Tips for Getting Genuine Smiles from Kids

A few days before this little guy’s Back to School session, his mom asked me if I had any tips for how to get kids to show real smiles in photos.  She came to his session well prepared to help him have a good time and help me get some real smiles out of him.  I was so happy with the results!  I thought I would expand upon the advice I gave her and share a few tips for how to get those great, authentic expressions from your kids whether you’re taking snapshots at home or standing beside a professional photographer.


1.  Don’t be afraid to be silly!

Think ahead of time about a few things that you can say or do that always get your kids laughing.  We do this all the time with babies when we take their pictures.  We make complete fools of ourselves cooing at them and making funny noises and faces.  The older our kids get, we rely more on just telling them to smile or say cheese, but this rarely gives us the results we’re looking for!

If you’re working with me, I’ll have a few things that I’ll try to get them to laugh, but I don’t know your kids as well as you do and you’ll probably have more success than I will, so I’ll need your help!  My son loves word play.  Most of the recent pictures I have of him actually smiling and looking at the camera are a result of me saying something like “Twinkle, twinkle little… OCTOPUS!” or “Crinkle, crinkle, kittle car!”  It cracks him up every time!  When I tried that trick with this little boy, he barely even acknowledged it, but when his mom hid behind my reflector and peeked out at him, that was hilarious!  She knew his sense of humor and it was great!



2.  Interact with them.

Get them talking about something they love!  This can be especially effective with older kids.  You’ll get some awkward-looking shots of them talking, but then you’ll also get some really great shots as they light up at the thought of horses or their best friend or the funny thing that happened at Grandma’s house last week.  The look you’re waiting for is usually the moment right after they finish talking while they’re still smiling about the thing they’ve just told you about.  Be ready!

Oftentimes kids will relax and have a lot more fun for photos if they are not the only one being photographed.  If they seem to be feeling uncomfortable, you or a sibling can get in the shot with them and play with them until they relax.  Even if they are posing with another person, I can still zoom in on their face and get a nice portrait of a happy, relaxed kiddo.    This wasn’t an issue for this little boy, but I’ve seen it work wonders for some other kids that I’ve worked with!



3. Give them something to do.

I usually try to plan a few activities for kids to do in the early part of my photo shoot to help them relax and have fun.  For these Back-to-School sessions, we counted apples, balanced them on our heads, read books, and even hunted for grasshoppers.  If you’re taking pictures at home, set up an activity that you know they’ll love in the place where you want to take their photos and then wait for the smiles and the sweet candid moments.


4.  Follow their lead and don’t pressure them.

Kids who are being rushed or pressured to sit still and smile usually don’t feel very much like smiling.  If you’re taking pictures at home, try to plan enough time that you’ll be able to let the moment happen and not rush it.  For my photo sessions, if a child isn’t interested in a certain pose or location, we’ll try something more laid back for a little while and then come back and try that pose again.  If you push them too much, you risk losing their interest entirely and blowing your chances at getting any more photos.

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5.  Anticipate the moment.

When I took the following photo, I had led him out into the field with a vision for a close up of him in the tall grass.  That was not happening, but I kept my camera ready and made sure my settings were right.  He was walking away from me, then his mom called his name and he looked back at us and smiled for this perfect shot.  It pays to be patient and just follow them around and wait till the moment is right.

One advantage to having a DSLR is that these cameras take a photo right when you push the button, as opposed to a point and shoot which has a delay.  If I were using a point and shoot, I would push the button a bit early (right when I call his name or say something funny) and hope that the timing would work out, otherwise you often miss the perfect smile.


Capturing these photos can be a challenge, but it’s so worth it!  I had a blast with this little session and l love the photos that came out of it too!  If you live in Northern Colorado and you’d like to have me take some photos of your kids, I’d love to hear from you!  Please feel free to contact me with any questions you might have.

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