Never Say Cheese // Secret Tips for Getting Kids to Smile in Photographs

Aside from people trying to decide which camera to buy, the most popular question I hear is, "How do you get kids to sit still and smile?" It's a simple answer really:  Make them happy! I love candid smiles. I love the faces of kids playing with bubbles in the summer, throwing leaves in the air in the fall, doing snow angels in the winter, and running among flowers in the spring. Happy kids make the best photographs. Let them be kids! Add pretty light and a camera and you're good to go. Action smiles are easy peasy. "But what if I want a formal portrait of them looking into the camera?" Ah YES! The holy grail of children's photography is certainly a photo of a toddler in nice, non-messy clothes, great light, eye contact, and a perfect smile.  It is never easy, especially when it's your own kids. But I DO have some great tips for you. I always keep with the theme of making them happy. Usually, I just act like a fool until they laugh at me.

Tips for Getting Kids to Smile in Photographs

  1. Hide behind something and then pop out. You're gone and then all of a sudden you appear again. They think it's hilarious. Often times I'll add a "Here I am!" or "Peek a boo!" since they already associate that to something fun and happy.

  2. Have them repeat you. I love telling kids to say things that don't make sense like "say heebie neebie leebie" or "oppie doopie poopie". They laugh at you because you are a crazy person or they will actually say it, and either face works.

  3. Do not have them say cheese. Or fromage. Or queso. They are OVER THAT. If you are going to have them say a real word, have it be something fantastic like "CANDY" or "CHOCOLATE"! If it's around the holidays, having them say "presents" is a good one too. For the record, I do think cheese is fantastic (to eat though).

  4. Spin in circles or pretend to catch a wiggle bug. Have them be in charge of telling you to stop spinning or stop wiggling. They get a kick out of that. When I was pregnant, I would push my belly forward and wiggle and say "belly belly belly". People thought it was the funniest thing ever.

  5. Move them. If the child is a baby and being held, have the person holding baby lift and lower baby in the air, or spin in a circle with the baby in their arms. If you have the person holding them give them a kiss on their way down, that makes for a gorgeous image as well.

  6. Put things on your head or hold toys that rattle or squeak. I usually just take a toy from my kids' toy box and put it in my camera bag. The novelty wears off for kids though so if you are trying to keep the attention of your own child, you might have to try this while the toy is still new. Shutter Buddies (little toys that attach to your camera) are great too.

  7. Bribery! It is your best friend if they are old enough. Avoid M&Ms or lollipops because they are SUPER messy but mini marshmallows are perfect for this. Just say, "If you want a marshmallow, say ME!" and you will have yourself a group if kids with happy faces.

  8. Tickles. Have the person holding them give them a tickle. If the child is a baby, you can gently tickle their toes and then back up to get your image. I usually have to do it a few times to get what I want (I used this trick in the image above).

  9. Make animal sounds. Desperate times call for desperate measures! "What does a monkey say?" They aren't used to seeing an adult act like a monkey. They'll love it.

  10. Use potty humor if you have to. It's a huge hit for the 4 and over crowd. The bonus is that it works on adults too.

And don't forget if there are adults in the photo also, make sure to tell them to pay attention to their expressions while you do these crazy things. They will crack up and most adults like their calm and happy smile (vs their "this lady is bananas" expression).

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{Also helpful: 5 Important Secrets For Success for Children's Photography Hobbyists & Pros}

I sure hope these helped you with your kids or your clients!

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