“Say cheese!” 

The professional photographer that came up with this phrase as a means of capturing smiles, was clearly not working with children. In fact, nothing creates a less sincere smile than asking a child to say cheese. 

So what does work? How does a professional child photographer like me consistently capture genuine smiles and expressions that convey the very essence of the child? 

Creating this kind of magic with little ones is challenging to say the least, but over the years of working with thousands of children, I’ve developed quite a few tips and tricks which I’m happy to share with you here! These apply to professional photography sessions, but are also useful to keep in mind as you try to capture the everyday moments too. 

  1. Relax. Kids can smell fear! It may not be scientifically proven, but I swear it’s true. So if you are nervous about the child photography session, they will sense it and reflect it back to you in the images. Find a way to let your nerves go and enjoy the process of creating magic as a child photographer.
  2. Comfort is key. An outfit can be completely adorable, but if it’s itchy or tight or too hot, it likely won’t work. You know what your child can tolerate in terms of wardrobe, but don’t push it too far. 
  3. Loveys are okay! If a blanket or stuffed animal will help put your child at ease, go ahead and let them hold it. The photo is meant to capture a moment in time, and it’s likely that lovey plays a pretty big role in your child’s life at this moment, right?
  4. Use props. Give your child a toy to play with or a flower to hold and smell. Have someone else blow bubbles for them to interact with. This shifts their focus away from the camera (which they may be anxious about) and onto the object, allowing for more natural expressions.
  5. Animals make the best props. When possible, there is no better way to draw out those magical expressions than to involve animals. If you have an opportunity to shoot with animals (and you do!), this can be an amazing experience for your child, resulting in oh-so-sweet images. But even when holding the animals isn’t an option, just taking the child to a park where they can watch the ducks and geese can result in lovely photos.
  6. A hat can work wonders. There’s just something transformative about a hat. If the mood is right, ask the child to wear the hat and watch them ham it up for you. Or maybe it brings out a more serious side. Either way, it’s a fun test to see what impact the hat will have!
  7. Make it a game. Whether it’s a professional photography session or an impromptu photo op with your iPhone camera, the best way to draw out the expressions you want is to make it a game. For the very little ones, a silly game of peek a boo or a clapping game can spur genuine delight. When they’re a little older it takes a bit more creativity – and sometimes theatrics.
  8. Get theatrical. “Is that a butterfly on my head?” No, really. Is there? After a full day of shooting back-to-back child photography sessions, sometimes I’m not sure. My butterfly act can be pretty convincing! But this particular tactic seems to amuse kids of all ages.
  9. Reverse psychology. “Whatever you do, don’t smile.” The first time I heard a parent tell his kids this, I wasn’t sure how it would work out, but the challenge created a wonderful game between them, and when the children couldn’t resist any longer, their expressions were priceless.
  10. Use siblings wisely. Of course every parent wants that magical shot of both (or all) the children looking adorable and delighted, but timing is everything. Start with individual child photography and then add in a sibling or siblings when a distraction is needed to change things up. If you start with sibling shots, be prepared to shift to individual when they begin to get antsy with each other. Then you can go back and forth as needed, until you’re sure you’ve achieved that perfect shot.
  11. When all else fails, bribery. “Just a few more minutes and Mommy says you can have a popsicle!” Trust me, Mommy. It’s worth it.
  12. Know when to call it quits. As a professional photographer, kids are amazing to work with, but they do have their limits (we all do!). Don’t torture your kids in an effort to get just one more perfect shot. If you’ve followed tips 1 through 11, I promise you’ve captured something magical already. So know when it’s time to put your comfy clothes back on and enjoy the popsicle! 

What other tips do  you have for creating magical child photography? Come tell me on the Freckled Flower Photography Facebook page!

Contact me here to request more information about an Atlanta photography session, or you can follow me on Facebook and Instagram, where I announce special offers on professional photography and share my favorite images from recent photo sessions. I’d love to send you my newsletter as well.

Jennifer McCarren of Freckled Flower Photography specializes in newborn, child and family photography in North Atlanta, Georgia locations such as AlpharettaMiltonRoswell, Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Marietta and Canton.

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