If I could banish one thing from photography, it wouldn’t be selective desaturation or standing on railroad tracks or even duck face, it would be teaching kids to fake smile and say cheese. Kids just aren’t capable of making decent faux smiles and the results are worse than no smile at all. Can we stop teaching them to do this?
The secret to getting real-looking smiles from kids is…get real smiles! It takes a bit longer and I know it can be more difficult when it’s your own kids, especially if they’re tired of you taking their photo, but it’s worth it. The easiest way to do this is BE SILLY. Act like a goofball, tickle them, tell silly jokes, ask them ridiculous questions (“do you have purple eyes?” is a favorite of mine), put things on your head, fall over, make faces and noises. Tell them they absolutely cannot smile no matter what. Ask them to fake laugh really loudly and do it yourself – that almost always results in real giggles. Yell words together that are fun to say like rhinoceros or watermelon or any favorite phrases. Accusations of stinky feet are great and don’t get me started on things that come out of noses.
If all that fails? Just let them be. A good photo doesn’t require a smile. Sometimes a thoughtful, pensive, serious or even sad expression can create a wonderful photograph. But please can we get rid of cheese?
Somewhat relatedly, here’s an older post with tips for making professional photoshoots fun for kids.