How to get your kids to smile for family photos

Much to my dismay, my kids have classic “photographer’s kid syndrome”.  The most common manifestation of this syndrome is the refusal to smile at any camera ever, and to look the absolute opposite way anytime someone says “look over here and smile!” Normal tactics just don't work.  

Child portraits El Paso


Luckily, a big part of my job is to overcome these hurdles in my own kids, and of course, the children of my clients.  I have lots of practice.  It’s a challenge, it’s an adventure, and it’s a blast.  I’m not saying I have it mastered, or that I haven’t met a kid that has refused to crack a smile.  Believe me, I have.  

But over the years, I’ve tucked a few tricks up my sleeve.  

1. Be silly. Rule number one - throw dignity out the window.  Questions like “Do I have a plate of spaghetti on my head?” are sure to capture attention.  Don’t ask them to say “cheese”, ask them to say “Pickle Poop!”  It gets a much more giggly response.  

Some kids really dig the potty humor, some require a bit more subtlety.  Either way, a playful invitation to smile is much more inviting to a little one than a mom on a mission to get the perfect shot.  Your child likely does not share your desire for that priceless snapshot framed on your wall, thus they don’t have very much incentive to cooperate.  But a random dance performance from mom complete with jumping and twirling?  That’ll do it.  

He thought my antics were hilarious.  She seemed more concerned for my sanity...

He thought my antics were hilarious.  She seemed more concerned for my sanity...


2.  Catch them when they’re not looking. If you want natural photos of your kids having a great time, try snapping the moment while they’re still in the midst of it.  They probably won’t look at you, but that’s okay!  It can be wonderful to get a window into a genuine moment - especially when they don’t even know the camera is there.  

Family Photography El Paso

3. Who needs a smile?  Yes, of course everyone wants a beautiful smile on their christmas card photo.  But there is so much more to your little ones! Do they walk around smiling all day? Of course not!  Experiment with capturing a wider range of emotions and a wider range of their personality!  Sometimes moody and pensive is beautiful!   

Children's Photography El Paso

4.  Never underestimate the power of a good tickle.  Especially with babies and toddlers.  I am learning to master the technique of running up and tummy tickling, then running back and taking the shot. They think it is a wonderful game.  The bigger boys will give you a mischievous grin of “bring it on!”, the little ones will just give you a good natured grin of “that was fun!”  And if you have an entire family together, don’t be afraid of the group tickle bomb.  Classic.  :)  

Family Photography El Paso

5.  Let them play along.  Invite them to give you a funny face.  Take turns calling the shots for a picture.  It will make them much more cooperative if they feel like they have a say. And the results are often priceless. 

Family Photography El Paso

6.  Try again tomorrow.  Lets face it, we all have our days.  Some days are just not going to be a photographic winner.  That’s the beauty of having a camera at your disposal.  Tomorrow is a fresh new day with (hopefully) fresh new attitudes and a fresh sense of humor.  Don’t give up after one day of getting the stink eye!

Child Portraits El Paso

Now it's your turn!  What have I missed?  Do you have any tried and true tactics that deserve to be shared with the world?  

How to look amazing in your family portraits - Part 1 - It's All About the Jaw!

Okay, heres the brutal truth.  I'm NOT a fan of getting my picture taken.  Why?  Because I have a very real fear of looking at the picture and cringing.  This isn't just imagined, it has been deeply drilled into my psyche from awkward snapshot after awkward snapshot.  (and then the offending photographer posts it on Facebook and tags you in it!  Why?!?!)

To be honest, I'm just not particularly photogenic.  In fact, I never have been. Nonetheless, I am a firm believer that everyone deserves to have pictures of themselves that they love.  As a friend of mine once put it, I want to look as good as I felt. And every now and then, that happens.  

This is my awesome gang.  Love these guys.  :)

This is my awesome gang.  Love these guys.  :)


So, the goal of this series of blog posts (which will certainly be non-consecutive) is to give you, the reader, a gift.  The gift of confidence, the gift of flattering pictures.  We'll cover all sorts of topics and we'll learn together.  I'll start with the single most helpful tip I have ever received - and it will rock your photogenic world.  

But first, a word of comfort.  It's MY job to make you look good, not yours.  Yes, I will do my best to give you tips and tricks that will hopefully serve you well throughout your photographic journey.  But at the end of the day, it's my responsibility to present you in the best light possible. And I promise you, I take that responsibility very seriously. But, for now, let's start with the first tip:  

It's All About The Jaw.  

Once upon a time there was a man named Peter Hurley, and he made a very good living making people look good in their professional head shots.  One day he made a little 15 minute video showing people how to hold their head when they get their picture taken. And it was more than just a little helpful.  It was revolutionary.  Have you ever seen a picture of yourself where you had weird unflattering neck wrinkles and double chins?  Or where you just looked... not good? This will help. I promise. So watch, enjoy, see if it won't help you out basically forever more.  

