Everyone has been taught how to get a kid to smile: tell them to say “cheese” and they respond with a big smile… sometimes. Anyone that has actually tried this method can tell you that – more often than not – you’ll get a strained “can we get this over with” smile.
So, to whether you’re a photographer or parent, here a few tips to help you get a more natural smile out of children.
“I’m going to get you!”
This one is just like the title say: slowly move towards the kid while wiggling your fingers and tickle them for a second, back up, take the image, then do it all over again. You can also throw in a few fake a attacks to keep the kid on their toes.
Play peek-a-boo behind your camera (make sure the camera is pre-focused and ready to capture the smile). This one works great with younger kids. Some photographers also ask the child to find the fairy/dinosaur/etc. inside their lens to get a cute, close-up photo.
Say something giggle-worthy
Say something slightly inappropriate that the kids don’t usually hear like “daddy smells” or “who cut the cheese?”. One that works well with families with older kids (like teenagers) is “Who has the smelliest feet?” and see who everyone looks at (it’s typically the same person)!
Toss them around (carefully, of course)
Most kids love a bit of rough-housing & being tossed around. Have an adult toss them in the air, lift them up and down, pretend to drop them, hold them upside down, etc. If you want to make sure the kid is the focus of the image, but not the adult, have the adult hold the child so they are facing each other, and shoot over the shoulder of the adult.
Embrace your inner goofball
You can start off with a funny noise or silly face. If the noise or face comes out of nowhere, you’ll definitely get a smile (if not, a smirk). Just make sure they are looking towards the camera and you have your focus set.
If the kid is ticklish, use it to your advantage. A light tickle will usually result in a perfect little smile. A full-on tickle session will result in a rolling-on-the-ground laughing session. Both create adorably cute images!
Sometimes, reverse psychology can work to your advantage. Tell the kids not to smile, and really go over the top and play it up so that the kid knows it’s a joke. The more you say it, the more the perfect smile will start to emerge.
Tell a joke
It never hurts to keep a few cheesy jokes in your back pocket (if you have an arsenal of ‘dad jokes’, this would be the perfect time to use them). One that seems to get kids is the classic “Knock Knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupting cow w… Mooooo!” Another popular one: “Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Banana. Banana who? Knock knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad I didn’t say banana?”
Take a note from the Chuck E. Cheese tagline and let a kid be a kid. Have them pop out from behind something, jump up and down, ask who can jump higher, show you their muscles, etc. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Sometimes, a good game of Simon says can work wonders. If you take pictures the entire time, you’ll end up with some great photos.
You don’t always need to have a child to smile to make a great image. Some of the best photos contain expressions other than a smile. Serious, pensive, curious, tired, bored, crying; all can give insight into the child’s personality.
Whether you choose to capture the child with a natural smile or embrace their serious side, candid photos beyond that of the strictly-posed yearbook image can be a beautiful moment frozen in time that you (and eventually your child) will cherish for decades to come.