How do I get my child to smile during a photography session?

One of the main questions that I get from parents is, "How are you going to make my child smile?".

Parents are often worried that the only nice pictures come when their children are smiling ear to ear, and often that is not the case. Often telling a child to "Smile" or "Say cheese" results in a forced smile, or a smile that they think you want to see.   


So here are some tips for you or your photographer to help you get that smile that you love to see.

  1. Don't go to a photography session with huge expectations.
    • When parents come to sessions and have high expectations from their children and they don't perform how you want them to, parents often get frustrated and children can sense that, which makes them more nervous than they already are. This often results in a forced smile or a child getting upset/angry. There's nothing worse than an angry child storming off of the "set" because they are frustrated. Just remember, if you get frustrated at your child during a session, they will probably get frustrated as well.
  2. All children are different
    • I'd like to think that there are three types of children that come to a session.
  • The child that likes to ham it up in front of the camera
    • This child loves to put on a show in front of the camera and is a natural when it comes to taking pictures.
  • The shy child
    • This child takes a long time to get warmed up or hides behind you when the time comes to take pictures.
    • Parents, help them by preparing them before they go to the session. If time allows it get to your appointment a little early so that your child can meet with the photographer and warm up a bit. That way you aren't spending 30 minutes of your session trying to pry your child off of your leg.
  • The kid who just won't smile when there is a camera in front of them
    • This child refuses to smile or do anything when they know that there is a camera in front of them.
    • Photographers, help them by playing a game while taking pictures. For the most part, if you're playing a game with them they forget that they are getting their picture taken and you'll also get great candid shots.

So how can you help your child if they aren't a natural? I'd love to tell you that there is a simple answer to this but there isn't. What works for one child doesn't always work for the next, which is why as a parent/photographer you have to be ready. This leads into my next tip:

  1. Work together
    • You and your photographer are a team and the best pictures happen when the team works together.
      • Your photographer and you rely on each other.
        • If you know a way to get your child to smile, share it with your photographer. If you there is a toy that your child loves, stand behind the photographer and shake it around.
        • Be silly, jump around, make faces, tell a joke.
        • Remember that in a photography session everyone feeds off of everyone else. If you are frantic and screaming at your child during the session both your photographer and your child will be frantic, and that means that the team is not a well oiled machine.
  2. Play
    • In the last tip, I mostly mentioned how parents can help their photographer, but as photographers we have to also try to get a smile out of the clients.
      • I try to get children to say silly things like "I have macaroni for hair" or "I'm a purple butterfly"; things that are obviously not true so that the child laughs or giggles.
        • This can sometimes backfire if you take your pictures while they are saying the sentence because sometimes you end up with pictures of them with their mouth wide open or in an odd shape. I always try to take the picture after they say the silly phrase and they are laughing.
      • I often find myself rolling around on the floor to get a child to smile. Sometimes I spend 30 minutes giving a child high fives to get a good smile. Like I said before it comes naturally to some children, but with most children you have to work for it.
      • Basically, you get what you work for. If you don't put in the effort, the child won't either.  If you try to force a smile, you'll get a forced smile.
  3. Remember that children are human
    •  No one smiles all of the time.
      • Sometimes they aren't smiling because they're having a bad day.
      • Sometimes they aren't smiling because they had a bad lunch.
      • Sometimes they just don't want to smile that day.
    • If you don't think that your session is going like you wanted it to or if your child is having a bad day, you could always try to reschedule your session.
  4. The best pictures don't always come when the child is smiling.
    • Sometimes the pictures that you love the most are when a child isn't smiling or giving a smirk.

But most of all


They are the professionals, and most of the time they capture candid moments that you may have not seen or that happened quickly.

What are the different ways that have worked for you when it comes to getting your children to smile while taking pictures?

Until next time,