5 Ways to Get Kids to Smile for the Camera

I’ve taken photos of hundreds of kids…babies, toddlers, teenagers….they’re all different, but one thing that’s consistent is that Mom and Dad want a smile.

Now I’ll tell you that my favorite photos are usually the ones where nobody’s actually looking at the camera. I like to catch you interacting with each other instead. But I also know that you want that money shot…the one where everyone’s looking and smiling. So I always try to get this first, while everyone’s fresh and shiny. The kids haven’t rolled in the grass and ruined their hair or spilled a juice box down the front of their white dresses. 

But sometimes the trickiest part is just getting that smile

kids smiling at the camera

Everyone else is standing perfectly, grinning ear to ear…except for the littlest one. He’s crying or craning his head all the way behind him….or just plain scowling at me. I snap the picture anyway because I have a feeling that you’re gonna want that a few years from now.

But I still want to get that smile for you…and you can help. 

So here are some things to remember before your next photo session when you’re working for that smile. 

5 Ways to Get Kids to Smile for the Camera:

1Keep calm and relaxed. Kids are a little bit like dogs🤷‍♀️…they can sense when you’re upset or anxious. I know that photo sessions can be stressful. You spent the last month planning, the last week prepping, and the last two hours wrestling your kids into itchy outfits. You paid your invoice and dang it, you’re going to get a smile! 

I know. 

But…forcing a toddler to smile never works. Like…ever. 

So, instead, try to stay calm and use a soothing voice to talk to your little one. Do a little dance, sing a little song, totally ignore him and go on with the session. Most of the time when they realize you don’t care what they’re doing, kids will decide they want to join in on what you’re doing instead. 

2-Praise Them. Find something good…anything…you like the way they’re looking at the camera, you love their positive attitude, they look amazing in their dress. If you’re dealing with siblings, this works best. Praise one and most of the time, the other will work to outdo them….then praise the other. Positive affirmation almost always works better than negative correction. After all, the look on a kid’s face who has just been yelled at by Dad is not really what you’re going for in the family photos. 😬

3- Bribe them. Now might not be the time to stand your ground on the no sugar rule. If your kiddo is absolutely not cooperating, it may be time to start bribing. “If you give me 3 big smiles, we’ll go get ice cream on the way home.”  You might even want to bring along a treat or a favorite toy to the session. If we’re working with a really little one, you may end up giving a small treat (a goldfish or cracker) for every smile they give. I know…but what ya gonna do? It’s hard being 3. 

kids smiling at the camera

4- Stand behind the camera.  If you’re not in the shot, get behind the camera.  In fact, get right behind my shoulder and squat down to my level. Your little one’s eyes are most likely following you, and if you’re off to the side, even just a bit, his eyes will be looking off to the side in the picture too. Instead, follow the camera…at this point I’m pretty used to people doing jumping jacks and singing nursery rhymes inches behind me. 

5-Limit Distractions. As much as you want to snap that photo for Instagram, leave your phone in your pocket instead. Eyes follow the camera and your little one is used to seeing you take pictures, so her eyes will probably be following yours.

Trust the photos to me and resist the urge to shoot over my shoulder.

It’s so distracting to children (and to me) and leaves them wondering where they should be looking.

I also suggest keeping as few people as possible at the photo session. When there are several different people standing around, kids’ attention will be pulled in that many directions. If Grandma’s standing off to one side, Mom behind me, and Dad on the other side, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to get heads looking in all different directions.

If this is part of a larger family session and you can’t limit the number of people there, consider asking them to step away when it’s time for the kids’ solo shots. 

Ok, that’s it…5 easy steps to make your kids smile. 😂 I know..I couldn’t even say that with a straight face. I know it’s not easy…not much is with kids…but it’ll be worth it. 

Here’s the rundown: 

1-Keep Calm & Relaxed

2-Praise Them

3-Bribe Them

4-Stand Behind the Camera

5-Limit Distraction

I’m really missing all of my clients right now while we’re doing our part to stay home. But I’m hoping to get to see you, your kiddo,  and your pocket full of goldfish soon! 💗

Until Next Time,

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