Many of us fall into this trap – see a camera and automatically paste on a fake smile. As a children’s photographer, I have seen this phony “smile” way too many times.  It’s too stiff, not natural and not the face you will want to remember years from now. Here are some tips and tricks on how to engage and entertain children to get the real deal happy smile. The one that warms your heart and makes you smile too.

1. Never Say Cheese!
Cheese is the word that always brings on the fake grin. Yes, it’s what we all grew up hearing but it’s time to change it up. Try “Stinky Feet” or “Ice Cream” or “Pickles”. Make it fresh and funny and unexpected. Even “Ice cream with Pickles” said really loud will create some cute smiles.

2. Reverse Psychology
This works everytime. Simply tell the child not to smile. Yes, NOT to smile. Kids love to do what they are not supposed to do. I will say, “Ok, I am counting on you. Whatever you do…do NOT smile! Do NOT laugh!” Soon enough they are giggling and bursting with smiles. I keep it up with a cheerful voice adding “I told you not to laugh, how come you are giggling? You have to stop! No smiles.” Next thing you know, there are big grins all around. Make sure you keep your camera ready and snapping the whole time.

3. Get Silly
Let your guard down and prepare to get silly. Kids respond well when you act the fool. One of my tricks is the crazy laugh. I ask the kids if they’d like to hear my crazy laugh and then I belt out a loud, drawn out, animated high pitch laugh. Then I ask them to show me theirs.  In minutes, everyone is laughing!

4. Ask Questions
A great way to put your subject at ease is to engage and interact with them. I do this by asking a million questions. Some fun ones to try are “Whose feet stink the most in your family?” “Who burps the loudest in your house?” “If your Dad was an animal, what would he be?” Again, the key here is to ask anything the kids are not used to being asked. The unexpected topics will bring out the giggles.

5. Smile Back.
Smiling is contagious. I always have a HUGE toothy grin on my face when I am photographing children. My husband teases me because he says I look like an animated Saturday morning cartoon. But it works…if you smile and laugh easily then most children will mirror you. Give it a try!

Hope these tips help in your everyday photography. And please share any of your own tricks.  Happy shooting all!

Mallika Malhotra, owner of mikifoto, captures the joy of childhood and family life. She loves to shoots outdoors in natural light and serves the NJ/NYC area. Like her on Facebook and follow her blog to continue to be inspired by her vibrant work.

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3 responses to How to Get Natural Smiles in Photos by mikifoto

  1. Beautiful pictures Mallika, you know how to make kids smile!!

  2. Thanks for these tips, Mallika! We definitely have a “cheese” problem in my family- will surprise them with stinky feet questions next time! Your beautiful pics are inspiring!

  3. Thanks Mallika! These are great tips. And beautiful photos as usual.

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