(Don't) Say Cheese!

Top Tips of how to get natural smiles when taking photos of your children

Are you wanting to get some nice pictures of your children but don't feel that you get a genuine smile?

I've been thinking about this one for a while. What are the absolute best tips to make your child smile in front of the camera? I think we've all been there, getting to a lovely location and they are either bored, grumpy or give you a fake smile.

As family photographer I have had lots of practice over the years and I would love to share some tips to make it easier for others. I use different tricks and techniques for different age groups, but the most important thing to get children to be happy in front a camera is to get them to relax. And for them to relax it is VERY important that you are relaxed too. When a child see mummy or daddy being tense and rushing and bossing him/her around there is no way that little child wants to take smiley pictures. So always try to approach your photo shoot in a calm happy way ( I know, it is not always easy, but happy parents make happy children. Isn't that what they say?)

asa bell photography natural smiles

1. Do NOT say cheese!

This word has always baffled me. If anyone can explain why we keep saying it please do! Looking at pictures of children with the "cheese smile" all I can see is a fake grin and all their teeth. Is that what we want to print and have framed on our walls? Try using a different word instead, like "smelly socks", "sausages" or "national encyclopedia".

My daughter had a really bad habit of saying cheese, I am not sure where she got it from but I started telling her; "do not say cheese, if you say it again I will tickle you instead!" That usually makes her giggle and I take the photo then instead. 

2. Engage the children

Ask them questions about their life, favourite animals or food. Tell them about your (pretend) favourite food "I love pizza with sausages and strawberries and cheese and ice cream". Ask them about their friends and hobbies or games they play. If you are photographing an older child ask them if they have a boyfriend/girlfriend. That tends to result in some shy or shocked smiles.


3. Tickles

This works when you are standing close to the children. If the children are zooning out and looking at something in the distance or are just plain bored. Give them a little tickle and then tell them that you will do it again. That usually results in some fun smiles.

4. Pretend to be stupid

Sing a well known song and replace a word with something silly; for example "twinkle, twinkle little...sausage" or  mix up the letters in the ABC song "A, B, C, D, K, R T." Do you have a younger child? Talk about different animals and ask them "Does the dog say 'Meow?' Does the horse say 'Baaaaa?' ." Kids always look at me like I am the silliest person they've met and laugh out loud.

5. Tell them not to smile

I don't know about your children but my eldest have a habit of doing the opposite of what I tell her to do. So this tip is the one that has worked the best for me recently. I get very serious and tell her that what ever she does she must absolutely not smile; "I told you NOT to smile! No, don't smile!!"

Her mischievous side usually gets the better of her and results in cute giggles. 

The image above shows the steps I went through to get the image I wanted.

The image above shows the steps I went through to get the image I wanted.

6. Ask them to pull silly faces

I know, this is probably not what you were hoping for when looking for tips on how to achieve smiley photos but sometimes this works wonders. Yes, you get some strange pictures that you may or may not want to print but do not put your camera down after they've made their silly face. Children think this is hilarious and it is their expression afterwards that I am looking for. Bonus points if you pull some yourself! That will probably make them laugh even harder.

Side note: This is something I do as a last resort or at the end of a session as they might think it is so funny that they keep doing it.

7. Ask them to laugh as loud as they can..

...But don't put your camera down after you've captured a picture of that loud laugh. Just like in some of the points above, make sure to keep your camera up. It is what happens afterwards that tend to be the sweetest moments. When they laugh at themselves for being so funny/silly. Those are the candid moments I look for when photographing children.

asa bell photography natural smiles

8. Be animated

Like with most things in life - especially with children - it is not what we say but how we say it. So depending on the personality of you child you will get a better outcome with all the points above if you are really animated when you deliver the lines!

I hope you have enjoyed the tips above. Please comment in the box below, I would love to know which your favourite tip was and if you have any other ways to make children smile that I can learn from :)