Photographing Kids: Getting Kids to Smile for the Camera

July 11, 2011

I especially love taking natural and unposed photographs of my children. However, sometimes I need to get the kids smiling for the camera. For example: family shots and Christmas photos.

But what is a smile? A “Say Cheese” smile is just muscles moving, but a real smile is all about emotion. And that is what I want to capture on camera.

I want to capture the light behind their eyes as their face lights up.

I want to capture the curve of their face as they express themselves.

I want to capture the sway of their body as they move.

I want to capture their personality.

For me, reflecting personality in photographs is all about two things: emotion and interpretation. Catching a smile can be easy but capturing emotion is much more challenging.  The best way I have found to achieve this is to allow my subject the room for interpretation.  Nothing I can fabricate can ever come close to the real thing.

Here are my tips for (not just getting a smile but) capturing a child’s personality and character in still life.

Note: I’m not a professional photographer (at all) but I’m interested in photography and I enjoy learning as I go along.

1. Drama of Words

One of my favourite things to do is to give the child a word to interpret how they like.

Picture 1: Think of the word ”Cute”

Picture 2: Think of Mummy

Picture 3: Think of Daddy

Picture 4: Think of the word “Special”

taking photographs of kids: how to get kids to smile for the camera

I also use phrases like these too (especially helpful with  younger children aged 2-5 years):

  • Think of rainbows
  • What’s your favourite thing?
  • Lollipops
  • Cars and trucks

2. Give an Action or Emotion

Allowing the children to interpret an action or emotion gives me so much more than I could fabricate myself.  For example, when I say “love each other” to my kids, rather than “put your arms around each other” I can capture such beautiful emotion. Take a look at these:

Getting Kids to Smile at the Camera 1: Give them an action

Or when my two youngest were in a wedding party:

getting the kids to smile for the camera

And this one of my four at a camping trip, all scruffy and happy:

getting kids to smile for the camera

3. Say “I love you”

Sometimes getting a smile is as simple as saying:

“I love you.”


“I think you are so special.”

getting kids to smile at the camera: say i love you

4. Look Up/Look Inside

One of Katherine’s tips in her guest post is to ask children to look inside the camera lens to see what they can find.  This is a great way to get kids looking right at the camera.  Another idea is to hold something up for the kids to look at. This works especially well if you need to get multiple children looking at the same time.  A bell is my favourite tool.

getting the kids to smile at the camera: Look up or inside the camera

5. Do Something Silly

This was the reaction from my kids to their father’s silly antics behind me. Always works a treat.

getting kids to smile for the camera

6. Interact

There nothing quite like interaction to get a reaction from children. This could be tickling, talking or playing.

getting kids to smile for the camera

Getting Kids to Smile for the Camera

Tips for taking photographs of kids

I want to look back and, not just remember, but feel too. Photography: It’s not just about memories, it’s about moments.

Other Posts about Photographing Kids

Rule of Thirds 

The Background

Setting Up a Shoot


Making the Most of Your Mobile Phone Camera

Quick editing tips

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Kirralee BakerNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 7:40 am

So many great ideas. Can’t wait to try them. So simple – “rainbows”, “cars and trucks” – but I hadn’t thought of that and I imagine they will work very well. And such gorgeous photos of your kids. Beautiful.

Thank you.


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 9:26 am

Hope you find some of the tips helpful Kirralee…and you capture some great moments!


BookChookNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 9:36 am

These photos just make my heart sing!


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 9:55 am



Melanie GrahamNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 10:15 am

They are just amazing shots. Just brilliant ideas! Thank you. I am going to grab the camera right now and take some photo’s of my gorgeous 3 year old. :)


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm

How fun! Hope you got some fun shots Melanie! x


ElizabethNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm

I love the photo of your girls in the purple flowers, adorable. My girls don’t like to smile at all, at the camera and I get the ‘ oh mummmmmmmmmm’ look. Next time though, I am armed with these tips to get a perfect, real grin.


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar July 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm

I know. I especially love that one of the girls too. Hope some of these tips work for you. Sometimes it can take a little while for kids to get this new way of interacting with the camera. But it’s usually a lot more fun when it’s working two ways.. I usually have to take 10 before I get one good one. But that is the beauty of modern cameras, you can just snap, snap, snap away and decide on the best on later.


Melissa @imaginationsoupNo Gravatar July 21, 2011 at 6:33 am

I’m totally using these ideas! When the kids were littler I tried, “Show me your teeth.” You can imagine what horrible smiles I got saying that!




Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar July 25, 2011 at 7:11 pm

BAHAHA! Love it Melissa. Hope some of these tips work!


AliceNo Gravatar July 29, 2011 at 9:27 pm

I had ball with the kids at the park the other day, with your suggestion of the drama of words. All their personalities really came out. I’ve loved looking back at the photos, and remembering the “interview” I had with each of them. Thanks for these great tips Kelly!! xxx


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar July 29, 2011 at 9:40 pm

Al, it’s so lovley of you to come back and tell me about it! So glad some of the tips worked well. xx


Sarah-Jane KurtiniNo Gravatar May 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

I love this post Kelly. Going to try the ‘Drama of Words’ this afternoon when we go to the park. Will share on the Tinybeans Facebook page too. Always looking for kids photo tips. Thanks, x


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar May 4, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Thanks Sarah-Jane! Hope you get some great shots!


LyndallNo Gravatar May 3, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Terrific ideas – thanks for sharing!


Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar May 4, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Thanks Lyndall.


FlutterbonNo Gravatar May 3, 2012 at 7:38 pm



Kelly Be A Fun MumNo Gravatar May 4, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Thanks for the feedback Bon.


Carole DiamondNo Gravatar August 18, 2012 at 4:44 pm

This is such a great Post!! I am a Professional Photographer and This is great advise , some I used already but not all, I have learnt something from you THANKYOU


TaniaNo Gravatar August 31, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thank you so, so much for these tips. My 2.5 year old son is nearly impossible to get to smile at the camera :-/ he says “cheese” as soon as I pull out the camera and if I miss it, we’ll too bad that was my opportunity then he is off on his busy way and I have missed the moment. I cannot wait to try these tips out. I think I need to put a new camera for Mummy on my birthday list :-) I think I need one that’s super fast to capture a busy little boy at play. May I ask what camera you use, because your photos are brilliant? Sorry I hope that’s not a rude question to ask. Thank you again


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