20 tips to get your kids to smile naturally in photos

photography tutorial – 20 tips to help you get more natural smiles when photographing your kids

”Johnny darling, say cheeeeeeese” …… Johnny’s mouth suddenly transforms into a terrifying grimacing upside down frown

“Oh good lord, no no Johnny, just smile normally”…..

“Johnny, commmmme on, just ONE QUICK *NORMAL* SMILE” spoken through gritted teeth

“Seriously Johnny, PRETTY PLEASE, just smile nicely so mummy can take one decent photo” frustration levels rise

“Oh for god sake Johnny, never mind, all I wanted in life was just this ONE photo but I suppose I’ll go have a glass of wine instead” cracks open a bottle of sav

Sound familiar ?? Well, it happens to the best of us don’t worry!!

Getting genuine smiles out of your kids is not as difficult as you might think!!

Getting genuine smiles out of your kids is not as difficult as you might think!!

Ok ok, so maybe I have slightly over-dramatised this scenario, but you can see the point I’m trying to make, right!?

The thing is, the majority of young (and old) kids just cannot turn on real and/or natural smiles at the drop of the hat (lovely innocent and genuine little souls that they are!) - BUT, it’s not as difficult as you might think!!

melbourne family photography on the beach

What not to do…

Well, number one, try to avoid doing what I’ve just outlined above…

But also, unfortunately the ever popular “SAY CHEESE” generally doesn’t really achieve much either - other than bringing out those fake / cheesy / slightly terrifying smiles.

Unsurprisingly, having an adult repeatedly tell them to smile also tends not to work on little kids (or…anyone, really).

melbourne-family-photographer-12.jpg

Bribes MAY work, but use them sparingly, otherwise you’ll end up with a Pavlov dog situation where every time your little one sees the camera, they start salivating for treats (did someone say treats!?).

So instead of making these common mistakes, try using some of these tips the next time you are trying to get a genuine smile out of your little one for the camera.

My top 20 tips to help get your kids to smile naturally in photos

Singalongs for the smiley, joyful win!

Singalongs for the smiley, joyful win!

1.       Sing their favourite song to them

2.       Ask them who they love the most in the whole wide world

3.       Ask them who is the smelliest person in their family

4.       Get them talking about an activity that they love to do (and let them do it after you’ve finished snapping - and then, you might find that once they’re doing said activity, they are even more likely to give you some real genuine smiles)

Peekaboo - fun for babies, toddlers and preschoolers

Peekaboo - fun for babies, toddlers and preschoolers

5.       Ask them what their favourite animal is (then ask them what noises that animal makes….now, go onnnn, make a few of those noises yourself)

6.       Play peekaboo (works on babies and STILL works on my 4 ½ year old!)

7.       Ask them if they know how much you love them

8.      Compliment them – tell them the things YOU love most about them

dish out the compliments - “ohhh you are the BEST big sister in the whole world, I love how gentle you are with your baby brother, how lucky is your baby brother to have you as his big sister”

dish out the compliments - “ohhh you are the BEST big sister in the whole world, I love how gentle you are with your baby brother, how lucky is your baby brother to have you as his big sister”

9.    Toilet humour…basically just say “bum” or make fart noises

10.   Ask them to do the biggest jump they can / or most beautiful ballerina twirl (be ready to capture the look on their faces straight after they do it)

11.   Take the photo of them standing on one leg and pretend that you’re losing balance and about to fall over

12.   Recite some lines from their favourite book (c’mon, we all know you’ve read it 1000  times and know every page of Hairy McLairy word for word)

Tickles have a high success rate!

Tickles have a high success rate!

13.   Tell them you’re coming to tickle them (and do it - only if they like it!)

14.   Tell them they are not allowed to smile  - *never ever* and that it might break your camera if they smile – then just keep saying to them things like UH UH, NO SMILING, you’re never allowed to smile OK, I’m serious!! HEY!? Is that a smile I see!? Stop that you cheeky monkey!! Chances are, they aren’t going to be able to keep a straight face forever

15.   Tell them to pull their silliest face, then their scariest face, then their funniest face (and so on) -  and be ready to capture some genuine smiles/laughter afterwards

If you’re happy and you know it…. clap your hands!

If you’re happy and you know it…. clap your hands!

16.   Bust out some of your most ridiculous dance moves (my go-to is the one legged running man, but you do you)

17.   Ask them if they’re excited for *insert fun thing they are doing today / this week / this year!*  

18.   Ask them to give you a high five, and then react super dramatically like it was the biggest high five anyone has ever given anyone in the world

If you look really closely, sometimes you can see Elsa in my camera !

If you look really closely, sometimes you can see Elsa in my camera !

19.   Ask them if they can see *insert their favourite animal or TV character* if they look right into your camera – some kids will nod happily (which I find hilarious) but others will say “no” – if they say no, I start hitting my camera and saying it must be broken and pretend to be shocked that it’s not working

20.   The final tip is a “choose your own adventure” situation – as in, you know your child and what they love / find hilarious more than anyone in the world – so, think about what makes your child happiest and talk to them about that thing OR what always makes your child laugh uncontrollably and do that…. For my daughter, whenever I say “foo foo valve” she falls about the place in hysterics and for my son, if I touch my nose and pretend to sneeze, he cracks up… chances are, NEITHER of those will work on your kids but you will have something else a little bit special or unique that works for you

this is the reaction Elise has to me saying “foo foo valve”

this is the reaction Elise has to me saying “foo foo valve”

melbourne-family-photographer-24.jpg

Bonus tip – PATIENCE IS KEY when photographing kids. Sometimes no matter how much of a fool you make out of yourself, your little one just ain’t gonna feel like being photographed or smiling (who here can relate?!) and if you try and force it – chances are they’re going to start to form a pretty negative association with the camera… so listen to them when they tell you they want you to stop.  Go get a snack, have a break, play a game together and try again later.

melbourne-family-photographer-23.jpg

Bonus tip 2 - Your kids are going to pick up on your energy, so if you’re getting annoyed or frustrated at their lack of cooperation, they’re probably going to start feeling the same…. Again, take a break, get a snack and come back to it later.




Do you have any tips to add to the list !? What ALWAYS gets a laugh or smile out of your little ones?

Please feel free to share this post with anyone you think might benefit from some of these tips and sign up for my mailing list if you would like to receive tips like this straight to your inbox!

If all else fails, grab yourself a go-pro, a boogie board and head to the beach! The smiles will be on for young and old!

If all else fails, grab yourself a go-pro, a boogie board and head to the beach! The smiles will be on for young and old!