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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children

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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children

Photographing Children Can Be Tricky – You may need to use tips, tricks and even some reverse psychology…

By Julie Cruz of Lot 116 Photography.

“You’re like a magician!”
“You have some sort of magical kid magnet powers!”

Those are just a few of the things that parents have told me after I’ve photographed their children. 95% of my shoots include children. Newborns, babies, toddlers, school aged, high school, you name it. I’m lucky enough to be around a pretty broad range of ages personally as well as during shoots. My daughter is 4, and I have a niece and nephews that are 3, 5, 9 and 12. What does that have to do with anything? Well that’s easy. Most kids like the same stuff. For instance, I once photographed a little girl who was 9 (like my niece), so when I told her that I could guess her favorite song, she didn’t believe me. I told her “I bet it’s “Love Story” by Taylor Swift!”. Her jaw dropped to the floor and she let out a *gasp* and said “HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT!??”, with a HUGE smile of pure shock and amazement on her face. To her, I was some sort of magical psychic, to me, I was just an aunt who pays attention to what her 9 year old niece likes.

Here are some tips and tricks to photographing children of all ages.

BABIES – Noises, songs and soft voices. A soft “hiiiiiiiiiii” usually gets a chubby little baby to look and smile at you. They are used to hearing that from their mom, relatives or even the old lady in line at the grocery store, so to them, it’s something familiar. Sure you could use some annoyingly loud maracas or squeaky toys like they do at “those portrait studios”, but unless you’re going for the deer in headlights look, you might want to pass on that. Songs like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” or other nursery songs work well also. Again, familiarity. If you’ve already got a happy go lucky baby, the fake sneeze or the gasp of air work pretty well also if you’re trying to get some big smiles and belly laughs.


TODDLERS – Ok, this is probably the hardest age. For majority of toddlers, stranger anxiety has kicked in already, so the thing you DON’T want to do is get right in their face when you first see them and say “HI!!!! I’M JULIE!”. Remember that one crazy friend/aunt/uncle/etc of your parents when you were growing up that was in your face every time you saw them? Do you remember how scared and downright annoyed you were with them? Well yeah….similar situation here. I usually just flash them a quick smile and then start talking to the parent(s). For them, they see that “ok, mom/dad is talking to her, she must be ok” and “hmmm, wait a minute, why isn’t she giving ME any attention?”. Soon after, they will be trying to get YOUR attention. If they still aren’t, easy tricks are saying “*Wow, what’s this!?” or “Is there a bird on my head!??”….or of course, peek a boo (mainly just the “BOO!” part). Other quick smile setters are being tossed or lifted in the air by mom or dad…


KIDS (about ages 3-8) – At this age you will get lots of fake, forced smiles, so this is where being funny really kicks in. Now how do you get kids to laugh? Easy!….be really silly, downright stupid and a little gross. Yep, I said gross.  Disclaimer: Not all of you may agree with this method – and if the parents are conservative or you are unsure, ask the parents if it is ok first. Talking about farts, or making fart noises totally works. I swear. Especially with boys! Asking kids if they farted, or if their parents farted, close to always works. Sure it might not be the most appropriate thing to be “teaching” kids, but ummm…..it’s nothing that they most likely don’t already talk about at school, with their friends or at home. Oh and I’ve never had a single parent complain about it…..especially when they go through their online gallery and see the most genuine and huge smiles ever.

Other funny things besides farts? Cartoon/kids movie voices (Spongebob, Shrek, Mickey Mouse, Alvin and The Chipmunks, etc), pretending like you’re hurt or going to fall, pretending like a bird pooped on your head, etc. Another great thing is REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY. Many times I will tell kids “Hey! DON’T look at me!”….and as soon as they look (because they ALWAYS do), I’ll say “HEY!!!! I TOLD YOU NOT TO LOOK AT ME!!”….which then causes a huge smile and laugh. Then I say “HEY!! NOOO SMILING!!”….which of course causes MORE looking AND smiling 😉

Here are a few “DON’T LOOK and DON’T SMILE” examples……




Asking them to see who can look the toughest is also a fun one…….


