If you want to get kids to smile quickly and easily for photos, ask them to “say cheese!”.
The problem with this is, you’ll get phony, cheesy, unappealing smiles where they barely even look like their real selves!
If you want real smiles from kids, with spontaneous expressions of glee and laughter, the kind that warms your heart and creates photos you’ll treasure forever… you need to engage them in fun ways.
So I’ve compiled a list of my ten favourite tricks, games and prompts that work to draw out natural happy.
Certain age groups will laugh 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! HIJKLMNO 6 13 42 PQR 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 those smiles and laughter. I can use this a few times, 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.
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.
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!
It doesn’t matter if you already know the child, or even if the subject is your child. The statement will be surprising and make them laugh.
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!
Ask them 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.
Tell them 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
If you’re capturing more than one child, ask them to tickle one another. 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 looks of excited anticipation in the build up, the delightful laughter when you say something other than the expected “three”. 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.
Most toddlers, pre-schoolers and a little beyond will dance like no one is watching. You’ll need a fast shutter speed for this one!
Related: How to Capture Kids in Action
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