Looking for tricks to get kids to smile for pictures?
As a mom of 4 and a family photographer I’ve had a lot, and I mean a lot!, of practice at getting kids to smile! After 8 years of photographing families I thought I’d share a few of my most successful tricks and a few items I like to have on hand!
Number 1 – Character in the lens!
I start almost every session by getting close to the kids and really excitedly telling them, “I have a special camera with a little superman inside but he will only come out if everyone looks and smiles all at the same time.”
Then I ask them, “Do you want to see him?” They nod yes!
So I shout into my camera, “SUPERMAN, WAKE UP”
Then I pretend to listen to the side of the camera and I tell them, “I can hear him in there! Let’s smile and see if we can get him to pop out!”
They smile every time!
Number 2 – Portapotty!
Those smiles are so cute! But sometimes I want little giggles and genuine joy.
I really, really hate potty language but it’s so effective at getting kids between the ages of 4 to 10 to smile! I try not to say anything too crude, but I’ll usually yell out to the family, “Okay, on the count of three, everyone yell PORTAPOTTY!”
Portapotty isn’t too bad, right?
They crack up every time!
See the difference in the smiles between the first and second pictures? So much more giggly!
I love those real smiles!
Number 3 – Buggers in the nose!
My other crude tactic, (just want to get these ones over with because they gross me out) is to say, “Everyone look at Mommy and see if you see a bugger in his nose!” Ugh. So gross. I hate to even type that! But this is the result:
Number 4 – Reverse Psychology!
Reverse psychology works well with older kids so I use that to my advantage by telling them, “Look at teach other and try not to smile!” Or, “Whatever you do, don’t smile!”
Number 5 – Tickles!
Easy but always seems to work!
At some point I ask the parents to tickle the kids and I love to capture those giggles!
Number 6 – Smile Competition!
Boys especially love to compete!
When the kids start to get a little squirmy or distracted I find that’s a good time to do a smile competition.
Usually I’ll say, “Let do a smile competition and whoever smiles the best gets to have their dessert first tonight!” I have them look at me and I get my ‘safe’ look-here-and-smile picture.
Number 7 – Showing off a smile!
Then I’ll say, “Oh I can’t decide who’s smiling the best! Turn to mom and dad and show them your smiles and let’s see who they think is smiling the best!” The result:
Number 8 – Tell a story!
Around this time it starts getting harder to keep their attention so I’ll tell them a story. Kids love stories and they always hold really still while I’m talking.
My go-to story is a true story that involves me running into a shark while I was snorkeling at Ft DeSoto.
I usually start the story by saying, “This is a scary story. Are you brave? Hold on to mommy or daddy, ok?” They get big eyes and they freeze.
Right as I’m getting to the punch line I tell them, “I’ll tell you what happens but you have to look here and smile cute really quick!” They smile and I finish my story!
Number 9 – Walk and talk!
Kids can only hold still so long so after we’ve gotten the traditional, safe shots I like to have the family get more active. “Let hold hands and walk! But there’s one rule – you have to look at someone else and smile at them!”
Number 10 – Playing!
Kids always smile while they’re playing!
My favorite playful candid suggestions are lifts into the air, twirls, races, high jumps, or dance competitions!
Kids and adults all find those activities enjoyable and we’re able to create some fun, playful images.
Number 11 – Simon says!
For sibling pictures I like to give them lots of action words so we’ll play Simon Says.
Simon says hug each other, tell each other what you want for your birthday, make a silly face at each other, kiss each other (most won’t but they’ll at least laugh at the suggestion…these girls loved each other so much so they happily kissed each other on the cheek).
Number 12 – Glue them together!
Kids love ‘pretend glue’.
If kids don’t want to hold their parent’s hand I make a squirt sound and pretend to squirt glue onto their hands then I stick their hands wherever I want it to go and tell them they can’t move!
I’ve also pretended to glue siblings cheeks together and tell them they can’t move!
Dad can even glue his lips to mom’s forehead!
Since they couldn’t see superman earlier in the session I got in really close the pushed a button that I told them would wake him up. Here they are looking for the superman in my lens!
Number 13 – Baby Shark!
By the end I really need to get creative so as we’re winding down I’ll pull out a little toy. For younger kids (3 and under) I often carry a baby shark toy. I squeeze it and the song Baby Shark plays. I balance the toy on my head and they usually laugh when it falls off. I put it back up and we go back and forth doing that until I get what I’m after.
Number 14 – Shoot them with a ball!
Yes, that’s right.
For older kids I love to use a Ball Popper toy by hog wild.
I’ll tell them that I’m going to shoot the ball at whoever is smiling the best! The kids want to get hit so they’ll usually smile and laugh at that!
Boys between 4 and 10 especially love this activity! You could even send them home with the toy at the end?
Number 15 – Toy!
For kids under 12 months I love this Shutter Hugger toy! Little babies can’t focus if I’m standing too far away so I like to get in close and let them make eye contact with the toy and then slowly back away.
Number 16 – Fun music!
Little kids also love music so I’ll bring my bluetooth speaker along and play their favorites for 5 to 10 minutes when we get to a point where they’re getting distracted. I have an Anker Blue Tooth Speaker and it’s great! The volume projects wonderfully and the battery last forever! I haven’t charged it for probably 3 months and it’s still at 50%! The great battery life means everything to me!
Every session is unique! Every child is unique! But these tricks are the ones that have stood the test of time for me!
Let me know if you have a trick that you find most successful in the comments below!