I cannot express how many times I have told my little goofballs to give me a real smile... at which time they proceed to give me their widest, cheesiest, nostriliest grin. Ugh.
It. Drives. Me. Batty.
I mean, I don't blame them. The only thing that is more in their face than my big camera is my iPhone camera. I can't help it. What if one moment of their lives goes by and I DON'T get a picture of it?!? (Right?? Doesn't that sound like a tragedy?) ;) I am for sure a lover of candid images. I love the pictures that show how people are. The ones that tell a story. Do I always get them? No. But I try to. I know that every mom out there wants the cookie cutter sit and smile image of their child. And guess what I have hanging in my house? Cookie cutter images of my children smiling. But I also have images that capture a moment in time. One that I may have allowed to fade if left just to my aging brain to remember. I love detail shots. I love shots that people look at and go, "Oh wow! You can just tell how much they adore each other" even though not every single tooth in the subject's mouth is showing.
That being said, HOW do you get those image? How do you get kids, big or small, to get rid of that cheesy grin and show you that sweet, sincere smile they have when they are laughing or when they are listening to ther mom tell them how much they are loved? THAT smile. How do you get that? I have come up with a few ideas that seem to work on kids of all ages. Not all of these ideas are socially acceptable and I'm sure I've had a mom want to flick me on the nose from time to time... but I think that feeling passes when I show them super killer shots of their kids *real* smile.
I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I use when I'm taking pictures of kiddos, whether they are mine or not. I have picked them up all over the place: reading articles, friends, other photographers I have gone shooting with, but mostly from being a goofy mom. Like most other mamas out there, I will do just about ANYTHING to bring a smile to my child's face and hear a giggle escape their little lips. (Think "Friends" epidose where Ross and Rachel sing "I Like Big Butts" to their newborn just to make her laugh.)
1. If mom and dad are NOT in the picture have them stand WHERE YOU WANT THE CHILD TO LOOK and be silly. If you want the child looking at the camera, tell mom to cozy up to the top of your head. If you want the little one to be looking a little to the right, have Mom and Dad stand there. Just be sure they aren't blocking your light. They don't know any better. ;)
2. Throw a ball up. You can get balls that make noises when they bounce, balls with texture, balls that light up, balls that make an annoying noise that kids will undoubtedly think is funny. With this one you do need to make sure you set ground rules though. "I'm going to throw this SUPER cool ball but you need to make sure to stay super still or the ball can't leave my hand." Or something like that.
3. Have a contest to see who can make the most annoying noise. Or the loudest laugh. Or the silliest laugh. This one, shockingly works really well with adults as well. Often times when I'm trying to get men to stop giving me a smile that looks like it belongs on nothing short of their drivers license, I will use this one. Then, of course with the camera ready, I will make a VERY odd sound or obnoxious laugh. Gets them every time. The child (or grown man) will relax and laugh because they realize you are a complete idiot. (In my case they are not incorrect.)
4. If you have a remote for your camera have your camera set up and do a little dance for the little tyke. If you don't, make Mom do it. The goofier the dance the better the laughs.
5. (This one of one of my top go-to's.) Make up words to a song they know well. For example, my kids love and adore Phineas and Ferb. Whenever I'm trying to get a smile out of them I change the words to something completely and utterly wrong. Or, my girls love "Princess and the Popstar" (don't ask). So I will sing that song at top volume in a completely vabrato filled voice. Or in a super goofy voice. Even with the correct words you can make them laugh at their favorite song. You will also get a few different, very snap-worthy, pictures out of this one.
6. Call then the wrong name. "Hey Gertrude!" Or call their family members the wrong name. Pointing at Dad, "Is that your mom?"
7. Have them tell you a joke. Often times my children's jokes make absolutely zero sense. BUT, they think their own jokes are hilarious. So, try it. I bet they have a good one they're dying to share. And, then, of course, cue your over-the-top laugh. I also will have a page on my phone pulled up with jokes that I can tell them. They are always very silly jokes that a three year old will get. I also ask Mom and Dad to laugh along so that the little one will laugh. (I will do this with teens that are just a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera as well. They laugh because it is just so dorky.)
8. Old Faithful: "Don't Smile!" Now, with this one you have to know your audience. I did this a few years ago with my adorable little niece and she promptly burst into tears. Oops. I only see her every now and again so I didn't know that she was super sensative. I felt really, and I mean REALLY, bad. But, *normally* it works.
9. With older kids and teens, play the "Who's the cute boy/girl in your class?" card. Or ask about their boy/girl friend.
10. Play a (stationary) game (unless you're ready to chase!). Peek-a-boo is a good one with little kids. Have them try to scare you, and, obviously act very scared when they holler "BOO!" at you. If they're fairly small then you can play the "Where's your hair/belly button/ear/ eye" game. They'd love to show you everything they've learned as soon as they are comfortable with you. If Mom and Dad are there then they can do something like "Here comes the bee!!" And then come at them slowly (long enough for them to giggle with anticipation and for you to snap a few pictures).
11. If mom has brought along their prized posession (a Lightsaber or a puppy they always sleep with) have them show that off. That will get them to give you a nice sweet smile because they love whatever it is that Mom found worthy of making an appearance in picture.
12. And for the grand finale, make every bathroom noise and say every bathroom word you can think of. Fart. Pee. Poop. Toot. All of them. These ones are ALWAYS winners with little kids. Moms? Uhhh... not so much. But, to me, it's worth it. I usually throw out a bathroom sound and then say, "Eeew! Was that your mom?" Or, "Sick! Did you HEAR that?!?" It works. Promise.
I must say, these tricks are fairly obvious and common but that's because they work. They are good ones to keep in your back pocket. Like I mentioned above, make sure you know your audience. Don't come off too strong right off the bat or they're going to be scared of you. I'm sure there are a million other ways to get kiddos to shoot you that million dollar grin without it looking canned but these are just the ones that I have found work for ME.