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10 Tips for Creating Good Videos of Unwilling Toddlers

I shoot a ton of video of my two-year-old daughter. Does she like being filmed? Not really. In fact, often times, she will be doing something absolutely adorable, I’ll whip out the camera and all of a sudden, her expression will turn to stone. It’s clear: the camera is not welcome.

In these instances, it’s best to just put the camera away. Nobody ever got a charming video of their child when their child was being forced to perform on camera.

That being said, here are 10 suggestions for creating a good video of an unwilling toddler.

1) Keep your camera on you at all times. I film everything with my iPhone. It’s almost always on hand, and I can break it out quickly when the need arises.

2) Don’t waste a lot of time on set-up. Another thing that I love about the iPhone is that it’s very simple to operate. If you spend too much time on lighting, propping or trying to adjust the setting on your camera, the moment will be over before you even get started.

3) It will be much easier to capture natural moments than to try to get your toddler to participate in a fabricated story. A director friend of mine made a short film using our toddlers, and it took him three months to film 10 minutes. A whole day was spent just trying to get the two of them to hold hands, and it wasn’t very fun for anyone. Unless you have big plans for your feature film, stick to naturally captured moments.

4) Shoot as much footage as possible and then edit like crazy — especially if you like the idea of weaving a story (as I do). I often come up with story lines as I’m shooting and I keep it incredibly simple. For example, the first time my daughter turned over, I decided to go back and use all the past footage I had shot of her trying to roll over and then have her finally accomplish the move at the end. (Check out the video here.)

5) Music is everything. When you edit a video, music can make even the most mundane footage meaningful. The other day I shot a bunch of video of my daughter playing basketball. I added Harlem Globetrotters music to make her seem like the next big basketball star. Without it, I can’t imagine the footage would have held anybody’s attention but my own. (Check out the video here.)

6) Capture moments when your kids are otherwise preoccupied. For instance, if your kid is singing a song or talking up a storm but not directly to you. My daughter tends to get put off if she is trying to communicate with me and I stick a camera in her face. My best footage comes when she doesn’t realize she’s being filmed. When I shot “Sh*t Toddlers Say”, she was interacting with people other than myself almost the entire time.

7) Try showing your child some of the footage played back after you’ve shot it. This might make her more excited to be involved. Of course, it can also mean that she will be continually trying to get a hold of your camera.

8) Try using the camera on your laptop to film or flipping the perspective on your iPhone so that your child can see herself while you film. I’ve gotten some incredibly funny footage just because my daughter is so enthralled by her own image.

9) I shoot my daughter a lot while she is sitting in her car seat. For some reason, she is always responsive, probably because there is nowhere else to go and nothing better to do.

10) Make sure you don’t get so caught up in filming a moment that you miss it completely. You don’t want your memory of an event to be clouded by the fact you couldn’t capture it on film Sometimes life is meant for memory only. Particularly life with toddlers.

Read more of Ilana’s writing at Mommy Shorts.
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