For the first two years of his life, my son refused to sleep.

When his little sister came along he was two and a half and once I got past the groggy newborn stage, I had a new found appreciate for nap-time.

I can still remember the first time all three kids napped at the same time – ahhhh! From that point on, whenever any of my kids would fall asleep, I photographed it. I think I had a fear that they would never nap again so I had to document it while I could.

Five years after my youngest was born, I’ve picked up a few tricks and methods that I follow when photographing my children sleeping and I’m going to share them all with you.

1. Play music

The most common question I get when asked about sleeping photos is “how do you keep your kids from waking up?” Let’s face it, in a silent room, the sound of the shutter being released is loud and can jar your child awake.

However, playing music can nicely disguise the shutter sound and help prevent it from disturbing their slumber. What I do is turn the volume all the way down and then turn the music on. I then slowly turn it up until it’s loud enough to muffle my actions but quiet enough to not wake up the child.

child sleeping in late by April Nienhuis

2. Wait until the end of the nap

No matter the tricks you pull out, some kids just won’t sleep through the noise. If your child is like that, I suggest waiting until the end of nap time to try and take their photo. By doing so, you’ve ensured they got their full rest but you might still just swipe a great new photo – it’s a win-win.

You do have to consider that the very first photo you take will wake them up so be extra mindful before you press the shutter that your exposure and framing are exactly what you want, it might be your only shot.

girl in blue shirt sleeping on white bed by April Nienhuis

3. Seek out unique perspectives

So you’ve gone in and taken a few shots and realize that your child is deep in sleep. What to do now? Go crazy!

Circle your sweet little one, zoom in and out, and get as many different perspectives as you can. Capture them from above, right on, and all sorts of angles. Don’t forget to also shoot both vertical and horizontal for variation.

unique perspectives when photographing your sleeping child by April Niehuis

4. Get up high

One of my favorite ways to capture my kids sleeping is to get as high above them as possible and then shoot looking directly down at them. I love how this angle can make them look so tiny.

For the light sleepers, you may need to get a chair or something to stand on for this but if your child is a deep sleeper, feel free to stand on the bed (just make sure your feet are out of the frame). For safety purposes, make sure you are wearing your camera’s neck strap just in case the camera slips from your fingers.

child sleeping on a group of pillows by April Nienhuis

5. Move them

You think I’m crazy right now don’t you? I’m not suggesting you pick them up and move them but if your child is good and asleep, don’t be afraid to make slight adjustments.

I don’t do this much but in the picture below for example, her face was originally turned the other way and hidden in the shadows. She was sound asleep so I used both hands to gently roll her face into the light.

child sleeping in her princess tshirt by April Nienhuis

6. Use fun lenses

When your kids are sleeping, it’s the perfect time to play with creative lenses that might take more patience to use. Many of the creative lenses out there like tilt-shifts and Lensbabies are manual focus so they can be difficult to use on a rambunctious kid but when they’re sleeping, they’re still and you can take your time.

Both of the photos below were taken with the Canon 45 tilt-shift, one of my favorite lenses to use for sleeping pictures. When shooting with my tilt-shift, I use liveview, frame up the scene, and then zoom in on the face to ensure that my focus is spot on.

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photo of a child sleeping with a blue blanket with the Canon 45 tilt shift lens by April Nienhuis
tilt shift photo of girl sleeping with dramatic light by April Nienhuis

7. Fake it

With the following two photos, you’d guess my youngest is sleeping wouldn’t you? In the first one I caught her taking a break on Thanksgiving and the second was a blinker from when I was playing with some new lights.

Even though it’s not a true sleeping photo, it doesn’t show what she looks like when snoozing. They’re not ones I’ll include in my sleeping series but if you’re unable to get many sleeping shots, these types will help you remember those restful times.

child sleeping on a bench by April Nienhuis
girl sleeping in pink tank top by April Nienhuis

8. Don’t forget the details

Detail photos are my favorite and they’re an option even when your littles are napping.

Photograph them snuggling their tattered blankie, grasping their favorite baby, or even capture that wispy curl or those sweet little toes peeking outside the blanket. Some of my personal favorites include their belongings or quirky behavior like the way my youngest tucks her arm under the pillow.

boy sleeping with his Captain America toys and special blankie by April Nienhuis

9. Embrace the hilarity

Okay, now this might not be an option for everyone but my youngest has a gift for falling asleep in the oddest of places. I mean, who falls asleep on top of a pink guitar?!

I wasn’t in the room when it happened so I can’t explain it but the first thing I did when I saw her was grab the camera. And this was one of those moments that I did NOT try to adjust her into the best light – I wasn’t risking it, lol.

child sleeping on top of a pink guitar by April Nienhuis
kid sleeping on top of a pile of couch cushions by April Nienhuis

10. Shoot even when they’re sick

I know, I know… when they are sick all you want to do is snuggle them and call in an order for pizza delivery. But, they’re usually sleeping pretty soundly when they’re under the weather (and during the day when the light is better!) so take advantage of that moment and sneak in 5 minutes to photograph them.

In addition to getting them sleeping, don’t forget to reframe and include things that indicate being sick like a pile of drinks or some medication on the nightstand.

girl napping on a white bed by April Nienhuis
kid sick in bed napping by April Nienhuis

11. Consider the time of day

If you’re lucky enough to have a kid who will sleep in conditions that don’t include blackout curtains, include any lighting situations or adjust your exposure to reflect the time of day.

If the sun is starting to dip and they’re close to a window, try to get some pretty backlight or haze in the frame. If it’s late at night and really dark, work with a high ISO to bring in camera noise or even consider underexposing which will help symbolize night.

backlit photo of kid napping on the floor by April Nienhuis
tilt shift picture of kid sleeping at night by April Nienhuis

12. Bring in artificial light

Regardless of how dark it is in the room, you do need some light in order to take a photo. If you find that you want more than what’s available, don’t be afraid to add your own light.

In the below examples, I bounced my Canon Speedlite 580EX II off a wall for the color photos and held up an Ice Light with my left hand for the black and white one. If you don’t have any lighting equipment, turn up the brightness on your iPhone and use that to shine in a little light, I’ve done that as well.

child sleeping on the floor by the couch by April Nienhuis

black and white photo of girl sleeping and being lit with an Ice Light by April Nienhuis

13. Include Mom or Dad

It might not happen often but how can you resist NOT taking a photo when you little one(s) takes a mid-afternoon nap with mom or dad?! It’s just too precious to resist. When this rare moment comes around, grab it forever while you can.

dad and 3 kids taking a nap by April Nienhuis
dad holding toddler while they nap by April Nienhuis

14. Grab your iPhone

Sometimes your mobile phone is all you have nearby so don’t discount it when wanting to take an awesome photo.

The biggest tip I can offer you is to make sure you’ve got good light and it’s falling nicely on your kiddo, it’ll make a world of difference. If your big camera is too far away, you won’t regret using your iPhone that’s within arm’s reach.

black and white iphone picture of kid sleeping by April Nienhuis

And if you’re the only picture taker in the house like I am, sometimes a quick iPhone photo from a family member will be the only picture you have of yourself napping with one of your littles…

iPhone picture of mom and daughter taking a nap by Esther of Story of this Life

Photo by Esther of Story of this Life