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.  

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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.  

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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!   

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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.  :)  

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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. 

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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!

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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?