Episode 032: How to Get a Natural Smile in Photos


Today’s episode is all about how to get a natural smile in photos. Specifically, your family photos, because what works for me in my studio will also work for your everyday photos too.

So why not give one of the tips and try?

Listen To the Podcast Here:

Read the Podcast Transcript:

Today I wanted to talk about how to get a natural smile in photos by sharing some hints and tips that I have picked up over the years, photographing families and babies of all ages.

I know that some people just don’t want photographs of themselves. They hate their smile or genuinely they feel awkward. Sometimes with older babies & children, I sense that the parents are getting frustrated because their baby isn’t smiling enough or sometimes they’re smiling too much. It’s the fake smile that the parents don’t want.

Never ask a child to say ‘cheese’.

So first off, on behalf of photographers everywhere, can I just say: never ask your child to smile by saying cheese, as they will just grin and scrunch their eyes shut and that isn’t the look that we want and I guess neither do you.

I tend to find what generates a smile can often be unexpected.

Over the years I’ve been amazed to discover what makes a baby smile. I’ve seen baby’s giggle at peekaboo, their mother sneezing, or wiggling her bottom, silly dancing, or simply just blowing a loud raspberry, but then equally you could try that on another baby and it doesn’t work.

They’re a tough audience. You can try all these things and they just look at you expressionless. And it is as if they’re saying “nope, you’ll have to do better than that.”

Keep it playful and relaxed

That leads me nicely onto the first tip, I guess, is to stay relaxed because kids pick it up and they will follow your lead. Sometimes you just have to trick them a little bit and it can be as simple as laughing to yourself, as in you literally go “ha ha ha”. And yes, it feels really odd and it makes you laugh because you’re being daft.

And if that’s too much of a leap, you can just think of a funny situation to make yourself laugh and then the children will join in.

You can also try reverse psychology with the ‘try not to laugh’ game

That works sometimes with older children. So I would say something like, “whatever you do, do not laugh or smile.” They will resist for a minute or two and then break with a laugh or cute smile.

Another thing to try is ask them to close their eyes and then on the count of three, open them. And as they do that, they’ll often smile at you.

Or this ….

Something else to try with older children f they’re hunching their shoulders a little bit. I’ll ask them to bring their shoulders up to their ears and then drop them a few times. And that makes them smile. And it has the bonus that they have relaxed their shoulders as well, which makes for a much nicer photograph all around.

With younger babies, I find they will react happily to music or to squeaky toys, although the squeaky toys often work on the adults as well, mainly because I suppose it’s got the element of surprise and not really expecting me to do that.

But it just illustrates, it’s about trying a few things and moving on if something isn’t working well, particularly with young children. You’ve got to be quick about it.

Smile Back at Them

Sometimes it’ll be really simple. It’ll be as simple as smiling back at them or laughing with them. If they’re slightly older, I’ll ask them, “Who’s the silliest, mummy or daddy?” and you get some quite funny responses to that as well. And the parents will often play along as well.

I find it quite interesting that as adults, often the photographs that we like most are when we weren’t expecting them to be taken.

It was whilst we were relaxed and we were socialising with friends. I have seen so many profile pictures that have clearly been taken out on a night out and they were having a good time. They were relaxed and they knew the photograph was taken, but they weren’t worried about it. And the smile was natural. And then that’s become a photograph that they’re happy to use to represent themselves. That’s all we’re trying to replicate here.

Surprise them … nicely!

So it works exactly the same with young children. You kind of got to let them play for a bit, but be ready to take the photograph without letting them know that’s your plan. So peekaboo will often work well for babies, as they love the surprise of the parents suddenly reappearing and then disappearing then reappearing.

And it’s not always about having a nice big grinning smile. I think gentle smiles or smiling eyes equally work as well.

So let me summarise: 5 tips on how to get a natural smile in photos

  1. Never ask a child to say ‘cheese’.
  2. Play a bit of a game with them, play peekaboo for example.
  3. Try a bit of reverse psychology with the ‘try not to laugh’ game.
  4. Stay relaxed. They feed off your energy. So if you are happy and relaxed, they will be too.
  5. Surprise them, in a playful way.

Be part of your children’s childhood photos

Overall it’s about us existing in photographs, whether it’s as children or as adults. It’s not about now so much as in the years to come. Trust me, you’ll look back and realise you actually looked great and carefree in these photographs and that’s better than being invisible and not existing in them. And I do think that’s really important that we are part of our children’s childhood photos.

I would love to hear about how you get on.

Portrait of Essex Baby photographer Sue Kennedy
Sue Kennedy

About Your Podcast Host – Sue Kennedy of Sue Kennedy Photography

Sue is a professional portrait photographer based in Harlow, Essex and she specialises in baby, child and family portraiture. Being a parent, she understands just how special your child is to you and her aim is to produce a collection of images that are natural and meaningful to your family. No two moments are ever the same and she wants to perfectly capture those early precious memories and the natural character of your child.

For more information please call 01279 433392, or visit the Sue Kennedy Photography website.

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portrait of sue kennedy photographer

I'm Sue

and I am dedicated to helping you share your family’s story through beautiful natural photographs.



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