We have all witnessed this nightmare. You ask a child to smile, and what they present you with can only be described as a terrifying grimace. The eyes squint until they are almost closed. The mouth opens so wide that every single tooth can be seen – yes, even the wobbly one at the back. The nose wrinkles like a dog on the attack. It’s a very funny image, and one that is perfect for embarrassing kids on their 18th birthday. However, it’s probably not what the family was thinking would look great hung up on the wall.
So what to do? Well, you need to make sure that you get a genuine smile or laugh out of the children in front of your lens. That’s the only way to make sure their little monster smile doesn’t come out! When you capture real joy, it shows – and the photographs will be so much more stunning for it. When you have a child ready for a portrait session and they can’t seem to get that happy smile right, these are the five techniques you need to try in order to get great results.
- Be silly
When children are old enough to understand what you are talking about, but young enough to be gullible about the way adults act – probably within the two to five year old range – you can play silly to make them laugh. All you have to do is make a fool out of yourself, so make sure you let the parents know that it’s all part of the act first! There are a number of ways you can do this. One great example which always seems to tickle outgoing kids is to guess their age. Ask them whether they are 35, 16, 29… and so on. Anything goes so long as it’s really ridiculous. This should make them giggle, so be ready to snap the shot just as soon as you name the number.
Another way to get continued laughs is to sing a song they will know, but with the wrong words. Make it as silly as possible! Maybe give them a rendition of “twinkle twinkle little goat”, or “the wheels on the goat go round and round”. Vary it up when they interrupt you to tell you you’re wrong – pretend you will sing the right version next, but get it wrong with a pig this time. Whatever you do, be ready to capture that laugh. It might not last long as they will be happy to correct you, chat away, or maybe even sing the right version to show you how it’s done – so capture every smile you can.
- Tell them to be silly
If you ask a child to smile, you get a monster face. But if you ask a child to make a monster face, what do you get? Well, the answer is usually a smile! When they are asked to make a silly face they will most likely dissolve into giggles right away, especially if you pretend to be scared of their face. This is perhaps best attempted with a tripod so that you can show your face and move around without having to take that pause before you press the shutter!
You can ask them to do just about anything but a smile, so long as it makes them laugh. You can even do your own silly faces – though of course this will cause them to try their own versions! Don’t be afraid to capture the silly faces too, as these can be a funny little extra to add to the images you present to the parents. Have a high shutter speed if you are holding the camera, because you will probably be tempted to laugh along with them and introduce a bit of shake to the photograph.
- Have fun with them
This goes beyond the generic “get someone to hold a cuddly toy behind your head”. Having fun makes kids laugh and smile, but it has to be real fun. What can you do to achieve this? One thing kids love is playing a game and “winning” it. How about you ask them to complete tasks which are conducive to the photoshoot? You could ask them to count up the third step on a staircase and sit on it, then praise them when they do so. You can ask them to count how many flowers are on the wallpaper pattern next to them. You can even incorporate this into the previous example and try to have a silly face competition with them! This works really well a lot of the time. So long as they are enjoying themselves, the smiles will come.
- Tell them not to smile
This works like a charm too! If you tell a child not to do something, you can almost guarantee they are not going to do it. So long as you don’t get a super serious and disciplined child – which is more likely to happen when they are older and have started school – telling them not to smile will actually make them crack up. If you start teasing them and saying that you can see them about to smile, they are even more likely to do so. You will even get some adorable expressions as they try to cover up their smiles, look bashful, or laugh at themselves. This can bring on a really different look which is more intimate and emotional than a simple happy smile.
- Give them a little treat
Get a lot of small treats on hand – It has to be something that won’t make much mess and also won’t give them too much of a sugar high for their parents to deal with later. Be certain their parents have agreed on the treat beforehand. Once you have your child in position, hand them the treat and watch their expression closely. You might get a grin of excitement and gratitude at first. Even if they still look grumpy, just about any child will smile after they have eaten a treat. Keep alert and ready to capture the moment – and give them another one if needed. You can even ask whether they want one and catch that delighted grin and nod when they say yes, please!
After you capture those gorgeous smiles, you can make them shine even more with Summerana’s Smile Essentials – Photoshop Action Collection!
What techniques have you found useful when getting children to smile for the camera? Give us some tips in the comments!