On Getting Natural Smiles out kids

From all the family photo shoots I've done and all the chances I've had to photograph my own nieces and nephews I've developed some techniques I'd like to share on how to get natural smiles out of the children in your life. The smile I get out of my nephew, Julian when I simply say, "SMILE!" or "SAY CHEESE!" is much different then the smile I get from him when he is actually happy and enjoying himself. Here is an example,

his smile when I say, "SMILE!"

Children Photographer

his smile when he's actually happy. 


Of course I love both of his smiles. ALL of his smiles actually. Even the ones that look more like frowns or make him look like he's confused. But the smile I remember when we are together having fun, or when he's giggling at himself, or when he's experiencing something new he enjoys for the first time, well- that's the second smile. The one where his eyes are open. 

SO TIPS! Here are a few ways I get that natural smile out of kids when we are taking pictures. 

1. Avoid saying 'smile!' or 'Say cheese!' 

For the reason and example above. Asking a child to smile on command will elicit the first smile and while we love it, it's not the natural one. 

2. Plan an activity.

Tips for taking kids pictures

I know the children in my life are much happier when they are doing something they enjoy instead of having to stand still and smile. Photographers call these sessions where a family is in it's natural element doing something, lifestyle sessions. Pick an activity where they will enjoy themselves, not get too messy (or let them get REALLY messy- I love how THIS Modern Family shoot turned out), and takes a good length of time. This way kids won't even notice the fact that they are participating in a photo session. Some activities I like to take pictures of children during are: 

-Blueberry picking, apple picking, pumpking picking ANY Of the 'pickings'

-While coloring/doing arts and crafts. 

-During a beach/lake day. 

-Hiking/ Going for a walk. 


3. Get down to their level. 

Photography with kids tips

If you are standing above a child with your camera looking down at it, the picture you take probably won't show the size of their smile to be as big as it is. If they are looking up at you their mouth will appear thinner. If you kneel down on the floor with them you'll get the full size of their smile. You will also be down at their view point, seeing the world at the angle they see it, which I think adds another element. 

4. Go with the flow and keep that camera in hand!

Maine kids photographer

Sitting still, focusing all your attention to one thing, and smiling on cue sounds like the exact OPPOSITE of what children want to do. Often I see parents struggling to get their kids to do those things only to get frustrated and then ruin any chance of getting a good natural photo at all. If you just let the kids be in their natural element the photo worthy moments will just happen on their own. BUT you have to be ready for them so don't let that camera go far. 

5. Catch them off guard. 

Tips to get kids to smile

Sometimes you just have to straight up trick them. To do this I set them up with an activity (tip #2) and let them go at it. When I notice that they are smiling and in a good mood I'll put my camera up to my eye, focus, and then call their attention. They will look over at me, still so happy, and I'll snap away. 

I hope these help make the photo taking process in your family a little easier!