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Tips to Get Real Smiles from your Kids


Jog your memory back to the last time you had family photos taken. It feels like you waited forever to get the photos. Then, they FINALLY arrive! You quickly realize out of 100 photos little 4 year old Johnny is only smiling in 3 of them. UGH! As long as mom looks good in the photos and the kids are smiling you are happy, right?! Whether you have kids or not I am sure you know what I am talking about!

I have been shooting weddings for over 15 years and I finally found a magic trick that works ALMOST every time. It even works on adults that are stuggling to find their genuine real smile! Challenge the kids to NOT smile. Speak their language and tell them to use their “Serious Face” or “Mad Face”. Keep telling them to hold it! EVERY SINGLE TIME the kids start laughing. That’s when you get that genuine smile. Then we snap away!

If my trick doesn’t work (It’s not really mine, I am sure many others use it. haha) then check out the other ideas below that should help!

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

  • 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.
  • 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!

  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Put a toy, phone, rock, etc on your head and say watch me balance, then purposely let it fall off.
  • Give the kid a squishy ball and tell them to throw it at you.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.


Credit and Guest post from Helen Don

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