3 tips to get a real smile out of your child

If you want a real smile out of your child for photos, the answer is simple, but not always easy: make them happy.

They know when you're anxious about getting a real smile for the photographer. Most children will comply and will give you a fake smile so that they can get it done with. And then it takes twice as long to get it done because you know they're not giving you a real smile. And then you get frustrated because they're not cooperating.

Yes, bribery will buy you a short amount of cooperation, but it doesn't always guarantee a truly joyful smile when the shutter gets released. For this session, I told my girls that there would be a special treat at the end, but I had to use a couple of little tricks along the way to get the right expressions in the moment.

Tip #1 - Give them something to do

Fake smile

Fake smile

Eva started out with the fake smile in this portion of our session.

I told her to play with her hair. When that didn't work, I told her to look at her hair while she plays with it, hoping to get a candid and natural look.

The result was the next three pictures. She was being silly. But it made me laugh. And it made her happy to make me laugh.

Real smile

Real smile




After letting her be silly, I was able to capture the real smile.



Tip #2 - Give them time and space to be themselves

After I put them into their pose, I asked them to tell each other jokes. Telling jokes just happened to be a phase that they were in. They would tell the same lame jokes over and over again, and for some reason, they would always laugh. This put them in the right frame of mind. When I asked them to put their heads together, they bumped heads, which made them laugh more.

You know what makes your child happy. After the photographer puts your child into a pose, rather than ask for a smile, stand behind the photographer and talk about something that your child is excited about. Or better yet, let your child talk about something that she's excited about. Talk about the silly things that makes your family laugh. Or ask your child to retell a funny story that your family shared around the dinner table. It will take just a bit longer, but once she's primed, you can ask for the smile and she'll be much happier giving it to you.

Tip #3 - Walk away

Let's face it. Sometimes, your impatience and frustration will just get in the way. You won't enjoy the session, and your child won't enjoy the session. Your photographer is the professional, will have much more patience, and may have a few other tricks up her sleeve that will create the right expression.

Give yourself a break from the heat of the moment. Both you and your child will be much happier for it.

Bonus tip - Don't look for a smile

Do you ever use the trick with your kids, "Don't smile! Don't you dare smile!" and then your kids can't help but smile?

The same works for parents. You may think you're looking for a smile, but I know that you love the many facets of your child. Your child is dynamic, unique and ever-changing. There are a million micro-expressions that I know that you wish you could capture. Take a breather. Let the moment unfold and see what happens. You may like the result.

Zelda is a portrait and wedding photographer in the Atlanta area and available for travel.