I am often asked how I get my own children to smile and cooperate for pictures. It's not easy sometimes – my 4-year-old in particular is going through an "I hate pictures" phase!
The difference between the two photos above is engagement. In the first photo, I lifted her onto my lap and told her "Smile! Just one quick picture!!" In the second, I wanted my husband and I to each hold one kid, but they had other plans – they both wanted mommy, so I picked them both up and pretended they were so heavy that I was going to drop them. They thought it was hilarious.
The key is to work with the child, and not to try and push them into doing something they don't enjoy. Does that mean if they say they hate photos, you can't get any good photos? Absolutely not!
Here are some tips for getting that picture-perfect smile:
Engage, don't distract. Rather than using a "look over here!" or "just one more photo!" approach, try thinking of the photoshoot as a bonding session for your family. Stress is the enemy of good pictures – make the session a game by playing together or offering up some fun. Does your child love to run? Ask them how fast they can go down a path and back; I get my best smiles when kids are doing what they love. Are the kids feeling grump? Try throwing them in the air or holding them and pretending to let go; make them feel like this is a game you are all playing together. *An exception is if the photos are of a baby – for babies, distractions or big movements/noises sometimes are needed.
Let them pick the outfit. I know a lot of parents have specific outfits they want to take photos in, but I find kids are much more relaxed and ready to smile when they are in clothes they are familiar with and comfortable in. My go-to plan for my own family photos is to choose two neutral outfits for me and my husband in two very different color schemes (e.g., one light and one dark, or one predominantly red and the other mostly green). Then, let our daughter choose her outfit the day-of and use the parent outfit that best matches. Letting them pick their clothes can add to the feel of the photoshoot being a bonding activity, rather than a chore.
Don't stress about anything. Kids can sense stress and anxiety, and it will show in the photos. During your photoshoot, don't worry about going quickly or reining in a distracted child. A good photographer will manage time in the session to ensure you have a good number of usable photos and varied poses/background. Your calm is the best assurance of a smooth session.