Here are some tips to get babies and children, as well as the mommies, to smile during your photography sessions. In the end that is what we are all after when we take pictures right? That one shot with a real, lovely and genuine, big smile? Getting kids to smile for the camera can be tricky, be it from a baby, toddler, or bigger child. Some toddlers are shy and won’t give a big smile to a complete stranger (i.e. to me, the photographer), but there are some tricks that usually work for me. And yes, I am sorry, it involves being goofy. If you don’t feel like being goofy, you can always go straight to point 5, where mummy enters the stage.
1. First I try singing. I always start out a session asking for the toddler’s favorite songs and TV-shows, since that usually makes for good topics of conversation with a little one. So I try singing. If I don’t get a smile, at least I usually get the little one’s attention for long enough to get some nice shots.
2. Second, I act silly. Sounds silly? Well, you gotta know your audience, so just get down on the floor and do your show. Peekaboo with the camera, make funny noises, pretend to fall on the floor, make a little dance, or whatever works for you. 3. Tickling. This is how it works. Toddler is lying on the floor, I am standing up getting shots straight down. I tickle her tummy once, then stand up and shoot, and repeat. This usually does the trick if nothing else does. (Did I mention I count toddler session as a full cardio workout?) However, if a toddler is particularly shy I don’t do this, as she might not be happy about a stranger touching her.
4. The PEZ trick. You know, the Pez dispensers that come in all kinds of different characters and colors? Turns out they fit almost perfectly in your camera shoe. And they are really effective to get the kid’s attention, at least for a little while. All you need to do is shave off a little of the base on each side.
5. Talk. Try asking questions to get a conversation going. Needless to say this works best if the child is able to talk… But even smaller toddlers can usually respond somehow to easy questions like “do you like Mickey Mouse?” or “do you like ice cream?” And if I ask them about something they like, voila, there comes the smile… For bigger kids, if I manage to get a good conversation going, it can make for some great story boards, with lots of different expressions. 6. Hugging. If the session includes more than one child, I always try to get them to hug somehow. A hug almost always brings out a cute smile. 7. Mummy enters the stage. At some point during the session I always have the mummy enter the stage to help me get the smiles. After all, Moms always know how to get their baby smiling. This way I often get smiley images without the child looking in the camera (since she is obviously looking at her mummy), but these images can also be really cute. Another option is to have the mummy stay right behind or right next to you, and try to get smiles AND the child looking in the camera. A little trick here is to do some sort of sound right after mummy finishes her “act” to get the smiling kid looking straight at you. 8. Make mummy smile too! This is perhaps my most important trick. Make the parents happy! I always spend time preparing the parents before sessions, and I make very sure the parents know that I know that toddlers can be tricky. After all toddlers are not made for sitting still for hours and smiling for the camera. I know that! And as a children’s photographer it is my job to handle just that. And for the most part, it works pretty well. Even if I sometimes end up with a picture like this:
All the images in this post were edited with MCP Newborn Necessities and the Four Seasons sets. Mette Lindbaek is a photographer from Norway living in Abu Dhabi. Metteli Photography specializes in babies and kids portraits. To see more of her work, check www.metteli.com, or follow her on her Facebook-page.