June 22, 2020

10 Secrets to Getting Your Kids to Smile Naturally For A Photo

My passion is capturing photographs of heartfelt moments for families to savor forever as keepsake memories. Whenever I'm not helping your family, you can find me loving on my own. Camping trips, boba tea, and card games are our favorite ways to connect!  

I'm Kelly

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Indiana Family & Lifestyle Photogapher

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Kids tickling during a summer family photo session at Prophetstown in West Lafayette, Indiana





“Say Cheese!”

We’ve all said it before as we attempt to get a somewhat decent photo of our kiddos and yet it usually results in a half-hearted or fake smile. Telling your kids to “smile at the camera” just doesn’t cut it when we are after those natural smiles!

toddler boy smiling at Fairfield Lakes Park in Lafayette, IN

After a few attempts of “Cheese”, we then usually resort to bribery… “PLEASE JUST SMILE FOR THE CAMERA ONE TIME! Mommy will give you a piece of candy ok!?” We get a forced smile, hand over the candy, and call it quits.

From experience, this approach hardly ever works and I rarely ask kids to smile during a session. Why? Because…

You Need to give them something to smile about!

Yup, that’s right! Don’t ask them to smile, give them something to smile about and guess what, 99% of the time, you will get a natural and beautiful smile because they are genuinely happy! (pssst a little secret- this is the same for adults!)

So, now you might ask, how do I give them something to smile about? Well let me tell you!

Below are my 10 best secrets to getting kids to smile naturally, and whether you’ve hired a professional photographer or are snapping a quick pic on your phone, this is for you!

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My 10 Best Secrets for getting your kids to smile at the camera

Every child is different and some of these will work for your kiddo depending on their age and temperament and some of these won’t work.

My advice? Try one and if it doesn’t work, move on to the next one! Find the ones that work and keep using them to get those natural smiles every time!

The sister tickle hug worked perfectly to get these adorable smiles!

The sister tickle hug worked perfectly to get these adorable smiles!

1. give me your best silly face

This works well if kids are a little shy or haven’t smiled much and you want to get them to loosen up. You can ask for their best serious face, clown face, sad face, angry face…try a few and usually you will get a natural and fun smile after the silly face is done.

Give them a big reaction from their face and tell them how great it is…and they will beam the biggest smile!

2. Tickle Hugs

Tickling is a surefire way to get almost any child of any age to smile, so tickle away! This is my go-to for families with teenagers as well, and for that, I call it the “tickle-tackle”.

Make sure the tickling doesn’t get out of hand where they are doubled over in laughter…because well then you can’t see their face!

Just a “little tickle” is all that’s needed to get those natural smiles coming. This works great with siblings and family shots together.

3. “Don’t You Smile!”

Reverse psychology works PERFECTLY on my 2.5yo right now! If we tell him not to smile, we get a huge smile from him. This typically works well for kids 2 years and older because they love to play along and do exactly what you “don’t” want them to do!

four little kids smiling for their summer family photo session in Lafayette, Indiana with Kelly McPhail Photography





“Don’t you smile! You stop smiling… oh NO you’re still smiling!!”

“Don’t you smile! You stop smiling… oh NO you’re still smiling!!”

4. You are just too cute!

I once had a 4 year-old girl burst out into tears after I said “now don’t you smile!” I suppose she took that comment quite literally and was completely confused why I would tell her not to smile!

After I realized how that backfired, I did a quick game change, and told her how cute she was and that she had the cutest most prettiest smile I’d ever seen and her tears stopped and she started to give me a glowing smile!

I told her she was just too cute and she couldn’t have beamed more proudly. Every child is sooo different and that’s the fun of figuring out what works for each and every child!

5. The “I’m going to get you” game

A favorite dad game, the “I’m going to get you” works perfectly when you start to wiggle your fingers and hands as you move slowly towards and then you run up and tickle them for a second and then back away and start it all over.

This time though, you move slowly towards them as if you are going to “get them” again, but you pause, snap a picture or two, and then move back to tickle them all over.

I do this all the time with little ones during sessions and I only have to tickle them once or twice and then after that, the anticipation of me “getting them” works like a charm to bring out those genuine smiles.

6. The animal sound Game

Toddlers love to imitate animal sounds, so this game is perfect for families with little ones. Ask your kids whether mommy or daddy would make the silliest monkey sound and then build the anticipation for a second or two by saying, “are you ready to hear Mommy be a monkey?” “Can Daddy make the silliest monkey sound?”

Let go of your inhibitions and make a crazy monkey sound so that you can get that winner smile.

 









7. tell me your favorite Show

Kids love to talk about themselves (ok everyone loves to talk about themselves… haha) so this works especially well for kids 4 years and older. Ask them about their favorite TV show or movie or action character and wait for the smiles! Sometimes it doesn’t happy right away because you have to let them think about it, but usually you’ll get a big smile when you get them talking about Frozen II or Pokémon.

8. Peek-a-boo

Tried and true, peek-a-boo is a great go-to for your little ones. This works well for kiddos 4 months and older, although sometimes it can backfire if you scare them! On the flip-side, get your toddler to cover his/her eyes and give you a peek-a-boo and you will usually get a great smile!

Give me your silliest face and two seconds later he is smiling like this!

Give me your silliest face and two seconds later he is smiling like this!

Peek-a-boo is my go-to for little ones with my best Elmo voice… and yes I know, it is super annoying to listen to!

Peek-a-boo is my go-to for little ones with my best Elmo voice… and yes I know, it is super annoying to listen to!

9. family farts

Yup that’s right, being a potty mouth is ok when it gets your kids to smile for the camera! Ha! Ask your kids to make their best fart sound or the flip side, tell them that dad is going to come over and fart on them and see what they do! Little ones love to make toot, poop, and peepee sounds…seriously, I’m not above this when trying to get genuine smiles!

10. Who is the stinkiest in your family?

This prompt works best for slightly older kids but asking questions with “who is _____ in your family?” always gets the biggest smiles and laughs. Who is the stinkiest? Who takes the longest in the bathroom? Who is the messiest eater? Who is the loudest burper? You get it. You can have a lot of fun with these questions as long as you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.





My Best advice? Just have fun!

If you are still struggling to get those natural smiles, put the camera down for a bit and JUST HAVE FUN with your kiddos! Chances are if they are having fun and don’t feel the pressure to stand still and smile for a photo, you will eventually get that great smile when they aren’t forced into it. Capture those memories and don’t forget to keep it fun!

“at the count of three yell daddy is a stinky boy!”

“at the count of three yell daddy is a stinky boy!”

Andrew don’t smile! Noooo stop it! Stop smiling! You’re smiling tooo big!

Andrew don’t smile! Noooo stop it! Stop smiling! You’re smiling tooo big!



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My passion is capturing photographs of heartfelt moments for families to savor forever as keepsake memories. Whenever I'm not helping your family, you can find me loving on my own. Camping trips, boba tea, and card games are our favorite ways to connect!  

I'm Kelly

Hey!

Indiana Family & Lifestyle Photogapher

Categories