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Hi there! I'm Karen, a photographer serving families and couples all over the world.






5 of my Favorite Ways to Capture REAL Smiles from Kids


We’ve all done it: “Say CHEESE!” In this selfie-saturated world, most kids are trained to flash that cheesy smile for the camera, or they run in the opposite direction when they see the camera. As a mom, though, I melt when I see a picture of my kids with their real smiles and laughs. The sparkles in the eyes, the dimples in the cheeks, or the hands on the belly from laughing so hard – these are the things that draw us into the picture and make us, as the viewers, smile as well.

Kids are constantly moving and can be unpredictable, but they are also full of authenticity and joy. And when you can come down to their level, you can capture their true personalities. So, here are 5 of my favorite ways to get genuine smiles and expressions from kids:


1. Show interest in their interests

Most kids, and even adults, love talking about their interests. It could be Cinderella, Batman, a favorite sports team, or pizza. Ask questions about what toppings like they on their pizza, or who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman. My son loves Star Wars right, now, so talking to him all about that will show I care about him and what he’s interested in.

TIP: Be sure to listen and talk with them. Lift your head up from your camera, and even set the camera down, every so often to make eye contact.


2. Sing their favorite songs

As a musician myself, I think music can be so therapeutic and powerful. It can calm someone’s nerves, or it can energize someone’s mood. Don’t be shy; just start singing Old MacDonald, If You’re Happy and You Know It, You are My Sunshine, Let it Go, or the theme to Star Wars – whatever their favorite songs are, or ones that you like to sing!

TIP: To avoid only pictures of their mouths in strange positions of singing (not super flattering…), take turns singing and shoot while you are doing the singing, or watch for moments when they pause.


3. Have a laughing contest

See if you can come up with the craziest, silliest, goofiest, scariest, or loudest laughs. Whoever has the best one “wins” (them, of course).

TIP: Have your camera ready for the laugh after the crazy laugh. The real smile and laugh will come when they are laughing at how crazy the goofy laughs were.


4. Make it into a game

Some of my favorite memories from school are when the teachers incorporated games into learning. Did anyone else play Around the World or Bingo? Games are naturally fun and result in true smiles. Some of my favorites:

  • “Can you guess the animal noise I’m making?”
  • “How many fingers am I holding up?”
  • “Simon Says clap your hands…”
  • “Hold my hand, and count how many times I squeeze it.”

Be sure to reverse the roles, and let them make the animal noises or “be Simon” for you to guess. Just be ready to snap the picture when they laugh at your intentional wrong answers (I don’t know why I can never seem get them right… 😉 )

TIP: Make sure it’s a game that they can succeed at. Once, I tried a game with my son involving letters and spelling, that at the time was too hard for him. And it resulted in a lot of pictures of confused expressions and wasn’t super fun for him.


5. Incorporate movement

Kids have a hard time sitting still, so I love to get them up and moving – running, jumping, twirling, etc. I even have a photo series with my daughter twirling: #AbbyTwirls. We have fun finding new twirling dresses and places to twirl: sunflower fields, a hill at sunset, or in the snow. Combining movement and a game takes the fun to another level.

  • “Go over to that tree, and when I say ‘go,’ see if you can reach me before I count to 10.”
  • “Do you think you can hop on one foot 10 times without letting the other foot touch the ground?”
  • “Do you think you could jump so high you reach that branch?”
  • “How fast do you think you can ride your bike?”

TIP: Be sure your camera’s shutter speed is set fast enough to freeze the movement. If you are setting it manually, 1/1000 is a good starting point, and if your camera has an action setting, this would be a good time to use it.


You may have noticed that all of these ideas were about having FUN, because that is how you get the real smiles. It doesn’t have to take long, but just taking a few moments to create an environment or mood that is fun-filled will make a big difference. I’d love to hear your ideas!







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