So . . . you’re taking a cute picture of your child and you say . . . “Smile!” Seems simple enough right? I mean, they smile all the time. They were smiling 5 seconds ago! But this . . . this face they’re making looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
Chins pointed to the sky or pressed to their chests
Eyes bugging out or completely closed in to slits
Lips pulled tight
Cheeks shaking from the effort
Teeth . . . lots and lots of teeth.
And you start to panic. This is not how they smile! This is not what you want in your pictures! They look like they’re being chased by a monster, or getting a dental exam, or have a huge wedgie. Everything in you wants to make them stop this horror! Especially if you’ve just paid a professional photographer $300 for the session and with each crazy smile you become more and more convinced there is not a chance they’re going to get a single good shot.
You know, something like this:
“Sun in his eyes” here on the left. Crazy smile on the right. Dig that full-power smile (and associated neck veins). He is trying though . . . really trying!
Starting position here on the left (chin pulled in close). Then I suggested he stick his chin out a little and . . . well . . . picture on the right. Still trying!
This is Tyler. A completely typical 5 year old boy. Wants to run around, and play in the dirt, and stick out his tongue, and show you his new shirt all at the same time. Rocks and sticks are irresistible. Doesn’t give a Sponge Bob about pictures. Light of his family’s world. We did a quick family session a few weeks ago for Mother’s Day. And if you’d asked his mom, Melissa, at the end of their session if we got any good pictures . . . well she might not be too sure. There was a lot of wild smiling going on y’all. But we did!
Here are some tips on overcoming The Crazy Smile :
1. STOP TELLING THEM TO “SMILE!!!”. You’re heading towards the death spiral of photography. I get it! This is embarrassing. Your beautiful angel suddenly looks possessed. It is getting worse by the minute. . . you’re certain this photographer is totally irritated with your family and losing patience (for the record, I’m not! This is normal!). Every correction you offer makes them more and more uncomfortable The more uncomfortable they are the more desperate and maniacal the smile. They look crazier . . . you get more desperate . . . offer more corrections or exasperated “just smile normal”. That mom tone of voice kicks in and boom . . .he is certain he is headed towards trouble if this smile doesn’t get better and wouldn’t you know it? The smile only gets more contorted. I am here to set you free my friend. If you’ve hired a professional photographer just hit your mute button and let her do the hard work. If you’re taking pictures yourself then still hit that mute button . . . and skip to point 2.
2. OFFER ENCOURAGEMENT. . . LOTS OF IT. You know how much you don’t like having your picture taken? Kids can feel the same way. Every time they get the smile right . . . celebrate like they’ve just pooped rainbows. “Great job!” “I love that calm smile!” “You’re doing so good at this!”. The more pumped up they are on feeling like they’re doing it right, the more likely they are to keep giving you the good stuff. Encourage them even if it is totally not working. Encourage them even if they look just as crazy as they did a minute ago. It doesn’t cost you anything to click a ton of pictures . . . keep clicking until they get there. ((and if they don’t get there then skip to #3)
3. KNOW WHEN TO QUIT. Throw in the towel and try something completely different when it starts to go bad. Change locations, switch around the people in the shot, change the pose from standing to sitting or from sitting to laying down. Get them out of their heads by giving them something to do. In the first picture in this blog where Tyler is squinting . . . this shot was beautiful but it just never worked. It was cloudy but it was still bright and he wasn’t feeling it. We scrapped it after a few minutes and moved on. No frustration needed.
4. HAVE THEM MAKE FACES. When there is no shaking the crazy smile I turn it in to a game (and games are animated and fun, so remember to make this a silly game!). . . okay make a VERRRRRRRRY SERIOUS face. Now make a face with no smile. Now make a scary face. Now make a funny face. Now give me a sweet smile. Now make a laughing face. Now make a crazy face. Now give me a very quiet and still face. Now give me another smile. The trick here is to take pictures of ALL of the faces and include the moments in between. You’ll have a lot of pictures to delete but you’ll also capture genuine moments in between. You’ll also have snuck in a few that were great smiles.
5. LET THEM MOVE AROUND. Yes, I know the bushes in front of your house are blooming and all you want is one nice family picture in front of it. But if it isn’t happening, it isn’t happening. When they’re losing patience and the smile looks crazy give them something to act out that will potentially make them smile. I’ve said things like: Give mom a big hug around her neck. Jump up in the air as high as you can!. Show me your dance moves. Go spin around in your dress. Sure, go roll around in the grass.
There are a lot of reasons kids suddenly develop a strange smile for pictures – they’re watching cartoons full of crazy, overanimated faces. Or they’re nervous and insecure. Or they’re hyper and overenthusiastic. Or they’re just OH_VER_IT. Avoid power struggles and frustration. Let it go if it isn’t working! And if you’ve hired a good professional photographer just let them do the hard work for you.