with assorted stuff. I see to it that the food I serve is something she could toy with like spaghetti she plays around with, cheerios that she strings or something colourful and animates like the alphabet soup noodles, animal shaped cookies. Interestingly! kids always want to eat the stuff you restrict them from eating and in this case, the stuff you plan to shoot. So it is ideal that you prepare a separate batch for your kid to munch on so that he/she stays away from the shoot. I also try to serve the munchies in a similar plate so that Sarah feels special and keeps herself busy. I would even go a little overboard and say shooting food pics entices kids to eat unlike asking them to sit straight and have their meal.
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler- Tip 6: Books, Cookbooks and all sorts of Books
Kids love to read or believe they can read. And I personally believe they should be encouraged to read hardpaper books to scrolling an i-phone. Books have been my greatest resource while food shoots. Sarah loves flipping pages and she ensures she takes in every bit of it. Cookbooks with glossy pictures excites her the most and on instances when I gave her cartoons, story books and novels without images, she pointed for specific cookbooks. The 100 salads book and Christmas cooking book is her favourite. If you are worried about your little one tampering with your books, you could always get them some second hand books and let them scribble on them or tear a few pages. But of all the tips, this one works for a longer duration for me. Over a period of time, I see Sarah clinging onto a couple of books. She has decided to keep them separately not mixing them up with my books. I see this book on 100 chicken recipes and 100 cupcakes in this collection. She spends some time daily flipping the pages of these books and I guess she has inherited them forever :)
How to Shoot Food with a Toddler Tip 7: Stage a Placebo Shoot
What I mean here is that you stage a quasi shoot. Your little one associates your tripod, setting up of boards and placing the props to you going to get busy with something very important. And kids have a very short attention span. So instead of rushing through, let them spend some time around your stage. They might pick up stuff, taste stuff, feel stuff but when they are done, they get back to what interests them. So here’s what I do, I practice my shots with a smaller portion. Ensure the stuff the food you shoot is safe for your little one to play with. Now there are risks associated here. Like I once tried to shoot star fruit. My plan was to make starfruit jam but Sarah got so excited playing with them, she squashed them and threw them out of the balcony. It happens rarely but then you tell yourself you can do this some other time. But I always set aside some stuff for her to play and this has benefited me.
Whoa! that’s a longggg post and if you are reading this I am glad you reached here. I hope you enjoyed this piece and you would write back to me with your tips. I am enjoying these non-recipe series and if you haven’t read my post on types of food bloggers- please do it’s an interesting piece http://ooonuready.com/kind-food-blogger/ If you have a topic that would be apt for this space, and if you think I could pen it down, write to me. And do check out my instagram profile https://www.instagram.com/ooonuready/?hl=en and pinterest page https://in.pinterest.com/teenaaugustine1/ to stay in touch with me. Till we meet again stay blessed and eat healthy! Happy weekend people !