Family + Kids

Photographer to parents: Please don’t say “Cheese” A guide to natural smiles.

I’m a producer by day. Production was my first love & typically I’m easy going on set. My goal in the production world is that my crew get things done but have fun in the process (snacks help). But on occasion I’m a photographer. And in that role, I’m still directing on set…still producing. My goal, again, is to try to put everyone at ease and create as fun an atmosphere as possible. My experience has been that people generally don’t love having their picture taken. Childhood trauma of some kind no doubt…likely involving a screaming mom, uncomfortable clothing and told not to fidget about or get dirty, etc… Because of this, we tend to put the dreaded family picture day up on it’s pedestal, not to be touched, but once a year, if that. And then the pressure is ON. Pressure to dress perfect, act perfect, and…of-course…smile perfect.

To achieve that is unrealistic, especially for children.

It’s only photos…no need to be a psycho about it. Things to avoid…

Things to try.

One thing that makes me cringe is when a parent threatens their child or begs them to “smile”. Kids don’t really want to have picture day in the first place. Parent’s stand to my side loudly saying “Smile! Smiiiiile!!! SAY CHEESE!” while kids are looking to the side of my lens where parents are standing and repeating “cheeeeeeeeeese”. They don’t smile, so parent says “if you don’t smile nicely, we’re not (insert bribe here)”. Well, that might get a fake smile (the one that looks like you’re showing your dentist your bite), which is sometimes worse than no smile. Because now your child has that saccharine glint that doesn’t reach their eyes thing AND they’ve done what they were told, so game over. I hear the threats a lot…and I’m not a perfect parent, so I’m not about to tell someone else how to do it. As a photographer, however, with said goal of putting my subjects at ease I gently try to step in and encourage the kids to have fun. You can’t tell them to have fun…you kind of have to trick them

into it. So instead of forcing the fakest smile, let’s try to make it fun for them, together. Make it a game.

Kids of about 3 years or older usually cooperate when they have a choice in what they’re doing. Maybe I say, “I’ll choose this one but you get to choose the next shot, ok?” or “This click is for me, but the next click is yours…make the silliest face you can!”.

Another idea I use-this works on grown ups too-is to say “don’t smile”…and then wait. Sometimes I even peek around the camera slowly with an expectant expression. Typically that makes them laugh. And laughter is loosening up for all. I didn’t invent these things but I’m reiterating because they work.

Use what works for you. And don’t be afraid to be silly in the process.

Sometimes the perfect family photo is the one where everyone looks like themselves…enjoying being a family.

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