Getting kids to smile for pictures can be, well…. annoying, difficult, and often just plain exhausting. I love normal day photos. I love pictures of the girls in action just doing what they do, but sometimes I just want those sit down and smile kind of shots. My girls smile every day – the trick is catching them on camera.
I’m far from being an expert photographer, but taking pictures is still one of my favorite hobbies – especially pictures of my kids! I think it’s a beautiful way to see changes and save memories.
My two year old is currently going through a stage where she tries to avoid the camera like it’s the black plague and my 8 month old is waaaay too busy to sit still and give me a toothy grin, so I wanted to share some of the ways I trick my girls into letting me capture their authentic smiles. 🙂
1. Move Quickly, yet Never be in a Hurry
If your kids sense you are rushed for time, they are going to fall apart even faster than normal and you will probably accomplish nothing. If something you’re doing is working (even slightly), don’t wait around for the “perfect” look. Start clicking! Also, make sure you are ready to be entertaining within about half a second of setting the kids up or they won’t stay put. If you can catch (and hold) their attention immediately, you’ll have a better chance of them staying put. Make sure your camera and laughter producing props are in your hands and ready to go!
2. Do Things you Wouldn’t Normally do
My 8 month old especially, thinks it is incredibly funny when I jump up and down, jump/spin to face backwards followed by a jump/spin/take a picture to face forwards. It takes practice to quickly focus and shoot before the smile dies, but practice makes perfect! I’m pretty good at this method now, since it’s such a winner choice with Evelyn.
3. Goofy Voices/Noises
If your kids won’t follow this up by overdoing it and driving you insane, you may have luck producing some giggles with burp noises, fake hiccups, and other silly sounds. Simply having a conversation or addressing the children in strange, silly voices can be quite a hit as well.
4. Things Falling off (or Climbing on!) Your Head
Often, I want the kids to be looking at the camera, or at least in my general direction. This trick is great because they’re focusing on the object on your head, which is just about the perfect spot! You want to take the picture with their smiles of anticipation – before the object hits the floor. I usually use one of Abby’s dolls or little stuffed animals. I get the best results when I also talk to the toy, “Alright, Cuddle Bear…. you sit on my head and don’t fall off!!” After Cuddle Bear slides off my head to the floor, “GASP! CUDDLE BEAR! I told you to stay on my head!!” Annnnd repeat. Seriously, this one cracks my kids up almost every time….
5. Rattles or Other Noise Making Toys
Rattles work best to get babies’ attention. If you’re at the stage where you don’t really need a smile, you just want their eyes, this is pretty foolproof. You’ll probably have to combine it with something else if you want the older kid to bust a grin though.
6. Use Those Older Siblings!
This is great if you are doing individual pictures. I’m not sure how it is in your household, but according to Evelyn, Abigail is the funniest creature around. Abby does just about anything and Evie cracks up. Caleb or I do the exact same thing and we get a blank stare. If you can convince the older sibling to do what they do and get the little one laughing, go for it!!
You’d be surprised how fun a blanket can be. This is one I like using for laying down pictures. When the girls are on their backs next to each other, you swish a blanket down on them and then fling it back up in the air. There WILL be smiles, trust me! Obviously, this is about ten million times easier if you have a helper, but it can still work without one. If you’re flying solo, simply do one or two really fun rounds while the camera hangs around your neck. Then, once the kids are really into it, you click the camera with one hand and do a half-hearted blanket swish with your free hand. Usually they are so excited about it, that you will still get some pretty good smiles. Repeat until you get a picture you’re excited about! (You can also use dangly toys for pictures on their backs to entice some cheerful faces as the toys sneak down to “get them!”)
8. Put Another Adult to Work
The majority of the time, I am struggling to take pictures of the girls on my own. That’s rough, because (unless you’re lucky enough to have a camera hog) I haven’t met too many kids who want to sit still and look cute at a boring, humorless camera. When Caleb is able to help out, it’s amazing how much more quickly we get a good picture. One adult takes pictures, the other holds the kids’ attention and gets them smiling. If you have shy kids, this option usually only works if they’re very comfortable with your helper. Sometimes, adding an adult into the pictures makes things easier because they can contain the kids and help keep them from jumping all over for a couple minutes. ha
9. Make Silly Videos to Play on Your Computer
This one has been amazing for us. Self-timer family shots are difficult, but if you’re going to really make a go at it, this is a must! Prepare a few different videos in advance of picture day and load them on your laptop. Have the volume cranked, set your laptop right next to the camera (we usually use a chair to get it closer to the tripod height), and hit play along with the self-timer! Worst case scenario you will at least have your kids’ attention and best case you will get some good smiles! You could use videos on-line if there’s anything your kids would find humorous. I have had the best luck with creating my own, because I know my kids and what they’ll smile at. The key here, is to think outside the box. Try to come up with fresh ideas each time so your kids won’t get bored with it. Some quick ideas:
- Make blowing up a balloon something silly – blow really hard, make goofy frustrated faces, use exaggerated body language
- Goof around with a blown up balloon – bounce it on your head, use silly voices/expressions
- Fall or in general “hurt” yourself – trip, run into things, just make it exciting and laughable
- Throw a ball up in the air and catch it with loud exclamations
- Peek/Jump in and out of view, shouting each time you appear
- Make a short clip of your kids’ favorite toys talking/being goofy together
If all else fails, don’t feel bad about occasionally resorting to bribery, especially for the older ones. Lately, I’ve been using such methods because my 2 year old will just get up and be “done” or hide her face in her hands. haha I can draw her back with something like, “If you sit patiently for a few more pictures, you can have a raisin (craisin, almond, something else she finds equally exciting)!!” I don’t prefer this option, because you really know your time is limited at this point, but it HAS gotten the job done for me a few times. You could also tempt with an extra special toy or something they don’t normally get to play with, maybe a walk to the park – whatever you can think of!
That’s about all I can think of at the moment. If something was working great for you, but starts to lose it’s appeal, don’t be repetitive. Think outside the box and come up with a new idea. Wait a few months and try that old method again. It might work! If you have any other ideas or things that have worked for you, send them my way!!
I just remembered one more….. have a little dish of water and tell them you’re going to spray water on them! Dip your camera free hand in and after properly building anticipation (and smiles), flick them with a couple drops of water. My girls love this. I usually add in, “I can’t spray you unless you have your hands down. If they’re up over your face, I won’t do it.” This reminder helps Abby not block her face the whole time. haha