So there you go. Now it's your turn.  Was this helpful? Do you have any other tips that deserve to be shared?  What else are you dying to learn about on the topic of being more photogenic? Chime in!  I'd love to hear from you.  :)  

10 Things I Love About Being an El Paso Family Photographer

Just to make sure it’s out there:  I LOVE what I do.  I couldn’t begin to explain all the nuances of wonderfulness that I get to experience in my photography journey.  But just for kicks, I’ll give it a shot.  

  1. I love that there is so much to learn.  Humans are made to learn, grow, and explore.  We have a drive to improve, we love to perfect. There is something so exhilarating about “nailing” a shot you’ve botched so many times.  Case in point:
Baby photography El Paso

  Ladies and gentlemen, this was not the first baby I tried this shot on.  Lets just say those other attempts will not see the light of day.  ;)  But bit by bit, I’m getting it!  I’m picking up to techniques, sharpening my eye, and becoming more proud of the work I’m producing. That is a magnificent feeling.  


2.  You get to show the world how beautiful you think people are.  You would be amazed at how often I hear the phrase “I hate seeing images of myself.  I look terrible in pictures”.  It breaks my heart. And these are all amazing people who, to me, exude so much beauty.  I LOVE catching that shot where they look absolutely radiant - usually because they are surrounded by those they love.  I want to make people feel as fabulous as they truly are.   

El Paso Baby Photography

3.  You get a sneak peak at couples who are truly best friends.  I think everyone likes to see a love story played out before their eyes.  I certainly do!  But even the closest of couples tend to be more reserved when they are out and about. They save those moments of true connection for the safety and comfort of their living room, where no one is watching them.  Most of the time couples are a bit nervous and reserved when they’re in front of a camera.  But every so often, I get to be privy to a little spark of connection where my camera is forgotten and it’s all about them - and Ilove it.  :)  

Family Photography El Paso

4.  Sometimes you get to watch these little ones grow up.  I’ve only been doing photography intensively for a few years, but I’ve already gotten a taste of capturing the same kiddos again and again over time. My favorite is that first year when growth happens so very fast!  You get to see that baby face change into the face of a beautiful little child.  It’s magical.  

Baby Photography El Paso
El Paso Child Photography

5.  I get to explore this unique city of El Paso.  I know, I know, many of the residents of El Paso are not here by choice.  They are counting the days until they can get out.  But I’ll tell you a secret - I LOVE it here!  The people are friendly and inviting, the winters are sunny and mild, and the food is fabulous.  And some of the parks aren’t too shabby either!  In my ever-continuing quest to discover every photo friendly nook and cranny of this city, I have made some delightful discoveries.  And I’m always looking for more.  I’ll tell you one more secret - if you tip me off on a jewel of a location I haven’t discovered yet, I’ll make it worth your while.  ;)   

Child Photography El Paso

6. The families are so cool!  Every family is different.  Some show up looking classy in their fancy clothes, some hip and contemporary, some casual and sporty.  They all have their own vibe, their own sense of humor, and their own way of interacting with each other. I get to be a fly on the wall as the family hangs out - and I am always delighted by what I see.  This city is full of fascinating people, and this job puts me in their path.   

Family Photography El Paso

7.  The outtakes are hilarious.  As a photographer, I am privy to some pretty excellent moments of kid crazy.  I try to make sure the final product is a healthy dose of life as you would like it to be remembered, but sometimes the moments that don’t make the cut really deserve to go down in infamy!  

Family Photography El Paso

8.  Being a family photographer means you get to goof around with some pretty awesome kiddos.  My clients' kiddos crack me up!  They have the energy and enthusiasm that I could only dream of, and they are twice as cute as I am to boot!  I genuinely enjoy them and hope for the chance to hang with them again.  

Child Photography El Paso
Child Photography El Paso


 9. Senior photography is crazy fun.  I still remember how exciting it was to be 18.  I love working with young people ready to tackle the next phase of their life - sharing in a little part of that adventure.  You can almost see the possibilities swimming in front of them. I love soaking up that zest for life and capturing that moment for them to hold on to.  

Senior Photography El Paso

 10.  You get to give a gift that is truly valuable.  Okay, gift is a funny word considering that I, of course, charge for my work.  But I hope that some of the images I provide will be cherished and valued well above the money that exchanged hands.  It is an amazing feeling to look at a picture and think “wow, that picture of a little girl and her daddy could very well be kept and treasured when she is grown and her father is gone.”  What a cool feeling.  It keeps me doing what I do even when i’m tired.  

Family Photography El Paso

So that’s it.  My top 10.  I hope this gave you a little bit of insight into who I am as a photographer and what I pour into my photos.  What do you love about what you do?