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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…