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Why it’s OK when your kids won’t smile

I hear a lot from parents and friends that they would love to book a photo session with me, except that their kid (kids) never smile and that the last photo session was a disaster. When everyone ends up crying at the end of a photo session, and not in a good way, something has gone terribly wrong!

So here are some tips and advice I have for both parents and photographers on how to let go, have fun, and just let your session unfold stress-free.

Embracing Your Child’s Personality

If your child is like my oldest, they are a little more pensive and intense instead of silly (like my youngest). It’s hard to force a child to smile with a stranger. So there are some things you can do to set expectations and relieve anxiety before the shoot.

Parents: Talk to your child, even if they are 2 years old, about getting their photo taken. They are probably very used to you taking photos of them with your iPhone but they aren’t used to a stranger taking their photo with a giant big black camera and a reflector :). Tell your child what to expect, what they are going to wear, etc. I’m not a big fan of this, but conditionals work. “If you can sit still for these photos, you can get ___”

Photographers: If your session is starting, remember to wear your camera so that the children you are shooting associate you with the camera. Let them see it, look at the photos you take of them, and engage them in your session. Whatever you do, smile. Keep it light, friendly and silly. I have used finger puppets in the past to get kids’ attention. One thing to keep in mind is scheduling- did you schedule the session in the morning or near nap/bedtime? Always ask parents what the best time of day is and adjust.

Sessions Should be Fun, not Exhausting

Make a list of fun poses to do with the kids you are shooting. Sometimes I ask kids to pick flowers with me or show me their favorite part of their backyard when I’m shooting at their house. Listen to kids, even if they aren’t really complying with parents’ orders…

Speaking of parents –

Parents: Posing is hard to do when you’re little. Some kiddos just don’t want to sit with you on the bench smiling at a stranger. They want to play instead. So, my advice to you is to let that child play a little bit, and relax. The more frustrated you get, the higher the chance your kid is going to act out (at least that’s the case with my girls!) Try to have fun with it. Some of the most gorgeous family photos I’ve taken have been candid and poses that were not what the parents wanted.

Creating the Perfect Candids

The thing about candids is that they can be amazing or a flop. But with kids- somehow they’re always amazing. This little girl jumped so high and thankfully my shutter speed was 1/1000 and I grabbed this gem.

Parents: I know what you’re thinking. You’ve invested in photos. You want to print them. You want to put them on social media. You have a certain aesthetic in mind and you’ve bought new clothes and here we are. Your kid is running around like they’ve eaten a whole birthday cake and you don’t know what to do. That’s your photographers job- to grab the moments that are fleeting and precious. Do encourage your kids to stay near you or stay safe, especially outdoors.

Photographers: Look. I know. Manual mode is like…really a lot when you’re shooting outdoors with kids that are constantly moving around in and out of the shade, and you want great composition and I get you. I shoot my sessions on a 35mm prime mostly. Or 50mm prime. The reason is I can crop, flip, and get a wide aperture with my two prime lenses. I also have one less thing to worry about when kids are being playful. At times, I’ll break out my 70-200 mm but it’s heavy and the AF on it is a little slow- so I might miss some action. .My best advice to you, especially if you’ve never shot kids, is to have a fast shutter speed. You can bump up your ISO a bit if you need to. Just make sure your subject is in focus. And have fun.

When Things Start to Go South

I’ve seen some tears in my time, and I know when the session is probably coming to a close. Even adults get tired of being in front of the camera, and sometimes it’s best to wrap it up.

Parents: You don’t need to apologize. I’m a mom of two small kids. I have seen and heard it all at this point. Just try to stay calm and if the session is coming to a natural end, we can always take some of just you and your spouse. Or some of just you for your business or social media profile! 🙂

Photographers: Don’t push it. When kids start to cry, it means it’s time to go. You might catch a glimpse of calmness and capitalize on that moment, but for the most part, kids get tired of posing, listening and performing. If you didn’t get what you needed to, offer to come back. At least I do, and that puts parents at ease. Remember, these are your customers- if you want them to come back to you, show compassion and patience.

I hope this helps!

The Journal


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