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Using Tips, Tricks, and Reverse Psychology to Photograph Children


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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.

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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…

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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…’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……

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

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

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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!…..

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Kisses causes smiles and laughs as well!…..

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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……

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

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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.


No Comments

  1. Michelle Robb Tanner on November 5, 2009 at 9:09 am

    There are a lot of great tips in there. Thanks for sharing!

  2. April Fletcher on November 5, 2009 at 9:28 am

    Thank you Jodi =)

  3. Lindsay Kesler Albrecht on November 5, 2009 at 9:32 am

    i also use the "don't smile" or "don't laugh" and works the majority of the time. this was very helpful, thanks!

  4. Barbara A. Tiberghien Scott on November 5, 2009 at 9:41 am

    Thanks for the insightful networking again!

  5. Carri Mullins on November 5, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I have worked with many toddlers and young children, and one trick I use to get them to warm up to me is to get them involved in the picture taking. I let them come and see a picture of themselves, or even let them "help" me take a picture of mom. That gets them familiar with the camera (which can be a very big scary piece of equipment to young kids), and keeps them excited about each shot.

  6. Iris Hicks on November 5, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Great suggestions for different ages. Now if only I can remember them all when it counts.

  7. Rebecca Timberlake on November 5, 2009 at 9:05 am

    Bubbles always work with toddlers…the only trouble is trying to put them away.

  8. Diana Nazareth on November 5, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    this is great, thanks!

  9. Kassia on November 5, 2009 at 9:42 am

    Ohmigod this is FANTASTIC! The farting noises idea made me LAUGH OUT LOUD and I will most definitely be using it next shoot… I am so not scared… 🙂 For kids that are just a little older than toddlers, pre-school age, I get them to look RIGHT into my lens so they can see themselves, upside down! And then I say, “Hey! Why are you hanging upside down?!” I’ve also found the skinniest tree and “tried” to hide behind it… kids think that’s hysterical. I can’t wait to see what other people do!

  10. Suzanne on November 5, 2009 at 10:20 am

    Mostly, I do everything I just read about. Great minds think alike! I use reverse psychology a lot, too. “Don’t smile. I told you not to smile! Why are you smiling?” Oftentimes, they will ask me again and again to tell them not to smile. I also like a little joke for kids – “Guess what? Chicken butt!” They love that one, too. And with boys, we run around and play tag and red-light, green-light. That helps them burn off some steam and when they stop and rest, I get them:)

  11. Andrea on November 5, 2009 at 10:40 am

    The farting trick. . . .it WORKS. Every time. Toots, farts, butts – all hilarious for boys. I use the stinky feet line too. First I ask the child to say “stinky feet” – not only does it cause the mouth to form a natural smile, it also surprises them and ususally gets them to giggle. Playing more on stinky feet – – “do you have stinky feet?” child says no. “i bet your mommy has stinky feet, should we check”? Then I pretend to go get mom – that works as well for smiles. To get serious faced close ups, I get in close and ask them “do you see a dinosaur/princess/dragon in my camera? look realllllly close” and snap the shot – working along the same line, I back up and say, “you didn’t see a dinosaur in there?? he must have escaped! let’s find him. . .” running/playing = fun and smiles.

  12. Elaine on November 5, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Awesome!! I use many of the tricks you have stated – especially with the baby and toddler ages. The babies, as you said, the quieter the better. The more you stimulate them, the worse it is!! Sometimes it’s best to photograph them away from the parents as well. My worst sessions have been when parents stand behind me, nearly yelling at their kid to get them to smile, sit up, look here, etc. What you end up with, is one very confused, overstimulated baby!!

  13. DaniGirl on November 5, 2009 at 10:57 am

    I have three boys, ages 20 months through almost 8, and I am nodding in agreement with everything you said — great guest post! Here’s a similar trick I use: I say, “Don’t you think about boogers. Please, whatever you do, don’t think about boogers!” and then, when the first smile cracks, give a giant theatrical groan and say, “Oh no! I *told* you not to think about boogers!!” Works like a charm!

  14. Sarah Collins on November 5, 2009 at 11:16 am

    I ask if daddy wears diapers – gets a huge giggle every time. 🙂

  15. Jen Jacobs on November 5, 2009 at 11:20 am

    This was great!! this was exactly what I needed, it had me laughing!! Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. Tiffany on November 5, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Great advice. I love the farting noises. I have a 3 year old girl and 4 year old boy, that stuff totally works. One thing that works for me is whistling. I can make a bird sound when I whistle and I tell little kids that there is a little birdie stuck in my camera. It gets a direct look right into my lens and usually a good smile or amused look. Sometimes kids just react by looking worried or confused though.

  17. Ginny Knight Scott on November 5, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Awesome tips, thank you so much!!

  18. Kelly Mendoza on November 5, 2009 at 11:31 am

    Great article Julie! I am looking forward to meeting you in January when you photograph my family.

  19. Karen Bee on November 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Thank you for the great advice. You sound like alot of fun!I attach those fuzzy feathers to pipe cleaners and wrap those around a scrunchie I’ve put around the lens. The feathers move in the breeze and the children look at the lens. I bring my 8, 6, & 4 years olds with me to shoot and they run around behind me and make the family laugh.

