Sneeze not “cheese”
How to make babies smile or laugh when you take their picture
For the little ones under a year this little trick always works and just cracks them up. Pretend to sneeze. Make a long exaggerated version of a sneeze coming on: “Aa… aaaa…. aaaaa…. choooooo!”.
Next time you want to catch that cute smile or laughter on camera – pretend to sneeze!
Practical advice on how to make kids smile naturally
Let’s say you’re traveling, and you stop at a gorgeous place. You want to snap a quick photo of your kids in front of the scenic view. And you want them to look happy and smiling. Or you’re at a family gathering. The kids look adorable and you need to document the moment.
How do you direct the kids so that they smile beautifully – that is, naturally? Here’s what I recommend.
1. Restrain your urge to say, “Say cheese!” or, “Smile!”
2. Ask the kids nicely to stand where you need them to stand.
3. Give a compliment – “You look beautiful,” or, “I see a beautiful spark in your eyes,” or, “You look so strong.”
4. Ask to show you a tongue, or big eyes, or how high she can jump – anything that will make her do something fun, something she likes. Wait for a second and THEN snap a shot – when she smiles naturally.
5. With a silly voice but pretending to be serious say, “No, no, no smiling.” At first they’ll try to stop the smile, but soon enough usually everyone cracks up. Takes two seconds. The result: a genuine happy full-blown smile or laugh.
6. (If the kid is up to about five years old.) Hold a toy and play it like a puppet. Make it hide and then pop up, or let it say something funny.
What you gain, while spending the extra minute:
• Beautiful, genuine happy expressions
• A fun moment that will energize you both
• A fun memory behind the shot
• Next time your kid will be more cooperative because you made it fun to take a picture.
The importance of being earnest
As early as toddlers, people can recognize fake facial expressions. People just know somehow when an expression is genuine or not, without even trying.
So when taking portraits, it’s very important not only to capture certain positive expressions, but to capture them in a way that YOU believe them. The difference between fake smiles and genuine smiles is something we feel immediately. When creating something for the long-term, like a portrait that will hang on your wall, it’s worth spending the extra time to capture a real emotion that will make you feel the way that only real emotions can make you feel.
What’s most important in a portrait?
When you look at a portrait that you don’t like, it’s easy to see why you don’t like it. But when you love a portrait, it’s hard to explain why. You see it and like it as a whole.
So what are the key ingredients that make a beautiful portrait? Knowing them will help you get one of your own.
• Facial expression and body language
Now, there are different opinions among photographers as to what’s most important and what can sometimes be compromised. Often, that’s what separates different styles and approaches.
When photographing landscapes or products, lighting and composition convey the artist’s vision and message. With portraits, facial expression and body language are crucial.
If you look at the work of different portrait photographers, you will notice what things they emphasize and what they can allow to let go to get a successful shot.
For me, when it comes to portraits, if I had to compromise it would be lighting or composition. Facial expression is my number one key ingredient.
A photo can be gorgeously lit and perfectly composed, and yet if the subject of the portrait has an unflattering or fake expression, I can’t deliver that photograph.
That’s the reason why sometimes a simple phone shot with bad lighting and a garbage bin in the background can be so special, if your kid has an amazing smile that shows her truest self in that moment.
Do you have a shot like that, that makes you wish for a well-composed and well-lit photo of a similar true moment, to print big and display on the wall? It’s possible.
Say “cheese” … or better yet, don’t!
I want to share here about something that has been bothering me, as a photographer and as a mom. I think it’s unfortunate that nearly all children today are conditioned to say “cheese” and grin when they’re photographed.
Even when I want to take a quick photo of my daughter, she often pulls the “cheese” smile, even though I never say “smile” or “cheese” when I snap her picture.
I understand where this comes from, and I sympathize to a point. As parents, we take a lot of snap shots of our kids. We want to do it quickly and we love their smiles. So, what could be so bad about just asking them to say “cheese,” get the smile and be done?
Well, because it simply looks quite bad. The result is usually not really a smile but an obviously forced attempt to show teeth. I think we and our kids deserve better. After all, what are we really photographing, the teeth, or the kid?
