Getting Natural Expressions from a Child

11318361540_robinson-20.jpgWhile you’re getting your child dressed at home prior to your portrait session, talk to your child about going to meet one of your friends. Don’t talk about taking pictures, practicing your smile, and big scary lights in an empty room. Use phrases like, “Mommy is going to go see a friend, and she really wants to meet you! We’re going to play at her house, OK? Mommy and daddy will be there the whole time playing too!”

If you’re opting for outdoor portraits, let your child know that you’re going to go play at the park and will be meeting a friend there. Usually children associate an outdoor location with fun and play, and the nervous side of them will disappear. If you have had undesirable experiences in a studio setting in the past, you should try your next portrait session outdoors for change of pace.Remember to dress your child in comfortable children’s clothing. They are not mini-adults, so avoid putting your 1-year-old in a 3-piece suit or tulle lined taffeta gown complete with patent leather shoes, itchy tights and a hot jacket. If you want your child to have a fun, natural expressions, they have to be comfortable.Your photographer should do several things to loosen up the child and create an element of trust before the portrait session. Playing a quick game, acting silly together and just communicating before the camera is even in sight will make the child respond with a positive attitude towards their new friend.
If your photographer doesn’t work with these elements, you can help create a bond between your child and the photographer by creating a conversation for them. Children love telling strangers about themselves. A few conversation starters would be, “Oh honey, tell the nice lady about your new puppy. She likes pets too!” Your photographer will probably end up knowing more about the family pet, his toys and how potty training is going than you ever cared to share! I have captured many genuine smiles while a child explains with exuberance how their new puppy has pooped on the rug! Although mom’s face might turn red at that point, I don’t really care because her embarrassment will turn to smiles when she sees her portrait proofs of a smiling child!You can also prompt you child to tell the photographer your phone number or address. When a child realizes that they know the answer to a question, especially one that they have been praised for learning, they will eagerly talk about it again.Once the photo session is underway, the photographer should stay on your child’s level, and not loom over them. He should crouch down, and sit to talk to, not down at, the child. Allow the photographer to keep the fun conversations going, so he can capture the moments of smiles and giggles as your child tells fun stories about dad’s stinky feet, or the funny smells and sounds that come from baby brother.Take a moment to do something goofy. Do jumping jacks, twirl around or lay on your tummy. The child will surely follow suit and forget about the picture taking process, and get into a happy, responsive mood. This is when you allow your photographer to work their magic, capturing the innocent, insightful moments, the giggles and the serious expressions.If all else fails, bribery works 99% of the time. Bring a favorite toy along, but keep it hidden until it’s absolutely necessary to elicit smiles. Candy, a snack, keys to play with or even the option to take off their shoes will also work.If you want to get the best expressions from children, remember that they are just that, children. Don’t expect them to respond like adults. Play on their level, and never, ever tell them they are going to a studio where they have to sit still, be good, be quiet and ultimately be bored, be stiff and be unnatural.You won’t need to ever use the expression, “Come on honey, smile!” if the photographer does their job well, and lets your kid, be a kid!