How to get your kids to smile for pictures — every time!


We’ve all been there. You just met up with long lost friends or family and you just want to capture the moment. You go to corral the kids and it’s like herding cats. But wait, no it’s more like herding feral cats — if we’re being honest. You finally have the kids wrangled and sitting together in front of the camera. Great! Except, the little one is crying. Two of them are tickling each other and NOT listening. Another one is whining. Ugh. Sound familiar? I call this ‘the chaos scenario’ and I’m willing to bet that many of you have strayed away from hiring a professional photographer for this exact reason.



Aside from having my own young kids, I have photographed many families with babies + toddlers. It’s not just your kids. The chaos scenario is pretty common actually. In fact, usually at least one part of the scenario happens during every family photography session I do. Not to mention, I’ve adapted to it as part of my regular #momlife.

Lucky for me, photographing families in numbers forces me to come up with creative solutions on the spot, because I’m committed to capturing (and sometimes creating!) those perfect family moments.


Here are some tips that you can use to get that camera perfect smile every time:


1. Full bellies = happy babies + kids. If you’re in a situation where you’ll know in advance that you’d like to take a photo, make sure the kids are fed in advance (but not too far in advance!). You can always stock up on individually wrapped snacks and have a few on hand at all times, just in case. Look what we just did there. Hungry whining crisis averted.


2. Energized kids are happy kids! Make sure the kids go to bed ‘on time’ (if that’s even a thing) the night before, or at minimum (because I know sometimes sleep schedules can be IMPOSSIBLE), make sure they’ve had a nap…still no? Haha, I’ve been there too. Maybe just make sure they don’t run out their little bits of energy at the park already. Plus you may want to save the park for my next tip.


3. Bribery! Oh yes. I honestly don’t know a mother who hasn’t bribed her children. #justsayin’. If you can sense that sh*t is about to hit the fan, have a bribery backup plan! You can promise playing at the park, going to the movies, ice cream, treats, and more. The whole world can be theirs for one low, steal of a deal price — sit still and smile nicely for just one photo! The key here is to keep your promise no matter what. Otherwise bribing them again in the future will not be effective.





4. Dress the kids in comfortably & weather appropriate wear. Think about it. Are you happy when you’ve got a wedgie or when your shirt feels itchy? No. Chances are, you wear the offending item long enough and you might be irritable and snappy. They will be too. Help them pick out their favorite & most clothing items while also making sure that they won’t be too hot or too cold. Do all of this with Goldilocks in mind and you’ll be just fine.


5. BE KIND. Yes, I said it. When we tell our kids over and over to do something and they don’t seem to want to cooperate, what happens? Sometimes we get mad at them. Sometimes we raise our voices. Sometimes we start threatening time out or other consequences like taking toys away. THIS DOES NOT WORK. I mean, now that I’m thinking about it, it honestly might not work at all ever. Take a deep breath. Pack lots of patience and bring it with you for the day. Lower your voice and put a little pep in your step. Reserve plenty of your own smiles and hugs for the kiddos. Would you want to smile and laugh for a camera when the person behind it or next to it is yelling at you?

6. Keep their favorite treats (a.ka. candy) on hand. Most kids will do anything for candy. I know, I know. Sugar is horrible. Artificial colors are horrible. Sometimes you have to cave somewhere. Thankfully we have options available to us that cut the sugar or the artificial ingredients out to make us feel less guilty for giving our kids candy. Or just reach for the bag of M&Ms. Either way, the feeling of keeping a stash on hand is literally like finding the extra M&M in the bag after you thought they were gone. It's magic. #purehappiness


7. Keep an iPhone or iPad ready to go. If you’re taking the photos on your phone, you’ll want to make sure you have a friend with a phone or bring the iPad along. This works especially for inconsolable babies or toddlers. Pull up Baby Shark on YouTube or their favorite show on Netflix. Hold the device next to the camera, or have someone hold it behind you to get the kids looking in your general direction. Instant smiles!


8. Have someone make silly faces directly behind you. The kids aren't expecting you to act silly which is what makes this tip so effective & fun! Be sure to reserve this for when you really need it, because you are only funny to them for so long. Try silly faces, peek-a-boo, animal sounds, or sticking your tongue out at them. You can also do this yourself in between snapping photos if you don’t have anyone with you to assist. When all else fails, make silly faces and hop on one leg all at the same time — chances are they’ll want to try it too!


9. Get them a present that they can only open afterward. This is kind of like bribery with a twist and more for the occasions when you're going to see a professional photographer. I had a mom recently do this at one of my sunrise beach sessions, and I'll tell you – every time she brought up the present waiting in the car we were back to smiles!


10. Go with the flow. You know, sometimes kids have their own ideas. They need to exercise their independence, and if they feel forced into a photo they don’t want to take, they are going to let you know how they feel. Take a step back and reevaluate. Do we really need the kids to sit here and pose for us? Maybe we just let them smile and play while we follow their lead, snapping photos of them having fun along the way? Candid photos are just as great, and sometimes better than posed photos! Candids capture personality better than any posed photo ever could. After all, it’s usually about capturing the memory — why not make it a good one?


I personally have used each and every one of these tactics. Sometimes I have to test all the tips in one sitting. Not every tip will work every time, but at least ONE of these should work for you in any given situation.


Take these tips for a test spin, then come back and show me your photos in the comments below!







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©2021 by LeeAnn Neumann, Chucktown Art, LLC.