“Say Cheese!” the photographer at school calls out. “Smile!” mom calls out when she wants a great photo at her child at his or her birthday.
But is the resulting stretching of the lips when we tell our child to “smile” really what we wanted? Generally not. What we end up with is an expression that is clearly not genuine–rather, it’s the child’s idea of what a smile should look like. And children who are old enough to really know what’s going on can get a little nervous, or “on the spot”, causing tension in the facial muscles and unnatural-seeming expressions.
The solution? Take the pressure off. Don’t ask the child to pose–rather, say “look at me,” in a cheerful (or funny) voice, then ask them a question that makes them think. As they prepare to answer you, they’ll get a real expression on their face–a look that shows how they feel about what they’re thinking. (What was your favorite thing we did last week? What was your favorite Christmas gift this year? What would you most like to do later? Etc.) Of course, then they’ll start talking–and that’s OK. You might be able to take a shot or two as they pause for breath. If not, you can just say, “OK, now look at me,” or “Look at that tree to your left,” or whatever–and the expression they had should stay for a while. You can alternate like this for a while, asking questions and then asking them to hold on or look at something in particular while you take a few shots.
All Smiles? Hopefully not!
Taking a good picture doesn’t have to mean your child is smiling. As long as the expression on their face is genuine, it will bring both of you memories when you look back on it later.
Another thing to remember is that a good picture doesn’t have to be perfect. Maybe the wind started blowing the hair into your child’s face and they started laughing–great! Or perhaps the wind almost blew them over once or trice, and you captured the shot–awesome! These kinds of moments can be the best shots of the bunch, and they’ll remind both you and your child of the fun you both had during the picture-taking session.
Ideas for MemorablePhotos Memorable
1. Watch your child as you go about your day and take note of what captures his or her interest. Then, either plan a photo-session with that activity or–better yet–sneak off and grab your camera right then and there for some great impromptu shots.
2. Take photos in a variety of settings–outdoor, in the car, at the playground, at the amusement park, riding a bike or roller skating, in the kitchen, etc.
3. Take photos of your child interacting with a variety of “people,” including family members, friends, teachers, coaches, pets, favorite stuffed animals, etc.
4. Plan to capture images that catch your child in a variety of moods–serious, playful, silly, calm, loving, etc.
5. Try to capture images in a variety of differently lit environments–with the sunrise, with water reflecting light, strong sunlight coming in through a nearby window, evening twilight (with flash), etc.
6. Try a variety of outfits on your child on different phot0-taking occasions. Different clothes will make your child feel different, making it easier to elicit different kinds of emotions / behavior from them.
7. Get some ideas from your child, if they’re old enough, to add to the fun. That way, they’ll be extra-enthusiastic about the photo session–and they may just have a few ideas that you might not have thought of on your own!