Stop saying Cheese! - My 5 best tips for capturing your child's natural smile in photos


Blond boy laughing during back to school pictures. Taken by Dallas Family Photographer, Photography of Sarah Mae.

As we all rush to gather the final items our kids need to start the new school year this month I wanted to take some time to talk about something I know many of us struggle with that first day the kids go back...

The 'back to school' photo.


I know this picture doesn't often have a lot of prep beyond the printing off of the "First day of ________ grade" sheet, but there are simple ways to improve this photo you take of your kids, and any quick picture you take of your kids, starting with with how you get them to smile. Having 5 kids, and being a family photographer means I've had a LOT of practice taking pictures of little ones, but I have to say, in moments of high-pressure (aka when I want to take a photo, bur they do NOT want to pose) even I sometimes result to the cringe-worthy "Smile! Say Cheese!" prompt. But when I do, I am always disappointed in those photos because my kids' smiles ALWAYS look forced.


However, what you may not know, and what I sometimes forget is that getting a natural smile from kids can be just as easy as saying "Cheese!" To show you what I mean, below are 5 different prompts that I've had HUGE success with that will help you as you provoke a natural smile from your kids. These prompts are broken down by age group, but feel free to use whichever one(s) speak to you.


Without further ado, here are 5 of my BIGGEST tips to capturing a quick smile from your own kids:


Smiling toddler ready for Pre-K in his "Back to School" photos. Taken by Dallas Family Photographer, Photography of Sarah Mae.

(Babies & Young Toddlers)

Tip #1: Play Hide & Seek from behind your camera

You can utilize a favorite toy for this, or bring your own face out from behind the camera to surprise and delight your little one.


Tip #2: Sing a favorite song

Baby shark tends to work really well on getting a smile to most kids faces, but singing patty cake or any some that they are familiar with will help your child relax and bounce along to the tune.


Smiling curly-haired biracial girl leaning up again some red lockers in her "Back to School" photos by Taken by Dallas Family Photographer, Photography of Sarah Mae.

(Toddlers & Young Kids)

Tip #3: Give them a tickle or use reverse psychology

I don't know about you, but tickling my children is one of the quickest ways to get them to crack a smile. Keep a good hold of your phone in one hand while reaching towards them with the other to maximize the amount of time you have to capture them smiling (or enlist the help of a sibling). If you do it a couple of times, then you should be able to take a photo by pretending to go in for a tickle, but without actually touching them. If that doesn't work, try telling your child to not, under ANY circumstances smile or laugh aloud. Be overly dramatic when saying this and fake-scold anyone who tries to make them giggle. When they start to crack a smile make sure to be over the top when you act upset when they will start cracking up.


Tip #4: Pretend to fart or ask silly questions

Young kids think farting is hilarious. Pretending that you are just as surprised as they are when a fart noise is coming from you always gets a giggle for me. Silly questions always work to crack a smile too, like: "Is Daddy wearing a diaper? What does Mommy’s Laugh sound like? Who makes you laugh more, mommy or daddy? What is the best way to make people laugh? Is your middle name 'Cheeseburger'?"


Blonde haired girl balancing 2 red apples in her hands while walking towards the camera during her "back to school" photos taken by Dallas Family Photographer, Photography of Sarah Mae.

(Kids & Teens)

Tip #5: Have them fake laugh until they actually laugh or crack a smile

I use this tip for some of my hardest to crack kids (aka the serious ones, or perpetually fake smilers). By having them fake laugh aloud they will instinctually break out of a bad mood. Sometimes I'll help them along by providing some silly examples of fake laughter. Doing so always makes me start laughing which can cause a chain-reaction.


*Bonus Tips*

**Try to take your pictures with your kids one-on-one, or with no more than one other child/adult present as anyone not holding a camera will draw your child's attention away from you.


**Candy or some other award is a great bribery technique if you have anyone dragging their feet in the first place.


**Make sure to start off on the right foot, remember YOUR attitude can help to change a situation around, but only if you are sincere. If you start to feel yourself get anxious or upset, pop on some fun tunes to shake it off. Our kids pick up on our feelings so make sure you're in a good place before you ask them to put on a happy face. Need further assistance make sure to check out my blog post 'Now's not the time to PANIC!'


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