Seattle photographer on capturing genuine smiles and authentic expressions in children’s photos

Autumn has arrived. A family photographer is busy now. A colleague called me recently after a family photo session and said, “I have a quick question. Do you find, when you are working, that kids sometimes don’t want to look at you during the photo session, let alone smile, laugh, or show you their brand new teeth?

“You know all you want as a family and child portrait photographer is to create photos with children smiling, showing off their new teeth, and laughing as if they were with parents in their element and no stranger was watching, let alone a family photographer who wants capture that. My answer to my colleague was, “Yes, of course, pretty much all the time. Ninety percent of the time, we start with timidity, shyness, or some of variation of it. Kids turning away from the camera are a well-known thing for me.” “What do you do?” she asked?

What does a Family Photographer do to get that natural smile?

“EVERYTHING,” I replied. I entertain; I ask questions (about favorite toys, animals, and who they would like to be when they grow up). I ask their best friend’s names, I jump, I ask parents to jump, we all jump, I throw my hat up in the air, I twirl my hat or scarf above my head as I make photos, hoping for ‘The One’. Sometimes, I have a feather on a stick, come close to child’s face, and pretend that I am going to “tickle” the child’s cheek.

What else do I do? I say things like: “Do you know that ???” And I tell silly stories about what I like to eat or drink … For example: “Do you know that my favorite ice cream is made out of frozen clouds and then I dip it in hot chocolate for the best taste effect. Sometimes, I get reactions from my stories, be it amazement, amusement or better yet, belly laughs, and that is great. However, sometimes I do not achieve anything, and get no reaction from the children I am supposed to photograph for a holiday card or a first birthday.

I tell my stories, I jump, I throw my hats and scarfs and other objects into the air and have NOTHING to show to my clients yet. We can be sixty minutes into the photo session and have thirty minutes left, and I have nothing to write home about yet.

What else is there to do? I stick with it. I stay with it. I smile to myself and I may take two deep breaths to regroup. I may call a break for few minutes and talk to parents for just a bit, ask a mother to change child’s attire. I stay positive, curious, and truly open to what may unravel, and I continue to watch what the child, or kids, are interested moment by moment. In a New York minute, everything can change… You may witness that a child will spot a spider web draped across a nearby bush and that will stimulate a child’s curiosity, elicit a beautiful AND still gaze. Then you may all ask a question and receive the child’s answer accompanied by a thoughtful face to photograph. Parents may chime in and ask questions and we may enter through a fine portal to a variety of expressions from then on. The goal is to capture it all: from pensive looks to thoughtful ones, from smiles to joyous laughter.To sum up: be patient, try and keep trying, get silly, get family and siblings interacting with each other, don’t say cheese (they have heard that one too many times), get down to their level and respect that they may not want their photos to be taken. Cultivate the thought of making the photo happen rather than just taking it. It will happen. It always does!

Child photographed while smiling

Boy having a great moment with dad during family photo session

Girl being mesmerized by the leaves being thrown at her by a parent

Girl smiling away in her father's arms

Boy looking ahead and smiling

Siblings smiling while being photographed

Boy playing peek-a-boo with his parents

Boy smiles while he discovers new sounds on his instrument

Easy going smiling during our short photo session before she ran to play with friends