Authenic Posing: How To Get Kids To Smile For Photos

Boy with blonde curly hair smiling at the camera

I started my photography journey humbly enough, working as a seasonal employee at the MALL portrait studio. I can't knock it too much, though - I really did learn some pivotal PS skills, great customer service, but perhaps the most valuable of all, I learned tips on how to make kids smile! Of course it's different for every kid, so don't be discouraged by blank stares or "who the heck are you" expressions - SOMETHING will work!


Group photo of young children playing the the leaves

"Say cheese" is so cliche and it DOESNT WORK. Kids are rehearsed smilers, so you can often get that wide toothed, looks-like-their-dentist-is-pulling-their-lips-open kind of plastic smile. Try having your kiddos say these things instead:

  • "Boogers" (popular with boys!)
  • "Dirty diapers" (also, boys)
  • "Mommy/Daddy stinks" (are the parents cool?)
  • "Hurry up lady" (works great with older kids - maybe because they are getting a free pass to yell at you?)
  • The name of their favorite TV Show/Movie (Power Rangers! Come to think of it, this would work for one of my wedding couples next year!)


I like to put something (a toy, usually) on top my head and have kids "blow it down" on the count of 3. Ideally, it's a rubber duck, and when you say "3" you shake your head to make it fall and the kids laugh hysterically. My camera bag has lots of weird things in it! You can also use jangly keys or anything else that makes noise if you're having trouble getting their attention. Another strategy I've had success with in the fall is having them throw leaves in the air on the count of 3. The count to 3 thing is vital - they sit still anticipating it, and often they are so excited they are STILL and SMILING before the promised action happens.


Another tactic to use with the duck/toy/keys/whatever. Put the item on your head, and instead of telling them to blow it down and starting that magical 1...2...3...., instead say "I hope this doesn't fall down" and go "aaaa.....aaaaaa....achoooo!" This variation works better when the kids are very small and may not understand your instruction, but totally get when you're being goofy.

large group photo of young children sitting on hay bales on a farm


I like this strategy when the parents are holding the kids or they are nearby. A simple "I'mmmmm gunnnaaa tickle youuuuu!!!" and then making a goofy sound while tickling their belly sometimes gets to grumpiest little one to crack a smile. Even better when you have have an assistant do this so you don't have to jump back and forth from tickling to standing the appropriate shooting distance away. 


So while I don't normally endorse bribery (and discourage parents from doing so too - after all, we are going for "authentic" here!), I do think rewarding good behavior is always a nice gesture at the END. A while ago I saw this method of attaching a PEZ dispenser on your camera's hotshoe to gives kids a fun focal point, and a sweet treat to look forward to. Check out the video to show you how: 

family of four children in close pose as if they are hugging


Kids like to laugh - at other people. When the above methods don't work, I resort to the "pig nose" (push your nose up like a pig and snort. yep.), or the "raspberry" - you know, sticking your tongue out and the like.

Ans always, always make time to be silly. Kids love to run and jump and laugh and play - so if you are willing to do that too, you will be much more than "the camera lady/man" and your photos will be much more than "nice pictures."