Getting a young child to look at & smile for the camera is a common problem for professional photographers, as well as parents just trying to get a good snapshot of their child. When you ask them to look at the camera, they ignore you, have better things to do, or play strange. And when they do look, they either have a scowl or the biggest, fakest grin you’ve ever seen.
Being a child and family photographer, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to get even the most stubborn little ones to look directly at the camera and give me a natural smile for their close-up.
1. Talk to them. My go-to solution is to just chat with the child and ask them questions. Ask them about their favourite toy or book. If you find a subject the child is interested in or passionate about, they will hopefully start to respond & smile – especially if you seem interested in the subject or ask silly questions. For example, if you have a child who is into Thomas the Train, ask who their favourite train is, what colour/number it is, or be silly with it. “Thomas is Purple, right?” If they lose interest, try another subject or move on to a different method.
2. Make Strange/Different Noises. This works best for babies who will naturally look in order to investigate & learn about new noises. Have a few special toys or objects on-hand that make different noises in order to at least get a quick glance. For older kids, silly noises like barking, mooing, snorting, work wonders.
3. Pretend there is something in the camera. This is one of my favourites. Tell them that there is a bug or fairy or even a tiny hippo that likes to hide in your camera. Point at the lens and ask if they can see it in there. When they tell you they can’t, tell them it’s playing hide & seek or ask them keep checking once in a while because it is shy.
4. Show them their photo or reflection. Just as above, ask the child if they can see their reflection in the lens. Or, ask them if they want to see one of the photos you’ve taken, then ask if they’d like to take some more. Most kids love to look at themselves and will be more cooperative if they know they can check out the photos afterwards.
5. Be Silly. Put something weird on your head like bunny ears. For babies, play ‘peek-a-boo’ from behind the lens. Sing a nursery rhyme and mess up the words. Anything to get a giggle.
6. Play ‘Simon Says’. This is one of my favourites since it also helps you pose the children & get natural smiles. Try to mess them up, they will think it’s hilarious.
7. Ask them to close their eyes. Wait a few seconds, then get them to open them (this also works well as part of a ‘Simon Says’ game). You tend to get more relaxed & natural facial expressions in the few seconds after their eyes have been closed. Or, for older kids, make a silly noise while their eyes are closed and they’ll start smiling and open their eyes. Be careful not to scare the child, I wouldn’t recommend making loud or startling noises while their eyes are closed.
8. Get them to be loud. Kids love to be loud. Ask them to scream as loud as they can. They will think this is awesome. Of course this works best if you are outdoors.
9. Reverse Psychology. After a while, kids expect that you’ll ask them to smile for photos, so change it up. Tell them to show you their sad or scary or angry face. Then tell them that under no circumstances should they smile. “Ok, don’t smile. I don’t want to see your smile. Uh-oh, I think I see a smile. NOOO!! Don’t do it! Don’t smile!!” Of course, they will think you are silly and you’ll get a big grin.
10. Let them take breaks. If you are getting frustrated, they will get frustrated. Let them run around and get some candid shots or put the camera away. Being a model is hard work.
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