Trying to capture a natural smile from a child is like trying to spot a shooting star. It’s swift, fleeting, but is a wonderful sight to behold. In order to make these moments occur more frequently and last longer, we’ve compiled four tips that are sure to bring out a natural smile in even the most difficult children.
1. Let Kids Be Kids
The first thing any child photographer must realize is that their subjects are just that: kids. You are not working with models, so you cannot expect the same amount of motivation or willingness from them to engage in a photo shoot. Trying to generate a genuine smile from disinterested or unruly child is a stressful situation. Attempting to reason with such children, to no avail, just compounds that stress. Though not all kids resent getting their photos taken, getting a natural-looking smile from even the biggest photo-inclined children can still be a challenge.
The solution to this problem lies in recognizing that kids operate differently than maturer subjects, and that capitalizing on these differences can lead to desired results. In essence, you must let kids be themselves. Give them the ability to be carefree and a little silly, and they’ll forget that you’re even taking photos! For instance, try turning the photography session into a game, such as by seeing who can make the weirdest faces or the classic “peek-a-boo.” Children will respond positively to the decreased formality, and will lighten up when they see you having fun along with them.
2. Keep Them Occupied
A lot of kids fidget. Telling kids to sit still and not move about can lead to restless and cranky behavior. The solution to this is to give them something to do. This can be as simple as giving them a prop to hold, or playing some distracting music. The key is simply to try and get the children to forget that you are even there!
Photographers have had success in creating an activity, such as a puzzle, for children to complete throughout the photo shoot. The benefit of this is that the kids will end up becoming so engrossed with the activity to the extent that they will no longer remember you are even taking photos. This makes it easy to capture a genuine smile, as the children will naturally be amused and excited by the activity they are trying to complete. For the children who become too consumed in the task (coloring within the lines can require great focus) simply probe them to “look up and an smile.” It will be a reflex reaction from the kids, and can make for smiles which do not seem forced.
3. Let Them Entertain You
Kids love to be the center of attention. They like to sing, dance, and play, even more so when they have an audience. What you can do is be that audience for them! Ask them to show you their special skills. Whether that be getting them to belt out a few notes or having them show you a charming trick — whatever it is, engage them. This will not only make the children more comfortable, it will also put them in a good mood, making it easier to draw out smiles from them.
If the children are unwilling to entertain you, try getting the them to entertain each other! Children can be warmed up by being told to make silly faces to their peers, who are waiting to get their picture taken. If you decide to take some group photos, you’re in luck! While it is generally more troublesome to capture good-looking smiles when there are more subjects in the picture, we have found a trick to get everyone smiling. Depending on the age, a surefire way to get a natural smile in a group photo is to have the children tickle each other. Just make sure it’s not too aggressive, or you will have children keeling over from laughter!
4. Apply Some Reverse Psychology
The oldest trick in the book: simply tell your subject not to smile! Make it a point to say that nothing funny is happening, and that to smile would “ruin” the photo. The more sarcastic you are while doing this, the funnier the child will think the situation is. Children will be happy to engage in the opposite of whatever you tell them to do, especially when they can tell you’re not being serious. Just remember to keep the situation lighthearted, as you do not want the child to think they truly shouldn’t smile (otherwise, they might just listen to you)!
When they do finally crack a natural smile, be over-dramatic and emphasize your faux anger by saying something like, “You’re smiling in this photo, what are your parents going to think when they see this?” The child should find the whole premise ridiculous, as it will go against all prior experiences with taking photos. Just make sure not to get too caught up in the hilarity, so as to not miss capturing some key moments!
So remember, embrace the fact that kids will be kids and use their behavior to your benefit. Following our tips, you are sure to spend less time coercing smiles and more time photographing them.