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?