Without a doubt, whenever I tell a child to simply smile for a picture I end up with very awkward forced and strained grin. It never looks natural and it doesn’t show the true personality of the child. I’ve come up with a few tips that I find helpful when I am trying to get organic smiles from kids.
- Take time to get the know the child before you start shooting
With most shoots, you don’t know the family personally before you get to the session. Walking into a shoot and being a complete stranger to the child can be a little intimidating to the child, especially if they are shy. Before you start shooting, make sure that you get down on the child’s level and talk to them; ask them their name, how old they are, what they like to do, etc. Once you’ve introduced yourself and the child has let you get to know them, you no longer become the strange woman/man with the camera and they instantly feel more comfortable.
- Use the child’s interests to get them talking and smiling
After talking to the child before shooting, you have a general idea about the things that they like. Use those things to your advantage! Ask the child to tell you about their favorite character or movie; when the child is passionate or interested in something, they have a natural excited expression on his/her face.
- Make a fool of yourself
Sing, dance, make a goofy face; just make a fool of yourself for the sake of that adorable giggle or grin! Babies will love the singing, young children love the goofy faces and dancing, and teens will be so embarrassed by all three that they have no choice but to laugh. The last family photo shoot I did with the Jordan family required me to wiggle around while simultaneously sticking out my tongue in a very public place just to get their daughter Charlotte to laugh. Yes I made a fool of myself in public, but her reactions were more than worth it! Just look at this adorable giggle!
*Win, win moment: Most of the time when the child starts giggling or smiling, the parents do to (see picture below). *Oprah Winfrey voice* “You get a natural smile, you get a natural smile, EVERYONE gets a natural smile!”