Getting Kids to Smile

A smile brightens every picture, especially when it’s a kid smiling. Problem is, it is tough to get them smiling sometimes. Or sometimes, they smile, but it is the most obnoxious, fake smile they can do. While those sometimes make a good silly picture, it isn’t always what you are looking for. Luckily, I have a few tricks you could use that may help next time you need a smile.


1. Toss the “Cheese”; Use “Fancy” instead.

It has always been a classic thing to say “Cheese” and look at the camera. It wasn’t a word to just get someone to look that way, but saying the word can actually make a sort of smile appear on the person’s face. The problem is, the double “ee”, when said in the exaggerated way most people do for photos, doesn’t quite make for a natural smile. The mouth goes sideways rather than a slight curl up.

The solution? Try a word like “Fancy”. The F sound, usually has people pressing their bottom lip to their top teeth (this part brings out the teeth), then the “Y” often causes the upwards curl. Ending on the “Y” note means yo end with a smile, where “Cheese” has that sound in the middle, so unless they hold it, you loose the smile at the end of the word. Try it out. It usually makes for a more natural smile when a real one isn’t coming out.


2. Tongue to the Top.

This is a new one to me, just found it out while researching this topic. Try pressing your tongue to the top of your mouth, right behind your teeth. Open your lips and push hard and you may notice your smile form a bit. This one requires a bit of instruction, so obviously it isn’t as good for really young ones, but for older kids it may be the trick.


3. Talk about something they like.

The best smiles are the ones that come about naturally. If you have the time and are doing a solo portrait, try talking to the subject. Find out what they like and have them tell you all about it. If you can, make them tell you a funny story about whatever they like. You will usually find that while talking about something that makes them happy, especially when they have the chance to explain all about it, the smiles will start to appear. If you are taking pictures of your own kids, you’ll already know what topics to bring up, but with others, it may take a little coaxing to get something out of them.


4. Take the focus off of the camera.

I don’t mean take a blurry shot, but take the child’s focus off of taking a picture. Just have them colour or play with a toy. Something that will distract them. Camera shyness is pretty common and portraits sometimes just won’t work. But candids can be even more personal and beautiful, so pictures of them doing something besides posing may be the answer.


Here are a few bonus tips that kind of tie-in with smiling:

When working with groups, and you are trying to get one person to smile, make sure you tell everyone in the picture to keep looking at you. I don’t know how many family pictures I’ve taken where the child’s parents start looking at their kid to see if they are smiling. Then “Snap”, the kid flashes a great smile and the parent isn’t looking at the camera.

Don’t be afraid to shoot in continuous mode or snap a few at a time. The great thing about digital is you can delete. The worst thing is missing a smile because you were checking the last shot. Just keep clicking while trying these tricks and you’ll have a better chance of capturing that split second smile.


I hope some of these tricks work for you. None are guaranteed. Smiles are great, but not always needed for a great shot. The most important thing of all, and this applies to all Photography, is patience. You won’t always get the perfect shot each time you click. Just keep at it and change things up and it’ll come eventually.

3 thoughts on “Getting Kids to Smile

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