‘Ask the Photographer’ is a regular series that I host on my blog.  If you have a question you’d like answered, feel free to send me an email at sara.mcconnell {at} rogers.com.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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At last count I had 57 GB of family photographs of my family, which is about 20,000 photos!  In amongst them are some gems but even as a photographer I struggle to get my kids to cooperate in front of the camera.  It’s probably probably related to their camera-fatigue and having a mom who carries her camera everywhere.  They’re known to sigh and grimace at the sight of a camera – not exactly a moment I want to capture!

I think most families have a ‘camera word’ to elicit smiles from their kids: cheese, fuzzy pickles – I’ve heard them all!  The only challenge is that after about 18 months of age it’s rare for smiles that are cued to look natural. Most children pull their lips tightly, grimace, or bare their teeth when asked to smile.  Sort of like this:

With a bit of pleading and begging “Come on, please smile for the camera!”, I got this:

He’s smiling but it’s still forced and certainly doesn’t look like the happy five year old I know and love.

Instead of asking kids to smile I will often talk to them in an exaggerated voice, ask silly questions, make funny noises (with babies I sneeze or pop my lips together) or make funny faces (with older children I will peer out from around the camera and make a silly face or look startled or scared). I have balanced toys on my head; used an app on my smart phone that makes animal / vehicle noises; had a parent, sibling or another adult do something silly right behind my head (so the child isn’t looking up or away from the camera).  Oftentimes parents know best what will make their child smile: an impersonation of a TV character, a joke, a song (especially with babies and toddlers), or physical comedy (pretending to fall down, trip etc.)

You’ll know if what you’re doing isn’t entertaining enough when you get a shot like this:

“I’m smiling, because I have to, but there’s something more interesting going on down the road”

And laughter is great because you can get a lot of fun shots, like this one:

But it’s often the moments before or after they laugh that are the best

It often doesn’t take long for children to tire of having their picture taken:

(This should be titled “Photographer’s Child, Enough Already”)

When kids have had enough I usually change whatever tactic I’m using and with older children I find conversation works the best (with babies it’s often livelier songs, puppets, and funny sounds).  You can tell in the image below that we’re having a conversation:

I caught him mid-sentence but you can see how his face has lit up!

Out of all the photos I took this is my favourite from the afternoon.  It took 36 shots of question-asking, funny jokes, and silliness but it’s a great way to figure out what makes your child ‘photo ready’ and there’s always a few gems in amongst the stack of pictures.

What’s your sure-fire way to get your child to smile for a photograph?

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