Stop for a second and think what goes through a kid’s subconscious mind when they hear a command to smile or say “cheese.” Something like: “I look good and worthy when I’m smiling, pretending to be happy,” or “I need to pretend that I’m happy, so mom is happy,” or even, “I need to smile because that’s the only way I’m good and deserve a photo – I’m not good enough as I am, being what I am.”
I believe we need to communicate more to our kids that they are beautiful and worthy for who they are: their traits, their passions and their uniqueness. That’s the way to self-acceptance, self-confidence and success in life.
So, along with occasional snapshots of their smiles, why don’t we also snap some photos of them just being them – standing, looking at you with their innocence, or goofiness, or confidence, or being dreamy, or proud? The way THEY do it. Naturally. Not just for the camera.
So that we can show that photo to them and say, “Look how beautiful you are when you’re creating something,” or “Look how proud you are doing that,” or “You look so dreamy, I can really see great imagination in your eyes.”
What do you think that kind of photo would mean to you down the road? And what would it mean to your kid to have together with the memories of your words?
5 easy tips to get beautiful family photos without suffering
1. Don’t rehearse
It might sound counterintuitive, but trying to prepare your kids to pose and smile for the camera is a bad idea. Resist the urge. Instead you can just say “we’re going to have a playdate with my friend and she’ll be taking some pictures as well.” The kids will be much more excited! And most importantly they will be themselves, acting and smiling their best and most natural way.
2. Have a conversation with the photographer
A simple phone call with your photographer before your portrait session goes a long way. And you need to talk about more than just the logistics of the shoot or the artist’s style. A photographer who knows nothing about your family will make portraits that look and feel generic. Tell your photographer what your kids are like and what you love about them and what is important for you to capture. Then your portraits will be authentic and meaningful to your family.
3. Give yourselves time
Being in a great mood matters. Especially on the day of your photo shoot. And do you know the number one reason why people sometimes show up not feeling their best? Running late. It’s completely understandable: parents get busy, kids walk slowly, traffic is often worse than expected. The best way to make sure you don’t arrive for your portrait session feeling hurried, frazzled and stressed is to simply give yourselves more time. Prepare everyone’s outfits and what to bring the night before. Some kids can be very particular about their outfits. Sound familiar? Have that conversation at least the night before, or even better a few days before your portrait day. Do your little ones take forever to put their socks on? Start getting dressed early. Remember – it’s not worth it to stress and be stressed!
4. Well-fed kids = happy kids
Having a hearty meal before your portrait session is incredibly important. Remember the cranky moments? How many of them were because your little angel was hungry? You can bring some snacks with you, of course. But having a good meal at home means there will be less hunger distractions during your shoot.
5. Let it be … and BE YOU
Okay, so you arrive at the photo shoot, the kids are excited, and everyone looks beautiful. Now what? What do you do? Smile, not smile? Sit, pose? It can be intimidating and a bit scary when a big lens is pointed at you. Take a deep breath. And … BE YOU. Let the kids be themselves. Yes, whatever they want to do! Let it be! You don’t need to do anything except enjoy yourself and this time when you’re all together. It’s your photographer’s job to create an environment and ambience where you all feel comfortable and free to be yourself. Your photographer will direct you and the kids as needed. And don’t worry if kids goof around! Your photographer will be capturing moments that you don’t even notice, because you’re in them, having fun. Capturing those genuine “in-between” moments is what makes authentic portraits. These portraits will show your kids’ personalities and the bonds between you all. These are the kinds of portraits that parents love the most.
I don’t like to be photographed…
Astra, a mom of two girls of 6 and 3, called us because she finally decided she was ready for family photos. Her “girls are in such a sweet age,” she said, “I want beautiful photos of them.”
She was very excited and inspired when we talked on the phone, describing to me the girls’ personalities and the moments she wanted me to capture. Her husband Toby was much less into the whole idea. Yes, he “wants some cute pictures of the family” but he is “uncomfortable in front of the camera,” and he doesn’t think he “can do all the posing and perfect smiling”.
He was happy to find out that we would be capturing spontaneous, real moments where people don’t need to pose. Often our families even forget that they’re being photographed.
They both loved their photographs.
The challenge (as usual) was to pick the absolute best for their wall art and album.