How to get natural looking smiles from kids

Now that we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the “Back to School” time of year, it’s time for many parents to grab the camera for the annual First Day of School pic.  I figured it would be fitting to provide you with a few tips to get those natural looking smiles from your kids…….or whatever kids you find yourself taking pictures of.  Keep in mind that these tips tend to work on younger kids.  If you’re looking to get pictures of utter embarrassment, go ahead and try these on your teenager!

1.  Act a fool

I tend to warn parents of children that I’m photographing that they may witness me doing things that some would regard as crazy just to get the shot that I’m looking for.  That means if I have to sing horribly and change the words of a song that the kids know to some horrible off-the-top-of-my-head remix just to get them to laugh and give me the natural smile I’m looking for, then so be it.  If I’m doing a shoot with more than one child, I’ll egg one child on to tickle another.  At the end of the day, I get the shot I want and it looks natural, and therefore, a bit more candid.


2.  Do NOT say cheese!!

Under NO circumstance do you say the words “Say Cheeeese……”!!  This has been the go-to command for probably centuries now.  Unfortunately, with children, that command tends to produce a look that more resembles the toothy face you make when showing your dentist your teeth.  If you want to use that type of command with children, use one that will make them laugh and produce the adorable smile you were looking for in the first place.  Instead of “Say cheese”, try this:  “Say (insert the goofiest thing that pops into your head here)”.  If you know of something that makes your child completely lose it and laugh uncontrollably, now is your opportunity to use that tidbit of information to your advantage.  Not only will you get the smile you want (most likely right at the end of the laughing fit), but you’ll also get a bunch of opportunities to get pictures of your kid doing one of the things kids do best……being goofballs!!


3.  Tell them NOT to smile……..hear me out on this one!!

This is actually a tip that’s been around forever but it deserves to be repeated because it flat out WORKS!  Tell the child not to smile, “OK, I need you to hold your smile in now. Whatever you do,… Uh oh….HEY…I see you starting to smile… here it comes…don’t do it!”  Works every time!!!  You could even tell them to make the same face you make, then make a really goofy, mean face.  When they do it back, scream in pretend fright.  They’ll crack up!!


4.  Make the session FUN!!

If you’re a photographer yourself and have done sessions with kids, you’ll be able to relate to this one.  If you aren’t walking out of the session sweaty, tired, and maybe a little bit sore from running, jumping, and chasing little ones around your session, then chances are, you didn’t make it as fun as you could’ve.  Kids will grow annoyed quickly with the “sit there and pose” type sessions.  They need to be involved and they need to be interested in what you’re doing to get those genuine smile out of them.  You can even give them tasks to do that they enjoy and can feel excited about upon completion.  Kids get pumped when adults acknowledge them doing a good job at something.  If you are not pressing that shutter after saying the words “Awesome job!!!”, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!


5.  Getting past the angry child

The roughest situation is getting adorable pictures from an angry child who just doesn’t want to have his or her picture taken.  Sometimes, you gotta swallow your pride and reach into your bag of tricks and do something downright embarrassing!  If you gotta get up and dance, them by all means, DROP IT LIKE ITS HOT!!  Do whatever you gotta do to get that first hint of a smile.  You know what I’m talking about.  That smile that kids give when they think they still wanna be mad but their mouths disagree.  That’s the smile you’re looking for.  Once you get that smile, you’re home free.  When all else fails, just talk to them about something that takes them to their happy place.  Just remember, kids will always be more comfortable having a conversation that they will be when being told to “Say cheeese”.


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