Donna Green Photography
how to get your children to smile in photographs - little girl standing against wall

how to get your children to smile in photographs- it isn't always as difficult as you'd think!

How to get your children to smile in photographs

Figuring out how to get your children to smile in photographs isn’t always easy.

I stared at her in a rising panic. “No teeth!” I begged. “Oh please no, no teeth!”

The 4 year old in front of me glared back sourly. “Octonauts“, she insisted. “LAAAWTS of Octonauts. And cake.”

Then came the death stare, daring me to refuse her.

I buckled. “Oh YES! You want Octonauts, Octonauts you shall have! Cake? No problem, LOTS of cake!”

Her mouth slackened ever so slightly and she fixated on the distance. All still.

She stopped glowering at me like I’d harpooned all the Octonauts and fed them to great white sharks.

My camera hovered, waiting to catch the moment her face burst into a megawatt beam.

Except … it didn’t.

It crumpled and looked like it was going to cry.

how to get your children to smile in photographs - little girl sitting in field of daffodils frowning

Now you see it …

Wee children are completely unpredictable, aren’t they? They can be hilarious and easy going and laughing uncontrollably one minute, and the next minute, that charm is GONE. They’ll typically smile for you all day long until you put them in front of a camera, then they freeze up like a burglar in security lights. Especially if it’s your own child.

This was my child. My obsessed with Octonauts child. The child who absolutely knows that she can get pretty much anything she wants from me if she’ll just act naturally and not kick up a stink when I wheedle “just one for Mammy, now, just one!”

I was getting desperate. The day before her 4th birthday, and I really  wanted to get a beautiful image of her last day of being 3. She knew it, I swear. And she wasn’t for obliging.

Sound familiar?

So how DO you make them unaware of the fact you desperately want to get a beautiful photograph of them to send round the relations because, well, it’s been at least a year? How do you get their buy-in so you’re not embarrassed to share the photo on Facebook in case everyone thinks your kid is being maltreated and hates you?

Bad cheese

A good start is by NOT asking your children to say cheese for photos. Ever.

One of two things will happen. The teeth will get bared and the eyes will look dead. (Probably from the embarrassment that you couldn’t think of anything more original than “cheese”.) Or you’ll get the killer death stare when they don’t even pretend to hide their scorn. Facebook WILL think they hate you, I promise.

Instead …

  1. Why not ask what she thinks of cake? If she likes it (the odds are good!), what’s her favourite type of cake? If she could have any cake in the whole wide world that she wanted, what would it be and how would it be decorated? Is it her mum or her dad who eats most of the cake? Who’s the greedy pig finishes it all up? Do snakes like cake?
  2. Compile a mental list of things your child thinks funny. The younger they are, the easier this is, but you’ll know this anyway. And if he finds it funny when you make rude noises or pretend to be a elephant with a sore leg eating cake, then have at it.
    how to get your children to smile in photographs - little girl shaking Kinder Egg

  3. Think of shows they watch, music they listen to, friends’ names, favourite story, etc. Talk about them, ask your child questions about them, make ridiculous suggestions about them – all this will help her forget she’s in front of the camera.
  4. If your child is pretty wee, give him a job to do and photograph the ensuing action. Anything from “balance on one leg and count to 5” to picking up three sticks on the ground to give you does the trick. If you have someone else there too, father, brother/sister, tell the child you’re trying to photograph that it’s his job to make his brother laugh, or to tickle his dad. To make a fort for ants out of leaves. Anything to get him focused on DOING something, so he’s not thinking about what you’re doing and giving you fake or forced reactions to it.
  5. Tell her to make the best sad face she can. Then the best angry face. Then the best sleepy face. Then the best cake face. Cake face is brilliant because first of all you get a look of utter confusion which usually then turns into a huge smile. (Note “usually”, ha!)
  6. Make animal sounds gone wrong. “What does the cow say?” “Woof”. Get more and more ridiculous – young children find this hilarious. (Try this with your 11 year old. Go on! I dare you!)
  7. Ask them questions then give answers which make you look stupid. Like, “What do we wear in the swimming pool? Our Batman costume or our pyjamas?”, “What do you drink with cake? Vinegar or petrol?”, “What do we clean our teeth with? Soap or cheese?”,or “Where do we go sledging? In mud or down the stairs?” See, to offset them thinking you’re really dumb, this has got the two-fold advantage of making them produce genuine smiles as well think out of the box. Isn’t it good to try off the wall things sometimes? Isn’t this how the best inventions are created and the best discoveries are made? (I take no responsibility if wee Calum gets chucked out of SwimEasy for refusing to wear his proper dookers, but all the credit if he turns into the next Nikola Tesla. You’re welcome.)

    little girl sitting in wild flowers looking surprised

  8. “Sit on the stone” – younger children do not generally want to sit still for long. (If yours does, please can we swap?) So place a pebble on the ground somewhere near you and tell your child to keep well away from it. ON NO ACCOUNT must she go NEAR that stone! No way! Then when she’s clearly itching to find out why on earth not, tell her to run to the stone as fast as she can and sit on top of it and count to 5. And she has to jump up and run away or the stone will start crying. Again, smiles and laughs. Well. Unless she objects on the grounds of cruelty to pebbles, that is.
  9. Bonus tip because I mentioned cake too much and it’s probably not fair putting it to the top of your mind  … Bribery. Is it wrong? Probably. Are you making a rod for your own back? Definitely. Is getting the perfect smile worth it? Ohhh yes.

We all need a bribery arsenal

And did I have anything else in my bribery arsenal after Octonauts and cake failed to produce the goods?

Oh yes. I promised to help her make an Octonauts cake. That was a sore one, given my general rubbishness in the kitchen. But worth it.

Have YOU got any great ideas on how to get your children to smile in photographs? What works for you? Leave a comment below and let me know! Does it involve cake??

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