Getting Natural Smiles + Expressions From Your Kids


I don’t know about you, but when it comes to me taking photos of my own kids, asking them to sit still and smile pretty is pretty much a joke.  It ain’t never gonna happen! But over the years I've learned to adjust my approach - and sometimes my expectations - in order to get authentic photos of my kids. I hope you can learn a thing or two from my mistakes to keep a positive relationship between your kids and your camera :)

Always have your camera ready 

On a shelf in your kitchen, in a basket in the living room, wherever you spend most of your time is where you camera should be. Keeping your camera ready to go - with a fully charged battery and memory card space - means it's ready to go whenever your kids are. Nothing is more annoying (to you or your kids) than missing a moment and then asking them to recreate it once your camera is ready.

I always hear from moms that they’re afraid of damaging their cameras. One of the most common misconceptions about DSLR cameras is that they're fragile.  After four years of motherhood I can assure you that couldn't be farther from the truth!  Sure, you don't want to go dropping them on the regular, but they can certainly be thrown in the diaper bag and they'll handle just fine.  I totally understand that you've spent a lot of money on your camera and the last thing you want is for something bad to happen to it.  The problem is, if you don't ever take it with you, then you're missing out on the whole reason why you bought it in the first place - to document LIFE.  For more tips on how to protect your camera on the go, check out this post.

Choose their best time of day

If it’s after a nap or first thing when they wake up in the morning - go with it! This is especially true if you want ‘looking at the camera while smiling’ portraits. Those are always the most challenging with kiddos, so set them up for success during their happiest time of day.

Let them play

Consider setting up activities for them to do.  There is no shame in choosing an activity you know they’ll love, just so you can get great photos.

Turn on some music in the background and have a dance party, or just let it set the tone that it’s ok to play and be silly.

Get down on their level

This is especially important if you sneak into where they're playing. Rather than barging in with your camera asking them to pose or smile, just come in quietly and get onto their level. You can either take photos without interrupting them, or join in on the play and pick up the camera intermittently while playing. This is one of my favorite aspects of photography. It really encourages me to engage with my kids on their level. So often we’re in a position where we're looking down on them and telling them what to do. But my camera encourages me to get down on the floor and let them guide me in what to do next.

Get them to talk to you

Ask questions about things or people that make them happy. My son thinks his grandpa is hilarious, so all I have to do is mention Pa and I'll get a real smile!

Ask them to laugh (or roar) as loud as they can. This actually works for adults, too! The first laugh is pretty fake, but it feels so silly that it's most often followed by a genuine one, or at least a genuine smile.

Give them a break!

Nobody likes having a camera in their face all the time - and this is especially true for our kids! When you can tell they're starting to get annoyed with the camera, don’t push them. Just put down the camera for a few minutes. Try being silly along with them for a few minutes, or just doing something else altogether.

You could also try taking the focus off of them by taking photos of something else nearby - the dog, a flower, dad, etc. - sometimes taking the attention off of them actually makes them want the attention back :)

Keep in mind that our kids attention spans are SHORT. Sometimes it's easy for us to get caught up in our cameras and time flies, but for our kids, they moved on 10 minutes ago! When it comes to kids, we have limited time to get the shots we want. We just have to learn to work quickly :)

Show them the photos

There are two main ways I like to do this.  Obviously you can show them the back of the screen and let the see what you just got.  It's a great way to get them involved.  My son will often come up with new ideas or suggestions for me to take photos of him doing something after he's seen himself on my little preview screen.

The other way I do this is by actually printing my photos!  Revolutionary idea, I know :)  But something about your kids seeing your photos around the house and in their lives makes them value the camera all the more.  They recognize that the photos are special and they want to do whatever it takes to make sure there are more photos and photo books around the house.

Carefully Consider Bribery

I've learned this one the hard way over the years. As soon as I offer bribery everything becomes about that stinking piece of candy. Every smile becomes fake and between each shot I get asked about said candy 10 times. It quickly becomes miserable for everyone and I'm incredibly unlikely to end up with genuine smiles. Plus, the next time I get out my camera I'm likely to be asked for another piece of candy.

If you're going to use ‘bribery’ I would recommend using it solely as a surprise reward for a good portrait session. A fun, unexpected treat for patiently dealing with my camera for a couple of minutes is fun for everyone. And I always love rewarding good behavior when no reward is expected.

What I've learned is that the ultimate goal is to only let my camera be associated with positive things. As momtographers, we're trying to maintain a healthy balance between kids and camera so that they don't run every time we get it out. You know your kids best - pick and choose the tips that work for your kids and leave the rest. Just remember, there is no shame in trying again later - or another day altogether.

Happy photographing mamas!