12 Tips to Get Real Smiles From Your Kids

12 Tips to Get Real Smiles From Your Kids

Guest post from our friend, Helen Don:

Every parent wants great images of their children, but making this happen can be very frustrating. Sometimes I find it harder to photograph my own kids than my clients’ little ones, because I’m playing both the role of mom and photographer. Here are my best secrets for documenting children without saying “cheese!”

1. Get down on their level. Kids don’t want to be talked down to, especially when you want something from them.

2. Once you’re kneeling down on their level, engage the child in a series of questions about their favorite things to get them distracted from the camera and more relaxed. Little people love to talk about themselves just as much as their larger versions.

child in photo shoot eating poscicle

3. For mobile babies who don’t respond well to instruction yet, food/treats are a great way to keep them in one spot for more than 1/100th of a second. Sit them down in a pretty spot, drop cheerios in their lap, then make some funny noises, honk a horn, shake some bells… anything to get them to look at you and hopefully smile.

4. Make it a game. Challenge them and say “I bet you can’t smile” or “DO. NOT. SMILE. OR ELSE.” Sometimes it works, but not for every kid.

5. If you want to get all of your kids in the frame together laughing, ask them to check the other’s nose for boogers. Next, you can have them check each others teeth for something green. I doubt they’ll keep a straight face!

little boy smiling

6. If there’s another person around, tell them to pretend to trip and fall right behind whoever is taking the picture. This trick works almost every single time.

7. Get super silly! Pretend your shoe is a phone and you’re getting a call and bring it to your ear for a chat. If you make fun of yourself and act like a clown it will be irresistibly funny and create a laid back atmosphere where a kid will feel relaxed.

little girl swimming

8. Put a toy, phone, rock, etc on your head and say watch me balance, then purposely let it fall off.

9. Give the kid a squishy ball and tell them to throw it at you.

10. Capture the reality. Take a step back and let them do their thing. If kids are wrestling, crying, pouting, dancing, etc – capture it! I personally love the fussy shots as much as the smiley and I try to get a mix of staged portraits and the gritty reality that is real life.

kids playing outside

11. Bribery tends to work well as a last resort and I have even paid my older children to cooperate for photos. Since I prefer genuine smiles and laughter to coerced or bought compliance, I try to avoid turning portrait taking into feeling like work for them.

12. When it comes to older kids, especially boys, avoid putting them into poses. If you tell them to stand or sit a certain way, it’s going to look disingenuous. Create an environment of playful interaction so you can document real smiles. Try them standing back to back to see who’s taller, encourage some wrestling or have them pick each other up.

boy playing in sprinkler

Getting visibly frustrated or annoyed at a child for lack of cooperation is going to have a 100% failure rate. Make sure you are smiling and there is more of a chance that they will mirror you. I hope these tips will help you the next time you’re photographing children and you want a natural-looking shot. Find more free tips on my website.

Happy picture taking and good luck!

Special thanks to Helen Don for providing the imagery and content for this post. Follow along with her on Instagram, @itshelendon

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