If all else fails, have a jumping contest!……



Have mom and dad do something silly or naughty 😉 (if they are behind you, make sure they are RIGHT behind you – HEAD level) – otherwise you’ll get a bunch of photos where the kids are looking up and/or off to the side). The expressions will be priceless!…..



Kisses causes smiles and laughs as well!…..


OLDER KIDS and TEENS – This is another tough age. By now, embarrassment is a huge factor in how kids will act. Most already feel like they are being tortured because they HAVE to have their picture taken. The main thing for this age is to photograph them AWAY from their parents and family (obviously besides group shots). No one wants their mom or dad hovering and saying “Eww, don’t do that smile, do your REAL smile” or “Sit up straight!”, etc. In those cases, it will only lead to an annoyed kid who will look miserable in all of the photos. So instead, have the family hang out elsewhere and tell the child to help you pick a good spot for photos. Once you are away from the family, just snap away. You can always pull out the fart tricks (well depending on how old they are) if you need to, but most likely they will be fine. For teens, just simply letting them know that they look beautiful or awesome while snapping, helps to motivate them and feel more confident……



Jumping works for older kids (and adults!) too….


Remember to use the comment section and let us know how you connect with kids you are photographing.  What works for you – what doesn’t?

Today’s Guest Blogger is Julie Cruz of Lot 116 Photography. Make sure to check out her site and blog for some inspiration. In this article, she is discussing ways you can connect effectively with the children you are photographing. After reading her article below, please add a comment telling us how you connect with kids.  What works and does not work for you.  This way everyone will have an even greater resource and list of ideas.

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  1. Geri Ann
    November 16, 2009 at 11:43 pm —

    So THAT’s how you get those precious, natural shots, Julie. Great tips, and a funny post, to boot!

    The hidden tickle for the little babies always gets me some great giggle faces, as do the fake sneezes. I haven’t yet mastered getting the 3-6 year olds to quit giving me fake smiles or downright ugly faces, but then again, *sometimes* those pictures themselves are precious.

  2. December 5, 2009 at 10:49 pm —

    I found Julie’s blog a little over a year ago and I fell in love with her images! Glad to know how she gets those awesome natural smiles and yes, it always comes back to farts! 🙂 Great post, julie!

  3. July 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm —

    I totally use the fart trick – I have a fart machine that goes with me on every shoot with kids – put it in dad’s back pocket, and viola – everyone in the family is cracking up which cuts any tension and relaxes them into a good mood for the session….. and of course, since the husband is more than likely not wanting to be there in the first place, it gives him a sense of purpose!

  4. July 15, 2010 at 2:08 pm —

    great, great post. So imformative! Thank you! I also use reverse psychology and it works wonders! I think my favorite shot is the little boy jumping with his sister standint still in the background. Amazing! I want to try that with my kids! Thanks again!

  5. August 10, 2010 at 10:02 am —

    I would love to know how you get such beautiful lighting? The faces have no shadows!!! I am not a professional, but love to take tons of pictures of my family (particularly my three grandsons!) Thanks for your great ideas and any lighting help you can give me.

  6. January 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm —

    Great ideas, Thanks!! Lately I’ve been using stuffed animals and balancing them on my head and then either accidentally or on purpose having them fall off (all while being really silly about it), and this has worked great for the 1-6 yr old crowd. (And it’s actually worked pretty great at getting the parents looking at me in family shots as well!). Also for a group shot (especially with older kids who could be a bit difficult to get smiling) I’ve used an actual whoopee cusion, or a fart making gadget you can buy, and given it to one of the kids to surprise the others with. It works great!! Also if you look horrified when it happens then everyone will be looking at you! I think over the 8 years of being a photographer the top thing I’ve learned is how to interact more effectively to get the expressions and reactions you want. It’s really the key to being a great photographer.

  7. Petr
    April 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm —

    awesome shots!

  8. July 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm —

    Excellent thoughts. Thanks much for the many useful hints. The fart trick had me laugh as well. 🙂


  9. Harish
    March 7, 2013 at 4:58 am —

    Thanks for sharing these tips…. really helpful.

  10. April 20, 2013 at 2:50 am —

    I’m so pleased that I stumbled across this posting. I’m in the process of building a lifestyle and children portrait business, this post has given me food for thought of how to approach shoots. Thank you for sharing 🙂

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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children