  20. Crystal ~ momaziggy on November 5, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Fantastic post. Funny thing is I somehow stumbled across her blog last night and was looking in awe. Then come on here and see her shots…which are awesome. I love the tips and tricks. Kids are kids and you have to let them feel like them to get the best shots. :O)

  21. Amber Katrina Photography on November 5, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    I love these ideas. When I photograph toddlers at home I love to have everyone get on mom and dad’s bed. I get a lot of laughs from the toddlers by playing peek-a-boo under the sheets . I also have them jump on the bed, landing facing me so I can get the family in the background.

  22. Jeannette Chirinos Gold on November 5, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    I really enjoy this article, fantasticThank you Jodi and Julie for these advices 🙂

  23. Susie Akin on November 5, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    thank you for sharing !!!!

  24. wendy on November 5, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Yay! Julie is one of my favorite photographers! Thanks for the fantastic ideas. I will file those away for future shoots. I like to say, “Smile when I count to 5”. Then I’ll count 1,2,3,13,29. I do it a few times counting incorrectly and that usually get the kids to laugh. I also sing the wrong words to songs. Little kids like that too.

  25. Amy Blake on November 5, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Great post! Thanks for sharing such useful information!! I think with ages 3-teen one of the biggest success I’ve had is to tell one family member a word (an animal or bug, a food, etc.) and have them shout out the random word when I count to three. It always gets some great expressions.

  26. Tracy I on November 5, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Great article! Awesome tips and tricks! Thank you!

  27. Carin on November 5, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    GREAT post! Today I took my almost 2 year old son to the park. He was NOT into it. So I started hiding behind a post or the slide and I would POP out. Then I would hide behind something else, he was giggling and laughing. You have to work super fast though.

  28. Amy Lemaniak on November 5, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    GREAT tips! My secret weapon is Smarties for the toddlers and definitely fart noises, esp for older boys.

  29. Alexandra on November 5, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Great tips 🙂

  30. Julie Jamieson Cruz on November 5, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Thanks everyone!…and thank you Jodi for having me guest blog 🙂

  31. Kym Williams on November 5, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    i wish i had read this YESTERDAY before my session with 2 and 4 yr old sisters. they would barely sit still long enough to even get them in one place and they were not interested in the camera or anywhere i was. and if i did capture someone’s attention, the other one was no where on the same page lol GREAT TIPS! I love the don’t smile and the don’t think about boogers, i can get behind those ideas. the farting idea has me cracking up so bad i think i’d burst into hysterics and not get one shot off 😉

  32. Katie on November 5, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    I think location can be a big factor as well, especially with the toddler crowd. There is a great green space in the middle of the city that I love. I did an engaged couple there and the shoot was awesome. I tried a family with young kids and it was crazy. The 15 month old could care less about me and instead wanted to go and go and go. I wasn’t satisfied with his individual shots so I invited the mom back to my house on another day to shoot in my backyard. He needed a smaller space where he was more contained and easily occupied with smaller things. He was still a mover, but we got some amazing shots in the more relaxed environment.

  33. Eleni on November 6, 2009 at 7:58 am

    I keep stickers of firetrucks, fish, etc in my pocket and when I start losing their attention I tell them that I have a “surprise” for them. Then I ask if they can guess what it is, I give clues like it’s small enough to fit in my pocket, etc. They are excited and smile and happy to get their sticker in the end.Also PEZ dispensers fit onto the camera where the flash is suppose to go. Just trim the feet a bit with a utility knife.

  34. johnwaire | photo on November 6, 2009 at 8:10 am

    i love this! great post. it always comes back to farts…doesn’t it? 🙂

  35. Jes on November 6, 2009 at 8:21 am

    Awesome! I actually have a little handheld fart machine that I use. It’s hilarious.

  36. Christina on November 6, 2009 at 8:31 am

    What a great post. Thanks so much and now I have a new blog to follow!

  37. Erin on November 7, 2009 at 10:16 am

    I tend to do this with most kids, but it works especially well with the shy ones… I show them some pictures on my camera. With the younger ones I say “where’s mom?” and “where’s dad” and let them point to the screen, which gets them to interact with me & start to open up. With toddlers, after seeing some pictures they will start to say “hey, take pictures of me doing this!” and then it’s just non-stop fun! Older kids feel much more confident if they see one or two pictures of themselves looking good too. I usually start out most shoots staying in the background, just letting the family play/interact with each other without my interference, especially if this is their first photo shoot with me. If mom & dad are comfortable & confident, the kids will be too!

  38. Melissa on November 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

    great advice!

  39. Janet McK on November 8, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    What a great guest post! I love playing the gross card with preschoolers. What are you going to have for lunch? Cheese and pickles on toast?! I also ask them “What is your favorite thing in the world?” Then, I use what I know about that subject to get them to smile! If they can’t come up with something I’ll guess, and that usually gets them laughing, too.Being held by the parents also gets a winner of a smile for the younger ones.

  40. Pam Davis on November 8, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Great post wish I had tried some of the things in this post on a 3 year old that had no interest in anything till I pulled out the bubbles.

  41. Geri Ann on 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.

  42. Stephanie on 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!

  43. Brenda Horan on 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!

  44. Mom2my10 on 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!

  45. julie on 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.

  46. Tara Mansius on 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.

  47. Petr on April 22, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    awesome shots!

  48. Roland on July 15, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Excellent thoughts. Thanks much for the many useful hints. The fart trick had me laugh as well. :)cheersŒ¬

  49. Harish on March 7, 2013 at 4:58 am

    Thanks for sharing these tips…. really helpful.

  50. Dennis on 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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