We probably all know that if you want to make kids smile quickly and easily for photos, ask them to “say cheese!”
BUT the problem with that is you’ll generally get phony, cheesy, sugary full of teeth smiles, which can be great sometimes but doesn’t show off their real personalities and we don’t want the cheese in every photos of our kids right!
So if you want real smiles from kids, with spontaneous expressions of glee and laughter, the kind that warms your heart and creates pics you’ll treasure forever… you need to engage them in fun ways.
Here’s a list of my ten favourite tricks, games and prompts that work to draw out natural happy from any kid.
You can make kids smile, especially little ones, if you sing either in a silly voice, or if you get the words wrong. I never sing a song correctly… my favourite is the alphabet song. I’ll tell them I just learned this song yesterday and could they listen for me and let me know if I’m getting it right. Then I start…
“ABCDEF… bananas! HIJK…. 2 4 6 8! LMNOP… bucket full of monkeys!…”
Somewhere in there (usually around bananas!), they start laughing and telling me how badly I’ve stuffed it up. And I’ll capture all the smiles and laughter. I can use this a few times when shooting photos, throwing in different mistakes every time.
For babies and toddlers, do it straight. This age group love songs, so get familiar with a few favourites that are easy to remember and you’ll always get smiles.
To get smiles for my photos, I will talk about my last meal, making it as disgusting or weird as I can.
“I’m so full, I had a broccoli milkshake for breakfast with monkey hair and dirty socks!”.
I’ll tell them I’m really hungry and I feel like some soup. Ask them for soup ideas, throw in a few disgusting suggestions, and watch them take it from there and watch them grin in disgust!
Wondering what other things you can do to get smiles for photos? Ask for a high 5, up here, down low, too slow. Keep pulling your hand away at the last second and capture the laughs and smiles in between.
Make sure before you finish you let them catch you! You’ll get a whole range of expressions from shy smiles to straight out laughter!
It doesn’t matter if you already know the kids, or even if the subject is your child. The statement will be surprising and make them smile. You can pretend you’ve forgotten, or get it totally wrong!
So when I’m about to take a photo, I’ll say “oh by the way, my name is Sandwich McBurger, what’s your name? Any other ridiculous name will work… especially if you use toilet humour!
If you want to capture adorable smiles in photos, ask the kids to try and scare you. Little ones will often do this by playing peek-a-boo, and when they say “boo!”, over act with fright, and be ready to capture their laughter. This is a very popular game with ages 3-6.
Spring a silly voice on them when chatting to them, and be prepared to capture their look of surprise and delight. I once spent about 20 minutes photographing children play Simon Says with a bad Russian accent. Worked surprisingly well!
The moment your face is obscured behind your camera and they’re waiting for you to take a shot, make a silly sound. I like to snore and then blame them and ask if they could please stay awake.
The easiest way to get smiles for your photos is to tell kids that this is very serious business and they are not allowed to smile.
Use a mock stern voice, keep repeating it, accuse them of smiling, ask them to compose themselves, please stop smiling, this is very serious business!
Naturally they’ll try to thwart you and smile through the photos!
Related: What Lenses Do To Faces
One of my favourites! To make kids smile with ease, ask them to tickle each other. Tell them they have to wait until you count to 3. Then count very slowly, and when you get to 3, say something unexpected instead, eg. 1…….2……..dirty socks!
Capture the smiles and looks of excited anticipation in the build up, the delightful laughter when you say something other than the expected “three”. For shooting your photos, you can drag this one out for a few turns, and when you finally get to 3, capture their connection and laughter as they tickle one another.
I’ll ask where is your smile hiding? Is it…. in your ears? And I tickle an ear. Is it… in your tummy? Is it…. in your lunchbox? Get sillier and sillier with the potential location of their smile and hey presto, out it comes.
Ok so sometimes we don’t get the smile or the laugh, but boy can kids pull adorable faces and these are always worth capturing too… not only because they’re great photos but they’re also the BEST memories to look back on and enjoy as your kids get older! I often say to my kids ‘Let’s take 10 photos for me, and then 10 photos as SILLY as you can be’!
It’s a trade that we do so they can get all the sillies out and take the photos that they want to aswell!
I promise if you do this, alongside any of the ideas we’ve share in this blog post to get natural and fun smiles of your kids in photos, the added bonus is that your kids don’t end up hating the camera and they’ll soon be begging you for more!
It’s a win win!
Related: How to Capture Kids in Action
If you’d LOVE more tips on how to take natural, fun and beautiful photos of your kids, check out our free Photography Workshop that I recorded recently! You can watch it right now here.
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