Rebecca Cooper's picture
By Rebecca Cooper

Tips for Photographing Kids

Fun games to get authentic smiles from your children
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When it comes to photographing children, I’m pretty sure I’ve tried about every tip and trick in the book to get real, authentic smiles from my kids over the years. I’ve tried “Say cheese” more times than I care to remember. I’ve tried acting really excited to generate some cooperation: "Come on kids, let’s take pictures! It’ll be SO fun!" I’ve bribed them with Skittles and M&M’s and ice cream cones. I wish I could say I’ve never begged, but I’ve done that too.

Sometimes my efforts yielded results, but often times they didn’t, which led to frustration for me and for my kids. Photo time was not always fun time, which meant real smiles weren’t always plentiful. But through trial and error, and using my own kids as guinea pigs, I’ve come up with a few techniques and tricks to help make photo sessions more fun, which leads to pictures of happy, smiling kids. And these smiles are the real deal!

I’ve learned to make photo sessions with the kids an extension of play time. They especially love it when we make taking photos into some sort of game. Here’s a peek at a few games my kids like to play and the results you can get if you try them too.


Photography Game One: 1-2-3 smile!

One trick for getting kids to smile for a picture is to convince them NOT to smile until you count to 3. The very act of trying to avoid smiling makes them smile even bigger. I say, "Now whatever you do, DON’T smile. Not until I count to three. Okay, try your hardest not to smile. Not yet....not yet...okay, 1-2-3 SMILE!" Sometimes I’ll also ask them to close their eyes, or look at their toes, or pull a silly face up until the moment I say "1-2-3 SMILE!" It’s good to give kids something to do in between shots, and this game is great for that.

Photo of a girl with a genuine smile Photo of a boy with a genuine smile

No-smile challenge

Trying to avoid smiling makes kids smile even bigger for the camera.

Click image for larger view

Photography Game Two: What can you do?

This game works well with younger children (think older babies and toddlers). Little kids are always so eager to show you the things they know and can do all by themselves. Be sure to offer lots of praise and make a big deal out of what they’ve done. Instead of saying, “Okay, now sit on this chair,” ask “Can you climb up on this chair all by yourself?” It makes all the difference in your younger child’s willingness to cooperate and enjoy themselves during photos.

My daughter Alivia is SO into jumping right now. Getting both feet off the ground is her newest toddler skill, and she loves to show everyone she can. With a simple "Can you jump SO high?" she was ready to go. She got ready, and as soon as she landed, I captured that last shot of her beaming with pride.

Photo of a little girl about to jump Photo of little girl smiling after a jump

How high can you jump?

Make a big deal out of a challenge and take an action shot with a real smile!

Click image for larger view

Here are more "what can you do?" ideas for photographing little kids:

Can you...

  • cross your eyes?
  • clap your hands?
  • count to 5?
  • tell me what animal this makes this sound? (make a silly animal sound)
  • show me where your eyes, nose, teeth are?
  • tell me what color your shirt, eyes, shoes, are?
  • give your brother or sister a hug?

Photography Game Three: Word Association

I love this game for older kids. You say a word, and then have the child say the first thing that pops into their head. My daughter Emily loved this, as you can see from her genuine smile. We were both laughing at the silly words she came up with. You might say, “Say the first word that comes into your mind when I say, ‘peanut butter.’” Your child might reply, “Jelly.” Then you say, “Roller coaster.” And she says, “Scary.” And on and on and on. It’s definitely fun to bring in mom and dad and the siblings’ names too.

Photo of Emily smiling during a silly word association game

Word Association Game

Silly words will pop up, so take your kid's picture mid-laugh.

Click image for larger view

Tip: Have some words in mind before you start. I have a hard time thinking of words and operating the camera at the same time, unless I think ahead a little bit. Here are some more ideas to try: cute, car, baseball, dinosaur, pink, princess, kitty cat, breakfast, park, dog, ice cream, gross, stinky, happy, and popsicle.

I hope trying out these photo games and coming up with some more of your own will lead to more genuine smiles and fun photo memories from your next family or kid photo session!

Learn more about how to take photos of kids in Rebecca's newest eBook, Don’t Say Cheese!.

You'll get more photo game ideas plus lots of very useful tips and tricks for photographing real smiles and authentic expressions from kids of all ages. You might also like Rebecca's best-selling eBook, 40 Top Tips for Better Photos or her previous article 3-Minute Photo Makeovers.


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